(Above: An album cover that doesn’t need explanation.)
For the past few days on Facebook, many have taken the “How has aging treated you?” challenge. The premise, basically, is that you post your first profile picture, and then your current, and see how time has treated you. In most cases, the span is about ten years or so. Some have aged well, and others? Well, those pictures would be mine.
So how does an album age after 35 years? January 9, 1984 was the release date of the last album released by the original configuration of Van Halen, 1984. The first single, “Jump,” came out just before that and hit the Billboard Hot 100 on January 14. That means that my copies of each would now also be 35, since I picked both up as soon as I was able to. My copy of the album would have been one of ten million sold. (Edited to add: a Facebook reader asked “What does the kid on the cover look like today?” NME did a piece on album cover models a few years ago, and… here’s Carter Helm as an adult:)
(This guy would win the Facebook challenge.)
Much has been written about how MTV was kind to white rock acts in its early years. Van Halen’s first video productions came from this album. Their prior releases, 1981’s Fair Warning and 1982’s Diver Down, stuck to concert footage-type video, like this clip of “Unchained.” The tracks from 1984 look much different: they are productions designed to gain viewership on MTV, which turned into singles chart success. Their cover of “Pretty Woman” became their second-ever Top 20 hit; three of the tunes from 1984 alone fared as well.
For a kid who was a sophomore in high school, this was right in my wheelhouse. I had only learned of Van Halen through friends at school, as most of my time was still spent chasing down Oldies songs from the radio. (A few months later in ’84 I’d be heading to record stores in Chicago tracking down stacks of 45s.) But this album, once I put it on, became an instant classic in my bedroom.
The first side featured “1984,” which effectively was the long intro to “Jump.” “Panama” followed; it has since taken on an additional life being featured at Chicago Blackhawks games during play stoppages. The final tracks on side 1, “Top Jimmy” and “Drop Dead Legs,” I don’t think I’ve heard since the last time this album was put on at a party. Side 2 opened with “Hot For Teacher,” a song that should have been a bigger hit than it was. (It also has the most memorable video from the album – one that made the Parents’ Music Resource Council rather uncomfortable.) True story: there was a kid at Andrew HS that looked exactly like Waldo from that video, glasses and all. One day at lunch, someone bellowed out “Sit down, Waldo!” to the delight of those in the cafeteria. “HFT” segued directly into “I’ll Wait,” which I recall getting a ton of airplay on Chicago’s WMET around that time. The side closed with “Girl Gone Bad” and “House of Pain,” and again, I haven’t heard those in a very long time. (Time to get the LP out again.)
When I think of “Jump,” though, I also think of the after-the-game sock hops that were the core of our high school social circle. “Jump” went to #1 on the Billboard charts, which meant even the DJs who came to our school had it in their stash of records. Imagine a bunch of fifteen-year-olds standing around in the middle of a dance floor, trying to get a groove on, while all girls in attendance left for the bathroom at the same time. Ah, high school….
Van Halen wasn’t the same again. By 1985 the band split up, in a sense: David Lee Roth went solo, the band hired Sammy Hagar to take over the singing, and fans are extraordinarily divided over whether or not it’s really two bands or one. But I’ll say this much: if you put 1984 on, and ask “Has it aged well?” – like we’re doing with our photos – the answer is a resounding “Yeah, it has.”
You can play air keyboards along with “Jump” by clicking here.