Did Van Halen follow-up their 1981 masterpiece “Fair Warning” with another classic in the same vein? No. Although “Fair Warning” remains Van Halen’s masterpiece and is a fan favorite, upon its release, it was a commercial disappointment, stalling at platinum status (it has sold over two million copies to date).
Van Halen made a far more radio-friendly, commercial album with 1982s “Diver Down.” Of the twelve tracks, three are instrumentals, and five are cover songs. That leaves only four Van Halen originals. The reason? As producer Ted Templeman stated, once you record a song that’s a hit, you’re already halfway there. A lot of fans have complained with the format of this CD. And while it would have been nice to have a full-length album of VH originals as a follow-up to “Fair Warning,” “Diver Down” is still a classic Van Halen recording. The original recordings, “Hang `em High,” “Secrets,” “Little Guitars” and “The Full Bug,” are four of Van Halen’s all-time best songs. All of the covers on this disc are better than the originals, and the instrumentals are cool and help with the flow of the album. Eddie’s playing, which goes with out saying, is spectacular. Dave shines of course, and Alex Van Halen (drums) and Michael Anthony (bass) provide a stellar rhythm section.
“Diver Down opens with the Kinks “Where Have All the Good Times Gone,” a mid-tempo, upbeat rocker. “Hang `Em High,” an ode to Clint Eastwood, is fast and furious. It features one of Eddie’s all-time best solos. “Cathedral” is a haunting, offbeat guitar instrumental, which adds a bit of spice to the album. The highly underrated “Secrets” is, without doubt, one of Van Halen’s greatest songs. It simply shows the Van Halen/Roth chemistry at its absolute best. This low-key, tuneful song is wonderfully written. David Lee Roth’s finest lyrics can be found right here:
“She ain’t waiting ’til she gets older
Her feet are makin’ tracks in the winter snows
She got a rainbow that touches her shoulder
She be headed where the thunder rolls”
The pace picks up for the fast-paced instrumental jam “Intruder,” which leads perfectly into the Roy Orbison classic “Pretty Woman,” one of Van Halen’s most popular songs. Van Halen made a dance-pop smash with the mowtown classic “Dancing in the Streets.” The melodic instrumental “Little Guitars (intro)” leads perfectly into the gorgeous “Little Guitars,” one of Van Halen’s greatest love songs. Much like “Secrets,” with “Little Guitars,” Van Halen manages to create a love song that is both sincere and has power. Unlike the schlock that Van Halen would be releasing a few years later with Sammy Hagar. “Big Bad Bill (is Sweet William Now)” is pure Dave kitsch and adds a great sense of humor to the CD. “The Full Bug” is a great, underrated, fast-paced, classic VH rocker. “Happy Trails” is a light-hearted vocal instrumental and is a great way to close the CD. While some fans might complain at its inclusion, along with “Big Bad Bill (is Sweet William Now), and call it filler, I actually am quite fond of them both. “Diver Down” wouldn’t be the same without them.
Some fans might consider “Diver Down” to be one of the bands weaker albums, especially when compared to their first four albums. I would have to disagree with this assessment. Van Halen didn’t set out to make a kick-ass hard rock album with “Diver Down.” They set out to make a more commercial, light-hearted album, and they succeeded brilliantly. It may not rock as hard as “Van Halen” or “Fair Warning,” but “Diver Down” is a gem in it’s own right. If you are a fan of classic rock, the first six Van Halen albums are essential to own for any great collection. “Diver Down” is no exception.