I can distinctly remember dubbing a friend of mine’s cassette tape of Van Halen’s “Diver Down” album, but I think it was in the mid 80s, as opposed to its original 1982 release. (To put things in perspective, I wasn’t a rabid Van Halen fan at the time. However, they were an established band and their Orwellian-entitled effort 1984 was HUGE. If they weren’t a household name in ’83, they were in ’84.)
In any event, I always loved a lot of stuff on the Diver Down album — coincidentally, almost half of the songs on it are covers. There are some rockers and there are some off the wall ones, too, which make for some interesting listening.
Their take on Roy Orbison’s “(Oh) Pretty Woman” is probably their best known cover song. I grew up listening to this one before I ever heard the original. Kudos to them for keeping this well-deserved song alive. Not only does their take on it rock, but it has swagger. Plus, their instrumental intro to the tune “Intruder” is awesome to use an 80s expression. Both tracks ooze the Van Halen sound.
Really I could say just about the same thing about some of their other covers on the album…I heard the VH take on them before hearing the original or just heard their version more. There is some great harmony and an interesting synth sound on “Dancing in the Streets,” originally recorded by Martha and the Vandellas. (I didn’t realize Marvin Gaye actually shared a songwriting credit on this song until writing this blog entry.) Another sixties cover on Diver Down was written by The Kinks’ Ray Davies: “Where Have All the Good Times Gone.” This one is actually the opening track. It features a lot of David Lee Roth’s vocal bump-and-grind and plenty of Eddie’s guitar.
As for the “weird” covers…it’s hard to beat ““Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)” — a jazzy thing written in the 1920s. The best part is Fritz Van Halen (father of guitarist Eddie and drummer Alex) plays the clarinet solo while David Lee Roth injects his sense of humor and “old timey show biz” vocals to it.
Fittingly, Diver Down closes with an a capella version of the Roy Rogers/Dale Evans penned “Happy Trails.”
By the way, if you want to SEE something weird, check out their video for “(Oh) Pretty Woman.” It has a sort of Village People meets The Wizard of Oz vibe to it with a little bit of Samurai warrior and cowboy.
Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!