Anyone fan compiling a serious list of the world’s greatest guitarists would need to put the late Eddie Van Halen close to the top, if not at the very peak.
Over the course of Van Halen's 40-plus-year career and a dozen albums, he redefined the electric guitar's possibilities to a level not see since Jimi Hendrix, inspiring more than one generation of shredders. His importance to the evolution of the instrument is such that that some guitar courses divide their syllabuses into pre- and post-Eddie eras. He was that pivotal.
But which solos are his best? We’re glad you asked…
10) One Foot Out The Door (1981)
Squeezed into the last two minutes of 1981’s Fair Warning album, this is an overlooked gem of a solo. It wailed in like an ecstatic ghost before Eddie’s fingers danced around the fretboard, his enthusiasm obvious and contagious. The second half of a solo took things up a notch, before some funky sliding power chords take us to the fade.
9. China Town (2012)
From the woefully underrated comeback album, A Different Kind Of Truth, this was a searing return to form for the band and a reminder that Eddie remained the Dutch Master of the guitar. Fast, aggressive and in your face it’s like receiving multiple roundhouse kicks from Bruce Lee.
8. Beat It (1982)
From the biggest selling album of all time, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, this jaw-dropper was recorded in one take and given to Michael Jackson gratis. Eddie managed to showcase everything that made him great in almost demo-like fashion, before the high note crescendo that almost sets the fretboard on fire.
7) Hang ’Em High (1982)
A gritty Western-inspired track demands a lightning fast gunslinger style of solo and that’s exactly what Eddie delivered on this track from Diver Down. The man himself described it as “loose, fun and crazy.” Yup.
6. Outta Love Again (1979)
This Van Halen II track is easy to miss, but the solo is a clear and deep display of Eddie’s blues roots. Featuring practically all minor pentatonic based phrases, Eddie brilliantly stitched together a series of vibrant and aggressive licks, which effectively tells the story of the electric blues from Muddy Waters to Eric Clapton.
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5) Push Comes To Shove
Eddie showed extreme control, taste and mastery of harmonic pacing in this track from Fair Warning. A dazzling combination of tapped fretted notes and “bounce tapped” harmonics, his solo was deftly controlled and beautifully phrased.
4) Mean Street (1981)
The opening track on Fair Warning showcased Eddie’s revolutionary harmonic sensibility, employing extensive use of the Floyd Rose here in his signature mix of tremolo and harmonic pitch change with the bar. The final ascending phrase (clearly worked out with great thought) was designed to give the driving and simple figure played by the rhythm guitar and bass underneath a perfect icing.
3) You’re No Good (1979)
A hit for Linda Ronstadt a few years earlier and covered on Van Halen 2, here Eddie grabbed it by the throat and tore it a new arsehole. Lazy bends and descending harmonic runs begin the solo climbing up the neck into a tapping sequence before finishing it off with an outrageous bend and tap.
2) I’m The One (1978)
Van Halen’s debut album is positively crammed with stunning guitar work, but this is a deep cut for the more finely-tuned ear. Here, Eddie served up two solos – the second is the killer, building intensity through a series of ascending phrases and and blues licks over a key change. The real treat is how the solo continues after the jazzy doo-wop vocal interlude, Eddie winding up his axe to the point of splitting.
1) Eruption (1978)
The pivotal moment in the evolution of rock guitar playing. In 1 minute and 42 seconds Eddie completely redefined the sonic and technical capabilities of the instrument forever. The introduction is standard enough with a big glissando and opening power chord and some high speed runs.
But when Eddie revealed his series of rapid two-handed tapping triads, jaws dropped, listeners said WTF and guitarists everywhere thought “Shit I gotta up my game.” It’s as if Bach himself had beamed in from the past, plugged his harpsichord into an FX rack and Marshall amp, blown our minds and then fucked back off again. Genius.