It's hopefully not too insulting to other guitar players out there to say that nobody could do it quite like Eddie Van Halen. The late guitarist's gift of tune, tone and technique blew audiences away almost from the first notes of the band's 1978 self-titled debut. But Van Halen got to shine the most, perhaps, in the 1980s: their albums started to sell exceptionally well during this decade thanks to MTV and 1984 - and not even a crucial change in lead singer around the middle of the decade could stop their momentum.
READ MORE: Eddie Van Halen (1955-2020)
In Ed's honor - and for your listening pleasure - here's a favorite guitar-heavy cut from each of Van Halen's '80s albums.
"Everybody Wants Some!!" (1980) - it's not the lead-off track from Women and Children First, but this hard-driving tune is archetypal Van Halen: David Lee Roth's undefeated musical mugging, Alex Van Halen's jungle-style drumming, Michael Anthony's unforgettable bass and harmony vocals and - of course - Eddie cutting through your speakers with rhythmic riffs and wailing licks. It's no wonder the track has ended up in several movies, from Better Off Dead to a Richard Linklater coming-of-age film of the same name.
"Unchained" (1981) - A killer cut off Fair Warning, "Unchained" found Van Halen modifying his recognizable tone with a flanger, giving it that space-y sound and spurring thousands of aspiring axemen to go out and buy some foot-pedals to play with.
"Little Guitars" (1982) - "If there's something I want to do and can't," Ed once told an interviewer about his playing, "I won't give up until I can figure out some way to make it sound similar to what I really can do." Case in point: Diver Down standout "Little Guitars" began with a flamenco-style intro and riffs the guitarist managed to do with a pick instead of his own fingers.
"Panama" (1984) - 1984 stunned listeners with a one-two punch of keyboards over six-strings on the instrumental title track and chart-topping single "Jump." (The ever-prodigious Eddie played those synths himself.) Follow-up single "Panama" was back to the rafter-shaking rock that VH fans craved - both crunchy chords and signature fleet-fingered solos that revved even louder than the guitarist's Lamborghini as recorded on the bridge.
READ MORE: January 1984: Van Halen Releases "1984"
"Dreams" (1986) - Seventh album 5150 moved things into an even more synth-oriented direction on hits like "Why Can't This Be Love" and "Love Walks In." Oh yeah - there was also a new singer in the mix, with Sammy Hagar replacing David Lee Roth. Of all the singles from the album, "Dreams" is the one that matches the keys with Eddie's axe, with some tasty fretwork and howling tones matching Hagar's expressive voice in perfect sync.
READ MORE: April 1986: Van Halen Hits No. 1 with '5150'
"Finish What Ya Started" (1988) - A last-minute addition to OU812, VH's last album of the '80s, the idea for eventual Top 20 "Finish" came to Ed late at night, electrifying him so much he stopped by Hagar's house just to play him the slinky riff. To mix it up a bit, Van Halen plugged his signature Strat not into an amp, but right into the mixing console, resulting in that simple, clean sound.