"Kids came in their thousands, and the first two rows looked like Attila The Hun’s frontline troops – frothing at the mouth": four years on the road with America's ultimate party band, Van Halen

Van Halen posing astride a military tank
(Image credit: Lynn Goldsmith)

Having been discovered playing in a tiny Hollywood club by Gene Simmons of Kiss, Van Halen scored a Top 20 album right out of the box with their 1978 debut. The double whammy factor of one flamboyant vocalist and one astounding guitarist was making them a major live attraction but, already, tensions simmered beneath the surface. 

The outrageously lippy David Lee Roth revelled in high-profile pop excess, walking and talking a lifestyle that the sensitive virtuoso axeman Eddie Van Halen often considered shallow and insubstantial. Despite their initial success, as 1979 began, the band was living some way from the lap of luxury, and the fragile kinship was already beginning to fragment.



Early January 1979: The year begins with completion of Van Halen II at Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, California, with producer Ted Templeman. With a smaller budget than their debut, it took just six days to record, with many of the songs dating back several years. 

Dave Lee Roth: Van Halen was always considered the bastard son of the Warner Brothers’ stable. We made a $1.50 royalty per record that we split four ways. And this was when everybody else was getting $2.50 to $3. We toured for ten-and-a-half months straight and owed the company one million dollars. We decided to really take it to the edge and go in totally unprepared, and this way we’d get a totally spontaneous sound. It’s like: ‘Bang, stick it on the plastic, next please’ – that’s the Van Halen attitude and lifestyle. 

Eddie Van Halen: Somebody Get Me A Doctor was an old favourite of ours, and of people who used to follow us around before we ever had a record cut. We sift through the songs with Ted and pick out the ones we want to do. So it didn’t make the first album. Somebody in the band said: ‘Why don’t we save that one for the next album?’ 

Ted Templeman (producer): My job with Van Halen is to put a microphone in front of them and get the take. They’re really professional. They don’t have any fancy rehearsal hall, even though they could probably buy the Pan Am building. They work out there, and I come in and make suggestions, and then they go into the studio and blow it right out. 

EVH: Light Up The Sky is my favourite. I wrote the music for that right after our first record was recorded. When we came back off the tour, we played all our new riffs and songs for Ted and he really liked that one. I was totally surprised because it’s a little more progressive. 

Ted Templeman: Almost every solo you hear is played live on the basic track. He’ll whip into the solo, then go right back into the verse. When you’ve got that kind of musicianship, you don’t have to do much work. 

EVH: Ultimately, we were just plain rushed. That’s why you hear that little riff fade out at the end of the album – Al and I didn’t want to stop. We weren’t done but we had a deadline. 

Ted Templeman: Donn Landee is such a great engineer. He really took a major part in capturing that raw guitar sound. See, certain guitar players, no matter how well they play, just don’t have a sense of how to make their instrument sound distinct. 

Mar 23, 1979: Van Halen II is released in the USA.

EVH: All the reviews were like: “Wow it ain’t like the first one.” And, yeah, it was different. It was Catch-22 because if the second one was like the first one they’d say: “Aah, the same old shit.” So what do you do? You follow your heart and you go with what naturally happens, which is change. 

Mar 25, 1979: Selland Arena, Fresno, California. Setting off on their World Vacation tour, Van Halen are carrying 33 tons of stage equipment, consisting of a 22 ton 10,000 watt sound system and 10 tons and 444,000 watts of lighting. With a 24-person technical crew and a personal security team, it requires two custom coaches, a Lear jet, and three 44-foot semi-trucks to move the production from city to city. On this first night, support band The Fabulous Poodles are harassed off the stage by fans after only a few songs. 

Neil Zlozower (tour photographer): It was the most fun time of my life. I’ve been on tour with bands like Poison, Mötley Crüe, Ratt, but as far as I’m concerned Van Halen put them all to shame, as far as girls and good times.

Bobby Valentino (violinist/singer, The Fabulous Poodles): In that same year we toured with The Ramones and Tom Petty perfectly successfully, but the Van Halen audience wasn’t keen on us. I think we were a bit too quirky. We came off the tour after our drummer got hit by a padlock.

Apr 3 1979: Van Halen II is awarded a US gold disc.

Apr 7, 1979: Van Halen, Cheap Trick, Ted Nugent, Aerosmith and others play in The California Music Festival, Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles. Van Halen arrive in a fleet of 16 white limousines. Two diminutive bodyguards and a chimpanzee dressed as David Lee Roth greet the band’s 300 ‘personal guests’ backstage. 

DLR: I have two personal bodyguards. I need them because I’m in danger frequently of being attacked by 14-year-old schoolgirls. They’re called Jimmy and Danny; they used to be with a circus. When you look out of your bedroom door and a midget goes by in a bath towel, you know you’re not in life insurance.

Apr 14, 1979: Van Halen II enters the UK albums chart where it will peak at No.23. 

Geoff Barton (reviewer, Sounds): Guitarist Edward never plays one note where half a dozen will do, never churns out that same boring old riff for longer than he has to, embellishing it wherever possible with showy displays of dexterity and obtrusive pings. Dave Lee Roth is so concerned about using his vocal range to its wine glass-shattering limits that it’s all ‘Ow! Ow! Ow!’-ing and very little actual singing.

Apr 19, 1979: The Center Coliseum, Seattle, Washington. Robert Fleischman opens for the next two weeks

Robert Fleischman: There was a track called Ace In The Hole on my debut album, Perfect Stranger. It wasn’t written with any double meaning, but Michael Anthony told me he liked banging chicks on the tour bus while it was playing. Eddie, Alex and Michael were pretty close-knit, and you’d see them laughing and fooling around. David, though, he seemed to be on the sidelines and he’d just show up for the gig. 

DLR: I’ve never been high on group affiliation. I was always off by myself, and I was happy doing it. 

Robert Fleischman: One time when I was passing Eddie’s dressing room I looked in and said: ‘Hi.’ We started chatting and he said that he wished they had a singer like me. After my set I used to go sit by the mixing desk and watch the show, and it was obvious that this was a monster band. I don’t go for the whole performing seal act and jumping around, but it was very a propos for what was going on.

David Lee Roth on rollerskates

(Image credit: Lynn Goldsmith)

May 19, 1979: The Spectrum, Philadelphia

Steve Gett (reviewer, Melody Maker): Backstage, David Lee Roth was going through his various stages of preparation. It was a delicate procedure. He tried on numerous items of stage-wear before making the final selection. To call him vain would be an understatement. Narcissistic would be more appropriate, as he placed a soft gymnast’s mat in front of a mirror, then practised a number of stances while flexing his muscles. 

EVH: Having someone like Dave in the group gives you the best of both worlds. If we were all like him, it would be crazy. 

Alex Van Halen: We wanted to get the world to be able to listen to the music that we were making. And Dave was just one step in the chain to be able to facilitate that. There was no real camaraderie. 

DLR: The whole time I was in the band, I was the boss. I was domineering, I was demanding, I was exacting. And if things went wrong, I took the fall. 

Steve Gett: In Philadelphia, the new Van Halen show was hotter than hell. With bands like Kansas and Styx, pomp rock may be big business in America. But when Van Halen are in town, stomp rock takes over. Kids came in their thousands, and the first two rows looked like Attila The Hun’s frontline troops – frothing at the mouth.

Jun 25, 1979: UK leg of the World Vacation tour begins at The Odeon, Birmingham.

Jun 27, 1979: Apollo, Manchester, UK

Ian Dockry (audience): It’s one of those gigs that’s etched in my mind forever. Dave Lee Roth was just absolutely incredible. He did that trick of getting a movie camera up on stage and turning the house lights on the audience. He claimed it was Michael Anthony’s birthday and he wanted to film the audience as a memento. Later, I discovered he was doing the same thing at every gig. Because we were up in the circle we could see that he had a padded area built onto the stage behind him with the Van Halen logo on it and maybe an inch of foam beneath it so he could land his jumps on it.

Jun 28, 1979: Rainbow Theatre, London

Rick Burton (lighting designer, The Rainbow): When they arrived, the crew was as rock’n’roll as the band. Even the lighting director walked in with a chick on each arm. Their lighting rig was the biggest ever seen in The Rainbow. It was a party from the minute they arrived. David Lee Roth was a complete nutter. I remember walking into a dressing room and finding real naughties going on – naked women, and charlie being snorted from orifices – but the door wasn’t even closed. They just didn’t care who walked in. 

Nick Kent (reviewer, NME): This audience are virtually all one of a kind: predominantly male, hair at varying lengths over the collar and down the back, while the most striking characteristic is the jacket – either leather, or more usually denim, often with the arms sliced off, upon which is scrawled or else emblazoned via a mass of patches the names of VH’s kindred spirits – namely Rush, Kiss, Quo, Zep, Ted. 

DLR: We love to read the reviews. The worse they hate us, the more colourful adjectives they have to use, the more scenes they have to paint to explain why.

Jul 10, 1979: Memorial Coliseum, Corpus Christi, Texas. 

Neil Zlozower: I went up to the dressing room and Dave was there with this little 90lb, skinny blonde chick who was fuckin’ smokin’ hot. She also had a sewing machine. She was making clothes for Dave, real professional. I did photos of Dave wearing hot pants and his robe with this girl bending over. It was on the cover of Spin as one of rock’s 100 Sleaziest Moments.

After the show I saw that same girl who, two hours earlier had been straight and very professional, and she was sitting on her butt on the cement in some back catwalk, tongue hanging out of her mouth, eyes spinning around in her head, looking like she’d just done about 20 Quaaludes. 

Van Halen in 1979

(Image credit: David Tan/Shinko Music)

Jul 11, 1979: The Music Hall, Houston, Texas. 

Neil Zlozower: Van Halen II had a track called Beautiful Girls, so two weeks before they hit Texas, they’d got the local radio stations to announce a Van Halen Beautiful Girls Contest, inviting all the most beautiful girls in each town to come to the after-party at a local club, and the band would give an award to the best girl. Every single night there would be 50-100 girls, in the shortest, sexiest mini skirts and the tiniest skimpy-ass bikinis. There was too many to form a line, so they’d form a square around the perimeter of the club. When the time came to judge the winner the band would have a look and then Dave would announce: ‘You know what? You girls all win! Why don’t you all come back to the hotel and hang with us?’

Jul 14, 1979: Dance The Night Away is their first Top 20 single, peaking at No 15

DLR: We just stuck it together one afternoon. The way we – dare I say it – compose is we stand around in a circle and hum at each other and go: ‘Hmmmmmm.’ 

EVH: And we say: that sound’s good, let’s call it Dance The Night Away

DLR: Ed’s so good that we just hum at him and he’ll play it right, even though you hummed it wrong.

Oct 6, 1979: Beautiful Girls peaks at No 84. 

DLR: The lyrics go: ‘I’m a bum in the sun an’ I’m having fun and you know I got no special plans; all I need is the woman’ and it ends up with a kiss. Definitely not lightweight! 

Oct 7, 1979: The World Vacation Tour ends at The Great Western Forum, Inglewood, California.


February 1980: David Lee Roth forms the Jungle Studs, a group of 14 adventurers consisting of lawyers, accountants, and doctors (Dave is the only musician). Their annual treks will include kayaking Alaskan rivers and climbing Nepalese mountains. 

DLR: It’s therapy beyond belief. You don’t think about anything except the most basic primal instincts and necessities. The natives of New Guinea have 650 separate dialects, so for me it’s all down to sign language. If you can relax, you can tell some pretty good stories. And if you develop that facility it’s bound to serve you well in the music industry.

Mar 22, 1980: World Invasion Tour begins at Lane County Fairgrounds, Eugene, Oregon. This trek features the most elaborate music light show ever designed, requiring seven tractor-trailers for the 800 lights alone. The legendary brown M&M contract rider is introduced, as is an early version of the Grid System whereby roadies are given backstage passes marked with the letter Q. Band members then point out a particular female fan in the audience and a roadie bestows her with the pass. 

Neil Zlozower: The brown M&Ms rider was a practical thing. It wasn’t that they hated brown M&Ms, they just wanted to be sure that the venue managements were paying proper attention to the conditions of the rider. Brown M&Ms in the dressing room meant that management hadn’t read the rider.

Mar 26 1980: Third album, Women And Children First, is released in the USA, their first to feature all original compositions. 

EVH: We finished the music in six days, and the whole album took eight. I don’t understand how people can take any longer. I’d say we did it for between $30,000 and $40,000. 

DLR: A lot of the time I hadn’t written my lyrics, but I couldn’t admit that to a superstar talent like Ted Templeman. So, on Everybody Wants Some, when you hear me say: ‘I like the way the line runs up the back of those stockings’, I’m just reporting what I can see of the girl through the glass in the control room. 

EVH: It’s a Rickenbacker electric (on In A Simple Rhyme). At first it didn’t sound right through my amp, and I asked Ted: ‘Can you doctor it up later in the mix?’ Then I told him to forget it. I wanted to make it good out of the amp before it’s recorded. My theory is that if it doesn’t sound good coming out of the speaker box, it ain’t gonna happen on tape. 

DLR: There’s rain in the acoustic tune Could This Be Magic? We opened up the bay doors to the studio to get that outdoor feel. You’ll hear rain, you’ll hear me screw up the foot-tap about the twelfth bar into the song, you’ll hear some really angelic harmonies from Alex and Michael.

Apr 03, 1980: Women And Children First is released in the UK, where it peaks at No 15. 

Pete Makowski (Sounds): A platter of epic standards that should capture the hearts of all the people who might have been confused by their last offering, which was almost mellow compared to the skullgrinding debut. This band are out of order and this album will make your ears bleed.

May 23, 1980: David Lee Roth fractures his nose while recording a TV special in The Piper Club, Rome, Italy. 

DLR: They lowered a mirrorball. This was during rehearsals. They lowered it in the darkness until it was dangling about three feet above my head. The lights came on, the band started, I took off into the air and wham! I broke my nose. They took me to an Italian hospital and I woke up with all these doctors around me saying things like: ‘Don’t worry, we fix you up real good.’ 

I didn’t like the sound of that, so I caught the next plane back to Los Angeles and went into a hospital there. My surgeon says: ‘Relax for two weeks, don’t do anything.’ And I say: ‘OK, sure,’ and catch the next plane out to Holland to play the Pinkpop Festival. I was playing in Holland four days after I broke my nose.

June 2, 1980: Women And Children First is certified platinum in the USA.

Jun 3, 1980: Palais des Sports, Paris. 

Paula Yates (Record Mirror): For David to endure the agonies of whatever it was he had down his pants, cantilevering his willie into that position for an hour and a half, is dedication to say the least.

Jun 17, 1980: City Hall, Newcastle

Geoff Barton: A spontaneous delight. It wasn’t like staying at home listening to the albums. It was a live performance. It was a jumble. A hotch-potch. Often untidy. Muddled. Dishevelled. Disorganised. A chaotic classic of its kind.

June 18 1980: Apollo Theatre, Glasgow

DLR: Playing at The Apollo was something that was part of history. It was a historical reference, like The Beatles at The Cavern Club and The Who Live At Leeds. You had to play The Apollo.

Duncan Nicol (audience): Roth was so drunk all he could do was swig from endless bottles of wine. He didn’t sing many songs, but did tell us constantly how many “chicks” he had fucked since becoming a star. It’s the only concert I’ve ever been at where everyone sat down all through the concert then booed the band off at the end.

Jun 28, 1980: And The Cradle Will Rock peaks at No 55 in Billboard. 

EVH: I pinged my strings above the nut (on And The Cradle Will Rock) and asked Ted to play it backwards, so the attack comes at the end of the note. In conjunction with this I scraped the springs in the back of my guitar. I also took my vibrato bar all the way down so that the strings were limp and then, with my left thumb, I flapped the low E string around the third fret. Sounds great.

Jun 28, 1980: Re-issued 1978 track Runnin’ With The Devil gives Van Halen their first UK singles chart entry – a lowly #52.

1980, Apr 26: Cobo Hall, Detroit, Michigan

Dave DiMartino (Creem): I decide to sit in front of the stage for the hour or so before the show starts. While I sit, smoking cigarettes, taking a few scattered notes, I realise that people are gradually walking in. But something’s weird: they’re coming from behind the stage. And they’re girls! I mean it, girls! Who can’t be much older than 16 or 17! And they’ve all got backstage passes! 

DLR: Most of what I do is because of girls. If girls didn’t exist I wouldn’t have this job, I wouldn’t even bother with music. I wouldn’t even bother with breakfast.

Aug 29, 1980: Eddie meets TV soap star Valerie Bertinelli backstage at a gig in Hirsh Memorial Arena, Shreveport, Louisiana. As a joke, Valerie presents each band member with a bag of M&Ms including brown ones. 

Valerie Bertinelli: When I came home, I just couldn’t get the night off my mind. I thought: ‘This guy is just phenomenal.’ He’s hit me like no other man has hit me in my life. He’s just so sensitive. I think what happened was that both of us got a little of the other’s personality. I got to be a little more crazy, and he got to be a little more sane.

Eddie Van Halen at home in 1980 surrounded by guitars

(Image credit: Richard E. Aaron)

Sep 12, 1980: At McNichols Arena, Denver, Colorado, Van Halen notice that their M&Ms concert rider has not been met. Naturally, they trash the facilities, causing over $10,000 worth of damage.

Sep 15, 1980: Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Phoenix, Arizona

Valerie Bertinelli: Ed had just won best rock guitarist in Guitar Player magazine for the fourth time in a row, and he was so happy. He went to a soundcheck and Dave berated him. He said: “You think you’re fucking hot shit just because you won.” Ed came back to the hotel and started telling me this. We had adjoining rooms and he was sitting in the corner of my room and started to cry. And I said, “What’s wrong?” I didn’t know how to handle it. I’d only known the guy for a month. 

He said: “Why do I have to be so lucky? Why do these things always happen to me? Why can’t Dave have some luck? Why can’t Dave get some attention? Then maybe he’ll lay off me a while.” Then he just looked at me and said: “I love you.” And he was crying. I was like: “Oh, god, I love you too.” For a man to say I love you, crying, it’s like, god… it was really sweet.

Oct 9, 1980: Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, California, supported by Talas. 

Billy Sheehan (bassist, Talas): We opened for them about 30 or 40 shows in 1980. We saw them so consistently awesome that on their worst night they were merely spectacular – it was like a military operation. They’d get up and hit that stage, and man that machine would kick in – amazing. From the openings to the banter between songs and Eddie’s spectacular playing, the whole band, the groove – it was just amazing.

Nov 08, 1980: World Invasion Tour ends at Von Braun Civic Center Arena, Huntsville, Alabama

Billy Sheehan: I came off that tour knowing so much more about how it’s supposed to work than I ever could have imagined on my own. It was like a PhD in showbusiness. We got to see stuff that we had no idea, you know, that show business worked that way.

Dec 8, 1980: Eddie proposes to Valerie Bertinelli with an $8,000 diamond ring

Valerie Bertinelli: I think he [Dave] was jealous that Ed had fallen in love and was happy. I feel Dave tended to keep Ed in a miserable place and liked him there because he could control him that way. But when Ed became happy and more independent, Dave couldn’t control him anymore. Dave likes control. 

EVH: I think it pissed Dave off, because all of a sudden I got a whole other side of the limelight he wanted. The tabloids and People magazine kind of shit.


Apr 11 1981: Eddie Van Halen marries Valerie Bertinelli at St Paul the Apostle Church in Westwood, California. 

Valerie Bertinelli: The priest gave us questionnaires so he could get to know us better and offer more personal words. As we filled out the forms at home, we each held a little vial of coke. 

EVH: Between 1980 and 1984 I did a lot of blow. And drinking. I always got hammered to be able to cope. I have zero social skills. 

Valerie Bertinelli: It got to a point where whenever I heard the birds chirp, I’d be like: ‘Oh, God, no.’ It took me years after stopping the cocaine before I was able to enjoy a sunrise and the sound of birds.

Apr 29, 1981: Van Halen’s darker fourth album, Fair Warning, is released in the USA. Despite selling more than two million copies, it is their slowest-selling album of the David Lee Roth era. 

DLR: I was starting to get more involved. But what I had to do to get involved was very strange. We’d work during the day and I wasn’t very happy with the way things were going, the way people were approaching the whole recording process. I would sneak back into the studio at 4am with Donn Landee, and completely re-record all the solos and overdubs. 

Ted Templeman: Part of my job was to keep them on schedule. I really didn’t mean to crack the whip, but I had to because we had very little time to record. A couple of those albums were thrown together in six weeks! They were always on the run. In fact, we wrote a song called One Foot Out The Door because that’s literally how it was. 

EVH: On the whole album I was angry, frustrated and loose. It’s like the solo in Unchained. I love that song. It’s rare that I can listen back to my own playing and get goose bumps. But that’s one of them.

May 12, 1981: The Fair Warning tour begins at Halifax Metro Center, Nova Scotia, supported by The Fools. 

Mike Girard (vocalist, The Fools): Roth was kind of tough to get along with at times. Everybody else was great. Eddie was with Valerie Bertinelli, and they had those little heart balloons over their heads. Anything was fine with Eddie. It was love.

May 23, 1981: Fair Warning enters the UK albums chart where it peaks at No 49. 

Cynthia Rose (NME): Fair Warning makes it explicit that Van Halen have become a triumph of form over content; only it’s satire and not cartoon.

Oct 24, 1981: The Fair Warning tour concludes with a show at The Tangerine Bowl, Orlando, Florida, supporting The Rolling Stones.

Nov 9, 1981: A feature in People magazine reveals that David Lee Roth has taken out paternity insurance. 

DLR: About four of five years ago, a guy in the band (Eddie) had a suit from a woman claiming her kid was his. All the tests proved conclusively that that never was his kid. So I took out insurance in order to make someone think six times before she does anything.

Nov 18, 1981: Fair Warning goes platinum in the USA.


January 1982: Oh, Pretty Woman is recorded at Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, California

EVH: When we came off the Fair Warning tour we were gonna take some time off and spend a lot of time writing, and this and that. Dave came up with the idea of: ‘Hey, why don’t we start off the new year with just putting out a single?’ So I said: ‘Hey, if you wanna do a cover tune, why don’t we do Pretty Woman?’ And it took one day.

Apr 3, 1982: It is reported that guitarist Ace Frehley is planning to leave Kiss. 

Gene Simmons: Eddie came down to the studio to talk to me about joining the band. He wanted to join us, we never asked him. Van Halen was a volatile band and Eddie and David were going through their ups and downs, and it got to the point that Eddie could no longer stand David and just wanted to split. I urged them to stay together and they did.

Apr 14, 1982: Diver Down is released in the USA. 

EVH: Diver Down was kind of like: ‘Let’s put Eddie in his place.’ Ted and Roth thought I was out of control on Fair Warning, but to me that was a rock’n’roll album. Look, there was no hit on it, which Warner Bros didn’t dig, but I didn’t care. So Ted and Roth and the label wanted a hit single, and they dug up all these cover tunes to try and get a hit. Dave said: “No more fucking guitar solos.” Ted didn’t know that that’s the way Dave felt. 

So, one day when Dave wasn’t there I said: ‘Ted, what do you think of this?’ I played him Little Guitars, the intro, the little flamenco-sounding thing, and Cathedral, and he’s going like: “God! Why the fuck didn’t you show me this earlier?!” And I explained to him, Dave just said: “Fuck the guitar hero shit, you know, we’re a band.” So Ted just said: “Fuck Dave.” So we put it on anyway. 

Vernon Reid: Little Guitars reminds me of Pete Townshend. Sounds very Rush. Eddie is bad. I’ll tell you, he’s a powerful influence on literally a generation of guys. He changed the way a lot of people approach the instrument.

The two-handed tapping is certainly the most obvious technique that he brought to the fore. I didn’t start thinking about doing any two-handed tapping until after I heard Van Halen. 

EVH: The problem with Roth was that he forgot who wrote the songs. I wrote them. And the songs are the heart of our music. I never listened to his words. I couldn’t have cared less what he was singing about. 

Jeffrey Morgan (Creem): Not only is this album an insult to the average consumer, it is an exceptionally vicious kick in the teeth to Van Halen fans everywhere; fans who have made David Lee Roth, Alex Van Halen, Eddie Van Halen and Michael Anthony millionaires.

Apr 17, 1982: Oh, Pretty Woman peaks at No 12 in Billboard, despite the video being banned by MTV

EVH: We had a transvestite tied up and two midgets harassing her, squeezing her ass and doing this and that. Dave was Napoleon, Mike was a samurai warrior, Alex my brother was Tarzan, and I was like a gunslinger with leather pants and twirling the gun and stuff.

Apr 23, 1982: Diver Down is released in the UK where it will peak at No 36

Cynthia Rose: On this album: another great Ray Davies re-vamp, this one a timely Where Have All The Good Times Gone; a superb industrial-strength cover of Dancing In The Streets; and a rendering of Orbison’s Oh, Pretty Woman as the sublimest of environmental jarrs. Of their own compositions, Little Guitars, Secrets and The Full Bug all more than pass muster.

Jun 30, 1982: Diver Down goes platinum in the US.

Jul 3, 1982: Dancing In The Street, a cover of a 1964 Martha And The Vandellas hit, peaks at No 38. 

EVH: C’mon – Van Halen doing Dancing In The Street? It was stupid. I started feeling like I would rather bomb playing my own songs than be successful playing someone else’s.

Jul 14, 1982: The Diver Down Tour begins at Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center, Augusta, Georgia, with After The Fire as opening act. It closed 80 dates later having grossed $10m. 

Peter Banks (keyboards, After The Fire): When we wandered down to the venue, this tiny little scruffy guy all in denim, very courteous and friendly, comes up to us and says: ‘Hey, are you guys the support band?’ We say yeah, and he started to show us round the venue, doing the guided tour, and it was only after he showed us to our dressing room that our guitarist, John, whispered: ‘I think that’s Eddie Van Halen.’ We’d completely failed to recognise him.

Then, after he’d gone we noticed that as well as a generous supply of cold meats, salads and drinks, we had two huge glass bowls of brown smarties which turned out to be all the leftover brown M&Ms that Van Halen refused to have in their rider. 

We went down quite well, but then Van Halen came on. I mean Freddie Mercury had audiences eating out the palm of his hand, but Van Halen were just totally in another league, in terms of entertainment and performance level.

Jul 20, 1982: Knoxville Coliseum, Tennessee

Peter Banks: It took about five gigs before we could figure out what was going on. They had something very special. They could draw girls in droves back to the hotel, but musically they were superb. Because Eddie and Alex are brothers they really understood what each other was about – they were totally in sync.

Aug 7, 1982: While in St. Louis, Missouri, Eddie Van Halen buys a mint condition 1958 Gibson Flying V from famed vintage guitar collector Dan Martin. He will, eventually, buy over 100 guitars from Martin.

Aug 13, 1982: Cobo Hall, Detroit, Michigan. 

Steve Gett: By the end of every concert there are hordes of young ladies in the backstage area, and few have just stopped by for autographs. All of the band rooms are individually labelled with such placards as ‘Holding Tank’, ‘Rubber Room’ and ‘Love Dungeon’. It’s apparent that these are Roth’s brainchildren, and he can usually be found in the hospitality room before and after the show, holding court, with a giant stereo system blaring out his favourite songs. 

Peter Banks: It was a full-on schedule, a gig a day with huge distances between them. In Detroit, it was someone’s birthday, so the frivolity started backstage after their set, then moved to the hotel where they had taken over two floors. They had a cocktail bar called The Libation Station where the crew mixed up endless exotic and potent cocktails. Eddie certainly did like to drink. He had specially-constructed flight cases with foam cut outs for the bottles of Jack Daniel’s. That was his tipple. There were queues of girls trying to get into this party and, at one point, they wheeled in a giant cake and a naked woman burst out of the top. 

DLR: We started to see evidence of the professional groupie in the early 80s. Alarmingly, these girls bore a striking resemblance to Mötley Crüe. For me, the best groupies were the homecoming queens who were out on a lark, the preachers daughters out for a wild night. 

Peter Banks: Over there, of course, everything was traded for drugs. If you had some coke, girls, and blokes, would pretty much do anything if they were desperate for it. There were rooms set aside for drugs. Eddie would come into our dressing room with a couple of girls in tow, and then they’d disappear down into the shower, and we had no idea what was going on – but it wasn’t long enough for any kind of frenetic sexual activity so we could only assume it was drugs.

Aug 14, 1982: Second of two nights at Cobo Hall, Detroit, Michigan. 

Peter Banks: The party continued into the second day, so they were completely and utterly wasted that night, but they delivered an absolutely incredible performance. When they hit the stage they just raised their game. Dave Lee Roth could stand in the middle of the stage and raise his hand and the crowd would go absolutely ballistic. So they played the gig and then the party started again immediately after. 

DLR: Sure I’ve been up two or three days and nights at a time, but when the time comes to move on, I just throw back a load of vitamins and like: ‘OK, show me to the next gig’. And the next, and the next, dammit. I tell ya there’s none that can keep up with us. Groupies, dealers, – you name it – they hang around for maybe a couple of days and then it hits ’em. They’re flaked out and we’re wide awake heading for the next gig. 

Peter Banks: That party was the first time I actually met Dave Lee Roth, surrounded by totty. He was propped up in a doorway, completely shattered, but still putting forth these party lines, and he tried to show me some self-defence moves, like: “If you try to hit me, I’d do this…” But being a cocky Brit I used my other hand and smacked him round the head.

Van Halen onstage

David Lee Roth, Michael Anthony and Eddie Van Halen at Madison Square Garden in New York, 1982 (Image credit: Larry Marano)

Sep 7, 1982: Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Phoenix, Arizona

Peter Banks: In Phoenix, the Van Halen crew ran a book on how long we would last. There were Jack Daniel’s bottles full of piss coming over and a huge chunk of quarter-inch steel crashed down onto the stage. We lasted four songs. After, we were on a bit of an adrenaline high so we had a food fight in the dressing room. The promoter came in and said he would charge us $2,500 so, as soon as he was gone, the four of us were on our hands and knees trying to clean the place up. Then Eddie came in and said: ‘Fuck this, I’ll pay it for you.’ And he did.

Oct 11, 1982: Onstage in Largo, Maryland, Dave Lee Roth announces that for the fifth year running, Eddie is Guitarist Of The Year in Guitar Player

Billy Sheehan: I think either directly or indirectly, Ed’s playing has virtually influenced every other player. Even guitarists who aren’t into his playing go so far out of their way to avoid playing like him they’re still being influenced by his presence.

Oct 15, 1982: Having injured himself the night before in Pittsburgh, Eddie’s left wrist is X-rayed at Hand Surgery Associates in New York. A fracture results in the cancellation of three shows

EVH: I hit walls when I get mad. I’m obsessed with music and sometimes things don’t go right. I was lucky that the break was to my left hand. If it had been the other way round I’d probably have been sidelined for a couple of months. 

19 Oct 1982: The Spectrum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, supported by Joe Whiting And The Bandit Band

Joe Whiting: They had a speed-drinking game, Beerhunter, which I played one night with Michael and their guitar tech. It was just who could drink a can of beer the fastest. Luckily, a friend had taught me years earlier that you don’t start chugging the beer down. You learn how to open your throat and pour it in. I went three-for-three with them and beat them every single time. 

Oct 22 1982: Van Halen Day is declared in Worcester, Massachusetts, as the band arrives for three shows at The Centrum

Joe Whiting: I’d done big shows before, with ZZ Top, The Allman Brothers and Three Dog Night, but never for that kind of rabid, hard-rock audience. You had to keep your eyes open so you didn’t get hit with shit like batteries, shoes and whisky and beer bottles. They threw shit at David Lee Roth too, but he wouldn’t take it. He would just stop the show and give them hell. 

One night he stopped the band, looked down in front and said: “You motherfucker! After this show I’m gonna come down there and I’m gonna fuck your girlfriend.” The place went crazy. Then he says: “And if you’re still here, I’m gonna kick your fuckin’ ass.’ The place went crazy all over again.

Nov 30, 1982: Michael Jackson releases the Thriller album which includes Beat It. 

Michael Jackson: I wanted to write the type of rock song that I would go out and buy. But also something totally different from the rock music I was hearing on Top 40 radio. 

Quincy Jones: I decided to call Eddie Van Halen to come play the solo on Beat It.

EVH: I said: ‘Hello’. And there was this guy answering, ‘Hello?’ We couldn’t hear each other, so I hung up. And then the call came again: ‘Is this Eddie? It’s Quincy, man!’ And I’m like: ‘Who the hell? What do you want you asshole?’ So finally he says: ‘It’s Quincy Jones, man!’ And I’m thinking: ‘Oh, shit, I’m really sorry, man.’ It was really funny. 

Bruce Swedien (engineer): That guitar solo is incredible – when Eddie came in to play, he was in Studio B at Westlake and I was in Studio A with Michael and Quincy, but I went in there when he was tuning and warming up and I left immediately. It was so loud, I would never subject my hearing to that kind of volume level! 

EVH: Certain people in the band at that time didn’t like me doing things outside the group. I thought: ‘well, they’ll never know.’ Seriously, who’s going to know that I played on a black guy’s record? 

Bobby Valentino: A couple of years after we supported Van Halen, I played the mad violin solo in the middle of Young At Heart by The Bluebells. My inspiration for that was trying to do on the violin what Eddie Van Halen did on his guitar. Beat It was in the charts at the time and I thought: ‘Hmmm, if I could do a fiddle solo like that.”

Dec 12, 1982: The Diver Down Tour ends at Jacksonville Coliseum, Florida. A planned European leg of the tour is cancelled when Warners demand that Van Halen return to the studio to begin work on a new album which will prove to be 1984, their biggest ever. 

Neil Zlozower: They’d been getting more successful with every album, and success always brings ego problems – like who’s got the biggest car, the nicest house, the best-looking girlfriend. So there was that, and then people had been criticizing the Diver Down album, people thought they’d copped out on that album. You can’t be on top of the world all the time. They were touring constantly, but what good is work if you can’t enjoy life?

This feature was published in Classic Rock 169, in April 2012

Johnny Black

Johnny is a music journalist, author and archivist of forty years experience. In the UK alone, he has written for Smash Hits, Q, Mojo, The Sunday Times, Radio Times, Classic Rock, HiFi News and more. His website Musicdayz is the world’s largest archive of fully searchable chronologically-organised rock music facts, often enhanced by features about those facts. He has interviewed three of the four Beatles, all of Abba and been nursed through a bad attack of food poisoning on a tour bus in South America by Robert Smith of The Cure.