Diver Down into the Deep Blue Sea

Have you ever gone scuba diving? I never had until a week ago. I consider myself a fairly non-aquatic person, not quite a landlubber, but for most of my adult life, I haven’t ever ranted and raved about swimming or water sports. Being from West Michigan and growing up next to Lake Michigan, I definitely have an affinity for water, but again, it’s more the desire to go to the beach, get some sun and take a dip to cool off, not swim all day long or catch huge waves surfing. In fact, I have attempted to surf, I can say that after a dozen or more times, I’m just barely capable of riding a wave, which isn’t exactly positive reinforcement to get back in the water again.

But then I tried scuba diving. There is a clear before and after when scuba diving. Once you take the plunge, life is completely different. I liken it to alpine skiing/snowboarding. Since I learned to snowboard, I see and experience mountains in a whole new way. Scuba diving is like that, except it’s a notch above. Why do I say that? Well, when you reach the ocean floor, you’re all alone with your thoughts (you can’t talk to anyone) while you look at an infinite number of different animals right in front your eyes who give you a quick glance and then continue on their merry way. It’s a Zen you can’t get anywhere else. Have a look at my photos below and read on!

So where does music come into all this? Strictly speaking, music doesn’t have to enter into my blog topics if I don’t want it to, but I make an effort to tie in a musical theme or topic in my posts, and I enjoy that aspect because it’s a fun challenge. On this occasion I’m not bereft of ideas either; in fact, my diving experience in Galapagos (and the image of the scuba diving flag) have had me thinking of Van Halen’s album, Diver Down for a good week and a half now.

Given that it’s been on my mind, I thought I’d talk about Diver Down in this post. That said, first I should state a few things: I am a big Van Halen fan. I own all of their albums in one form or another, and that includes the Sammy Hagar (and Gary Cherone). The good and the bad of the varying lineups isn’t the point here though, taking a listen to Diver Down is. Let me just say that I know all of the albums pretty well, but I must also point out that I haven’t listened to Diver Down in quite some time, as it’s not an album I go back to as often (as opposed to Fair Warning or 1984, my two favs). This is actually a good thing because before I write any more about it, I’m going to listen to it in its entirety and then continue on with this post. See you in a little while…

Van_Halen_-_Diver_Down

And I’m back! Now it’s time to take a look at the songs. Here’s a breakdown song by song:

Where Have All the Good Times Gone: First off, this is a decent cover song. It definitely has a different sound than the Kinks version. And it has that classic VH sound, those classic background vocals. It’s not bad, but they already covered the Kinks on their debut album. As an opening track, too, I think it’s missing something. It kind of just floats by without really grabbing you like a first track should.

Hang ‘Em High: Now this is a jammer! The intro is full on. This could have easily been the first track of the album and probably should have. What I like is that it’s got some of that dark energy you really feel on Fair Warning. In a way, too, it sounds like a distant cousin of Atomic Punk, which is cool. The lead vocals on the verses sound sloppy though. Maybe that’s what they were aiming for, but I’m not liking it. The Western theme is cool though.

Cathedral. The volume swells are nice at the beginning, and it has a cool synth sound. It’s a fun little number, and it does tie in well with the following song. Moreover, you have to marvel at the fact that this is being played on a guitar because it really doesn’t sound like a guitar at all.

Secret. This song is pretty smooth. It’s got some nice clean guitar tones, and it’s got a cool swing feel to it. Somehow, I feel the vocal melody could use something more. It’s just kind of blah.

Intruder. This has a really sinister sound to it. It’s eerie. I really dig this instrumental. The double time feel really moves it well. And it’s a good lead in to Pretty Woman. The only bummer is that it leads into a cover song. An original song might have really done well with this part.

Pretty Woman. In spite of the fact that this is a cover song, it’s a very good version. Van Halen really gave it their own flavor. Eddie’s guitar parts are well done, especially the arpeggios, and the backing vocals sound great. It’s really hard to argue with this song. The original version is excellent, and while I personally still prefer it to the VH cover version, the VH version is still really well done.

Dancing in the Street. Dude, this song is funky! The hi-hats got those 16th notes, the guitar has thick delay and rad flange (I think), and let’s not forget the cowbell. The guitar solo isn’t Eddie’s best if you ask me, in fact it kind of sounds like a mash up of other solos I’ve heard on other songs, but being Eddie Van Halen, it’s still better than 99% of any other guitar players. Again, we’ve got a cover song here, and one of the major complains about Diver Down is all the cover songs. It’s a fair critique, but this is still a fun version. I definitely think it gives you the urge to dance much more than the original version does.

Little Guitars Intro. Wow! Did you just hear that? This is killer. Now Eddie admits that he “cheated.” He had listened to some Carlos Montoya, who played with his fingers, but in the end he used a pick and got the results he wanted. This is short intro, but it’s damn cool.

Little Guitars – The tempo on this song is good. The intro is really attention grabbing, and I think the tempo works well on this continuation. The guitar work is good as usual. I think what this song lacks is a better lead vocal melody and a more interesting arrangement. I don’t really feel like the song takes me anywhere, you know, on any kind of journey. It just jams forward without really trying reach the listener in a deeper way.

Big Bad Bill – This song just isn’t really Van Halen. You know what I mean? It’s definitely a David Lee Roth thang. As we know from Ice Cream Man and Just a Gigolo, this is Dave’s influences coming through. The only thing is, it comes through way too much here. On it’s on merits, the song is good. And Eddie’s and Alex’s dad plays clarinet on it. How cool is that! But it bears repeating, this song doesn’t really fit that well.

The Full Bug. Now this is definitely Van Halen. It’s like a foreshadowing of Hot for Teacher. If anybody listening in 1982 had any idea what was in store for them a year later, they’d surely flip their lid. The song starts pretty chill, but then it really kicks in.

Happy Trails: According to what I’ve read, this is a radio jingle that the band used to sing a lot. And they can sing many more of them in four-part harmonies. They sing it well, but it does sound like barbershop quartet. It’s not what I associate with Van Halen, that’s for sure. I could do without this song on this album.

And there you have it. That’s my take on Diver Down. It’s not Van Halen’s best work, but this album has some good moments. So next time you feel like jamming out to some VH, don’t just automatically reach for 1984 or Van Halen I, which can easily happen. Take the plunge and get wet! As with real scuba diving, you should really try it at least once. There’s a whole new world waiting for you to discover it!

JN

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