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Monday, May 31, 2010

Metal Louvre: Van Halen - 1984

In its time, Van Halen pulled off one of the ballsiest stunts mainstream rock had fielded with their artwork for 1984. Black Sabbath had already beaten them to the punch with their don't-care, cigarette-tugging sloucher angels on the cover of Heaven and Hell. Yet Van Halen took it on the chin from the conservative right who universally found the idea of a baby-faced cherub pulling on a Winston off-putting, to say the least. Never mind "Jump" became the anthem of its year, booming from cars on both sides of the political spectrum. In the UK, however, an anti-smoking campaign forced copies of the album to be released with removable stickers outlaying the Roman numeral MCMLXXXIV overtop the lit cigarette.

Subliminally you could call this cover, illustrated by Margo Zafer Nahas, "Innocence Lost" in a year that sat on a tightwire of Reagonomics. You could feel the paranoia of Orwell's predicted dystopia, particularly in the deep freeze of a realistic cold war. On the flipside, Van Halen wrote a party-minded rock fiesta to the tune of "Jump," "Panama," "Drop Dead Legs," "Hot for Teacher," "Girl Gone Bad" and "Top Jimmy" as if to snub the nuclear spectre swinging an invisble scythe over our heads. If we were going down in mushroom clouds, Van Halen was going to take us all on a pleasure ride first.

David Lee Roth even claimed "Jump" (conceived in a leap year) was inspired by a news report of a man threatening to commit suicide from the side of a building. Dark humor to a nasty degree, perhaps, but you get the idea. No buzzkills allowed on this party train.

Our infamous tobacco-yanking cherub thus serves symbolic of Van Halen's intentional apathy in a year less gloomier than Orwell or anyone else forecast, armed warhead tips tickling the clouds be damned. The engine gunning at the beginning of "Panama" was recorded from Eddie Van Halen's Lamborghini and it was the sound of "Eh, fuck it all, let's bounce."

Light 'em up before you get lit up.


bob_vinyl said...

Actually, the conservative right isn't the source of the anti-tobacco lobby.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

I know. I was making reference specifically to the UK movement at the time 1984 was released.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

disregard that statement, I see what you're referring to, albeit I remember a conservative (and even liberal) uproar went up over this album cover in the US over the theme, that was, until it became a hit

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