With the sci-fi synth swell of 1984’s opening instrumental track, Van Halen fans knew they were in for something different. Released in its namesake year, the band’s final album with singer David Lee Roth—for about three decades, anyway—was launched into the stratosphere by the deliriously catchy single “Jump.” Propelled by massive synths rather than massive guitars, the song was not only a distinct outlier for Van Halen, it was also the group’s first and only No. 1 single. It may have seemed bizarre for a band founded almost entirely on Eddie Van Halen’s next-level guitar wizardry, but the keyboard-boogie of “Jump” indicated where the members of Van Halen were in 1984 (and with 1984): on top of the world. That means they could do anything they wanted—as evidenced by the band’s second single, “I’ll Wait,” which bumps even more synth. This time it’s darker, with a Survivor “Eye of the Tiger” feel and menacing drum fills, not to mention a vocal melody co-written with the Doobie Brothers’ Michael McDonald (apparently, the lyrics are addressed to a female model wearing men’s underwear in a magazine ad). Of course, fans worried that Eddie may have abandoned his trademark riffs and licks had nothing to fear. Guitar fireworks are everywhere on 1984. The school-daze fantasy “Hot for Teacher” kicks off with Alex Van Halen’s 30-second drum solo before Eddie serves up one of his most dexterous performances. And that’s on top of his dizzying speed-harmonics on “Top Jimmy,” and his insane interplay between rhythm and lead on “House of Pain.” After a journalist accused Roth of writing only about women, partying, and fast cars, Roth realized he hadn’t actually written any songs about cars. That led to the birth of “Panama,” an acrobatic ripper inspired by a race car the singer had seen in Vegas. (In keeping with the theme, that’s Eddie’s Lamborghini revving in the background during the bridge.) Then there’s “Drop Dead Legs,” which tattoos a seductive power-groove onto the pumping thighs of strippers everywhere, while Roth rhymes “Betty Boop” with “loop-de-loop.” It might be one of Van Halen’s slowest songs, but it’s also one of their best. Meanwhile, Alex and bassist Michael Anthony lay down a Rush-worthy rhythm workout on “Girl Gone Bad”. Sadly, 1984 would be Van Halen’s last gasp with Roth, at least until 2012’s A Different Kind of Truth. But what a way to go out.

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