The Meaning Behind “Jamie’s Cryin'” by Van Halen and What David Lee Roth Had to Do to Find the Right Vocal Tone

The 1978 self-titled debut album by Van Halen comes at you with a lot of bravado and propulsion, with little room for any kind of letup in that approach. “Jamie’s Cryin'” throws a bit of a curveball, however, as it’s a song characterized by lush harmonies, a swinging beat, and downright sensitive lyrics.

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What is “Jamie’s Cryin'” about? How did it separate itself from the rest of Van Halen’s debut? And what assistance did David Lee Roth need to get his vocals just right? Let’s take a look back at this engaging change of pace from the unrelenting hard rockers.

Spontaneous and Surprising

Like most bands people believe are overnight successes, Van Halen actually had to battle for years to get to the point where they were anointed the next great hard-rock band after just a single album. Their road to the top included playing house parties before graduating to clubs.

Even when they seemed to get their big break, it didn’t quite turn out as planned. The band was able to record some demos, with none other than Gene Simmons of KISS overseeing them. However, not even Simmons’ involvement could draw any record company attention to the quartet.

The tide finally turned in their favor when they played a 1977 show that was attended by executives at Warner Bros. Records, including Ted Templeman, who would produce their debut record. Due to the years of making demos and playing live, they had a wealth of material on which to draw for their album. But one song was written separately, solely for the purpose of being on the album. And that was “Jamie’s Cryin’.”

“Cryin'” Time

As was often the case with Van Halen, an Eddie Van Halen guitar idea provided the impetus for what would become “Jamie’s Cryin’.” The whining nature of his riff did indeed sort of sound like the noises someone would make when crying. That brought out Roth’s empathetic side when he wrote the lyrics, which he apparently dashed off in less than a half hour.

Writing it might have been easy, but singing “Jamie’s Cryin'” proved problematic for the frontman. Thinking the song needed a different vocal approach, he laid off some of his normal vices for a few days, only to find that he struggled when he tried to find the right vocal tone. In his book Crazy from the Heat, Roth explained how he fixed everything:

“I went out and sat in the little basketball court area outside the studio. I ate half a cheeseburger and drained a soda pop and smoked half a joint. Walked in, knocked out ‘Jamie’s Cryin” in 40 minutes.”

What is the Meaning of “Jamie’s Cryin'”?

The Jamie in “Jamie’s Cryin'” is a girl who meets a guy she really likes, but not so much that she wants to immediately indulge in a night of passion with him. When she turns him down on that note (while still hoping they can see each other again), he leaves her for good.

Roth comes at this from a perspective you might not expect, considering his reputation as one of rock’s great lotharios. He’s clearly on Jamie’s side, even though he knows what she’s up against: Gimme, gimme a call something / But she knows what that will get her. Still, she stands on principle, even if that means heartbreak: Now Jamie’s been in love before / And she knows what love is for / It should mean a little, a little more.

“Jamie’s Cryin'” did get released as a single in 1978, but didn’t receive much airtime. It did prove lucrative down the road when it was sampled by Tone Loc on his No. 1 hit “Wild Thing.” But there’s nothing wild about the tone of the original song, as it instead displays that these hard rockers did indeed possess a winning softer side.

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Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

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