Why I Believe Eddie Van Halen is the Greatest Rock Musician Ever
A lot of people may or may not realize they're being preferential to one particular niche, they just sort of pick up on what they think sounds good and declare that musician as great. Of course, this is inevitable as what type of music you enjoy is basically the result of the sum of every influence in your life, much like your overall personality itself. However, to truly judge who the best rock musician is, being objective as much as possible is completely necessary.
Now, the problem is, while things such as beats per minute and record sales are easily measured and can be used for objectivity, that's not what defines whether music is good or not. Nothing does define it precisely, really. So in the end, there's going to be some subjectivity and bias no matter what. Arguing over such things is futile, but explaining why you have a certain personal perspective on something such as this can still be enlightening, and that's all I'm attempting to do here, really, is enlighten on my view.
Now, guitar enthusiasts and listeners alike always seem to have one particular niche that they look for when judging a player's ability. People who look for technical prowess may praise Malmsteen or Petrucci; people who look for incorporating heaviness may praise Laiho or Dimebag; people who look for emotion may praise Hendrix or Clapton; people who look for tone may praise Gilmour or Slash; people who look for blissful, down-to-the-core rock n' roll may praise Angus Young or Jimi Page; etc... You get my point.
Basically, the reason why I think Eddie is the best rock musician is simply because he's the near epitome of all these categories listed above, and more. Categories that truly mean something when it comes to how good one's playing is perceived by the mind; not just beats-per-minute or technical know-how. What's the "more" you say? Well, as hard as this may be to decide objectively, I believe he's quite possibly the most unique guitarist when it comes to the music he creates, whilst still pertaining a style that can be enjoyed by the masses. The last part of that is key, since obviously someone could record themselves smashing their guitar against the surface of Mars and call it the "most unique".
His uniqueness is especially astounding in his rhythm playing. Once the band Van Halen came well-known, Ed's style of soloing became a pretty big trend in rock. Two-hand tapping, pinch harmonics, tap harmonics, etc, were all key signatures in Ed's solos that were quickly phased into new rock music. However, I've yet to hear a guitarist that comes even close to Ed's style of rhythm playing. The thing I like best about his rhythm playing is how he really controls how each note and chord comes out. For him, it's not just about what the note or chord is in accordance to the other notes and chords around it, it's how your fingers allow the note to sound. A lot of guitarists seem to just blaze out a fury of notes that may sound cool together, but each one by itself sounds dead. Ed really makes the music "pop" and come alive through subtle movements. When he creates music, he's not just thinking of how the notes interact, he thinks about how his instrument and hands interact with the notes; i.e.: he has very articulate and unique modulation that's portrayed through a screaming guitar and amp.
Like in the guitar track for Panama (above), where Ed has very precise whammy slides, pick slides, tap harmonics, and vibratos that truly make the music really flavorful, alive, and convey the emotion of the song perfectly. He makes what would normally be a somewhat stale riff into something instantly identifiable and killer through perfect modulation as well as tone. When the solo comes in, it starts off with the same upbeat emotion of the rhythm, then seamlessly breaks down into this almost solemn series of notes that changes the feeling of the song from being killer and upbeat to it sounding like the riff itself is dying, and from there he's able to slowly pick back up the pace and lead into the main riff again. Once again, all through very articulate modulation of how he allows the notes to come through.
Besides just having very unique modulation, he also just has unique riffs in general that you would never think to hear from another guitarist. What other guitarist could ever even conceive something as anomalous and extraordinary as the riffs in "Somebody Get Me Doctor?", the intro to "Mean Street", or "On Fire"? I think typically when someone thinks of the term "generic", it's usually in reference to something popular. However, as popular as Van Halen may be relative to the majority of bands, there's nothing generic about any of their songs while with David Lee Roth. It was unprecedented back then, and it remains unmatched now.
Another thing I love about him is his tone. No doubt one of the most famous and desirable tones in the world, known affectionately as the "brown sound". A tone that works for any level of grittiness and tempo. Smooth to the ear and killer to the mind.
Interesting fact, the original black and white guitar (later painted red, black, and white) was built from a second-hand $50 body and an $80 neck when he decided he wanted a guitar shaped like a Stratocaster for performance sake, and with a humbucker like a Gibson for tone. He had to carve out a hole for the humbucker pickup, as the guitar only had single-coil slots like on a conventional Strat. He took an old PAF Gibson pickup, dipped it in paraffin wax, and placed it in there. Spray painted it using Schwinn spray paint and tape for the stripes. Basically, he was able to get that killer tone out of a $200 project guitar!
Now, of course, tone is very preferential no matter what. You could very well think it's a horrible, annoying tone; but to me, it's the best one in existence. One interesting thing I've come to realize is that Eddie deliberately changed his tone when Roth was swapped out for Hagar for the lead singer position. I don't think it was just a coincidence; I think he really had a better tone in mind to match Hagar's style and actively sought for it:
With Hagar, he still had some key elements of his old tone in there just to match his own playing, but it was much cleaner and clearer, with the extremities of the tone cut down. While with his time with Hagar, he was also able to show off a lot more softness-oriented emotion, just proving his adaptability and the extent of his range of playing.
One of the reasons this blog is entitled "Why I Believe Eddie Van Halen is the Greatest Rock Musician Ever" and not "Why I Believe Eddie Van Halen is the Greatest Guitarist Ever", is because I think he was equally as astounding on the keyboards/piano/synthesizer/what have you. Most of this, as many Van Halen fans would know, was displayed during his years with Hagar as lead singer. Though, arguably their most famous keyboard song was with roth, entitled "Jump". However, besides "Jump", there was only one other original keyboard song with Roth, which was "I'll Wait". Both of which were masterpieces in my opinion. However, with Hagar, and excuse me if I'm unable to list them all, he wrote all of the following songs with keyboard incorporated: Why Can't This Be Love, Dreams, Love Walks In, When It's Love, Feels So Good, Right Now, and Not Enough. All of which are absolutely astounding songs centered around keyboard. Not a single one of them is substandard by any means, and I would list all of them as among their greatest songs.
As if it weren't enough that he's such an astounding guitarist, he's a great pianist as well. This fact alone nearly solidifies my feeling of him being the greatest rock musician ever, as there aren't many good guitarists out there that can say they are equally good on keyboard.
Finally, my last reason for believing Eddie Van Halen is the greatest rock musician ever is due to his influence and innovativeness. I already touched on this briefly before, but it's a key point in why I believe he's so great. Guys like Chuck Berry created the genre, bands like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin popularized it, then there's Eddie Van Halen who completely transcended it into something never seen before. While the exact level of his impact on rock can't be measured, it's clear it is quite large. Listen to testimonies by the likes of guitarists such as Dimebag, Wylde, and Slash; all guitarists heavily influenced and inspired by Eddie, and all stemming from different subgenres. Notice the how abruptly rock guitar changed after the year 1978, the year of Van Halen's debut album. Notice techniques that Ed popularized that are still used today. All of it stemmed from one man from Pasadena, California: Edward Van Halen.