The Ten Greatest Edward Van Halen Guitar Riffs
There are really three parts to the creative process. First there is inspiration, then there is the execution, and finally there is the release.
- Edward Van Halen
When Edward Van Halen was once asked to describe his band’s music he responded by saying it sounds like “Godzilla waking up.”
Get ready. Godzilla is about to wake up.
In celebration of his birthday this week, here are the ten greatest guitar riffs from “The King of Ten Fingers and Six Strings” himself – Edward Van Halen.
The 1986 Van Halen album ‘5150’ is led by hit singles like “Why Can’t This Be Love”, “Best Of Both Worlds” and “Dreams” but it’s this title track which remains one of the standout guitar-driven songs of the Sammy Hagar era.
From the feverish opening riff to the gargantuan take-no-prisoners riff that follows, this one proved Edward could tear it up no matter who was fronting the band.
The melodious opening to “Hear About It Later” could have continued to play out as the perfect power ballad but, instead, Edward shifted gears into a thick, flange-heavy rock ‘n’ roll riff that epitomized the Edward Van Halen “Brown Sound”.
When Sammy Hagar first entered the studio to record the ‘5150’ album Edward Van Halen had two riffs intended for the recently departed David Lee Roth. One ended up on the album’s opening track “Get Up” while the other for “Summer Nights”, a mighty riff set to an infectious groove reminiscent of Cream-era Eric Clapton.
From 1979’s ‘Van Halen II’ comes this classic track led by what Guitar World Magazine described as a “bump and grind” riff. Originally a demo called “Bring On The Girls” the title and lyrics were later re-worked. Talk about a guitar riff tailor made for David Lee Roth. This one has some serious swagger.
"Cabo Wabo" is another phenomenal Edward Van Halen riff from the Sammy era. Unfortunately, it's one fans didn’t hear enough of live. After their 1988-’89 tour to support the ‘OU812’ album the band rarely, if at all, played this song in the tours that would follow.
The dark, aggressive tone of "Mean Street" was driven by Edward's mood at the time it was recorded. Feeling creatively stifled by both David Lee Roth and producer Ted Templeman Edward stuck around the studio after the others left. It was then he would release his frustrations with tapes rolling. Out from those secret sessions comes one of the nastiest riffs in rock history.
According to Edward Van Halen himself, this riff was inspired by Angus Young of AC/DC. Edward was amazed by the power of Young’s guitar playing in concert and wanted to come up with something that reflected that same force and intensity. He came up with "Panama", featuring one of the most recognizable guitar riffs in rock history.
Even Edward Van Halen’s simplest efforts are lead to mind-blowing results. Intended to be a parody of the punk rock bands of the late 70s, this riff is based around two chords with an electric sitar added to the solo. Edward thought so little of this riff that he waited six months before playing it for his band mates.
Led Zeppelin has their “Whole Lotta Love”, The Rolling Stones have their “Start Me Up”, Van Halen has their “Runnin’ With The Devil”. To steal a quote from David Lee Roth, this riff is as familiar to fans as the McDonald arches or the Nike swoosh.
Right out of the gate Edward attacks the chords with blazing ferocity on this hard rock classic. After slowing things down just long enough for David Lee Roth’s “Hey man that is suit is you” moment he brings back the intensity, finishing with more of that killer guitar lick. This was Edward's chance to fly and he soared the entire way.