The ‘1984’ Rift Between David Lee Roth and Van Halen

After more than a decade together since forming in Pasadena, California in 1973, and with six albums behind them, David Lee Roth parted ways with Van Halen in 1985 to pursue his solo career.

Videos by American Songwriter

At the time Roth left, 1984 was the band’s most successful album up until that point, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard 200, where it remained for three weeks with hits “Panama” and Van Halen’s first No. 1 single “Jump.”

Although the album was a peak for Van Halen, it also marked the height of a deep rift between the frontman, Roth, and the rest of the band—guitarist Eddie Van Halen, bassist Michael Anthony, and drummer Alex Van Halen.

“Jump”

When the band was recording 1984, Eddie Van Halen had just set up his 5150 studio and decided to add more synth to the album. On “Jump,” Van Halen incorporated his Oberheim OB-Xa synthesizer over regular guitar parts, which became a point of contention as Roth was allegedly not too keen on the band’s departure in sound.

The video for “Jump” led to more friction within the band as Roth had allegedly filmed a music video, featuring himself enjoying more hedonistic pleasures, which was scrapped by producer Robert Lombard, who was later fired for bypassing Roth and bringing the footage he wanted to use to Eddie and Alex Van Halen.

“‘Jump’ is where the drama really started,” said Lombard. “Dave wanted the performance video intercut with him doing crazy shit, like driving his chopped Mercury hot rod and hanging out with midgets and girls in maids’ outfits, so we shot hours of footage.”

He continued, “I knew that if they kept it as a straight-on performance video, they would have a number one single, so I took the rough cut to Eddie’s house up in Coldwater Canyon and played it for him and his brother Alex. I said, ‘Guys, I’m taking a stand here. If you put in this crazy footage’—which later surfaced in [the video for] ‘Panama,’ after I was gone—’the video isn’t gonna have the impact it should have.’ Eddie and Alex said, ‘We agree with you, one hundred percent. We’re not gonna release this video unless it’s done this way.'”

The final video, directed by Roth and the band’s longtime collaborator Pete Angelus, gave a more personal look at the band with a montage of different performance angles on stage and was nominated for three MTV Video Music Awards, winning Best Stage Performance.

“Rather than doing something bigger than life, which is how Van Halen was perceived,” said Angelus, “we wanted something very personal.”

Roth Goes Solo

After the release of 1984, Roth began exploring his own solo career and released the EP,  Crazy from the Heat, in early 1985, which featured his cover of the 1965 Beach Boys’ classic, “California Girls,” along with the Louis Prima medley, “I Ain’t Got Nobody and Just a Gigolo.”

“I think it’s something [David Lee Roth] always wanted to do,” said Eddie Van Halen in a 1985 interview. “I think it’s great he’s actually doing it. Put it this way, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do and haven’t done. I guess in a funny way, it explains Dave as a vocalist and lyricist. 

He continued, “He did four cover tunes, but these songs do convey a message within him — ‘California Girls,’ ‘Easy Street,’ ‘Just a Gigolo’ and one other one — but I’m sure it’s going to happen in the true Van Halen tradition even though it’s not Van Halen music.“

1985

By the summer of 1985, just a few months after releasing his EP, Roth officially announced that he was leaving the band. There have been many mixed stories about their separation over the years since tensions had been building within the band prior to 1984, and the album.

Though Van Halen reunited with Roth in 2007, and recorded another album, A Different Kind of Truth (without original bassist Michael Anthony), in 2012, 1984 marked the last time the original lineup recorded as a unit.

For Van Halen, 1984 was the beginning for Van Halen, and the end of an era for the band.

VH: The End

Shortly after Eddie Van Halen’s death on Oct. 6, 2020, Roth shared a sentimental remembrance of his former bandmate.

“I had a ball with Ed,” said Roth. “Walt Disney once said, ‘You know what? My love affair with Mickey Mouse was better than any love affair with a woman I ever had.’ I’ve gotta tell ya: playing with Ed, writing songs with Ed, and presenting those songs with Ed was better than any love affair I ever had. And some of those songs, I think, might last forever—or until the last syllable of time, like Shakespeare said. They became anthems. Where are they playing ‘Jump’ right now?”

On Oct. 4, 2015, Roth performed with Van Halen for the last time at the Hollywood Bowl.

Photo: Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

best budget audio interface featured image

8 Best Budget Audio Interfaces of 2024

Barenaked Ladies Release Joyful Single “Lovin’ Life”