After hearing Eddie Van Halen's guitar solo in Michael Jackson's "Beat It," which would allow the King of Pop to cross over to rock radio in the '80s, singer David Lee Roth was unimpressed. "What did Edward do with Michael Jackson? He played the same solo he's been playing in this band for 10 years," he told Rolling Stone. "Big deal!"
The quote reflected the lifetime of disdain Roth and Van Halen had for each other, no matter how successful they were in the band they founded together. Van Halen tried other singers over the years, from Sammy Hagar to Gary Cherone, but they never captured the tense give-and-take between Roth and Van Halen on their classic moments in the '70s and '80s. But whatever differences they've had over the years, the two are together again and will perform with the band Aug. 13 and 15 at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater.
Here are five EVH masterpieces and three timeless Roth performances.
"Eruption": Also known as The Introduction to "You Really Got Me," Van Halen's minute and 42 seconds of fast-fingered 1978 motorcycle and chain saw noises finally opens into the familiar Kinks riff. Van Halen was a master of building up tension, then releasing it. "I didn't even play it right," he told Guitar World. "There's a mistake at the top end of it. Whenever I hear it, I always think, 'Man, I could have played that better.' "
Michael Jackson's "Beat It": Producer Quincy Jones invited Van Halen to play the solo, in a knowing bid to reach white rock fans, and Eddie recorded perhaps his best-known work. But he put his high-pitched, 32-second burst of metal guitar in the wrong spot. Toto's Steve Lukather and Jeff Porcaro had to correct the problem by splicing the tape.
"Hot for Teacher": The great part about the guitar-playing in "Hot for Teacher" isn't necessarily the solo, which is superb, but the way it's integrated into the rest of the band's manic rockabilly. The song's first 45 seconds, with Alex Van Halen's galloping double-double-bass drumming giving way to Eddie Van Halen's shaggy riffage, just barely outdoes Roth's "I don't feel tardy!" and "Class dismissed!" proclamations later on.
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"Ice Cream Man": The 1978 blues song is restrained, acoustic, with even Roth holding himself back, until he declares, "All right, boys!" and sings (more characteristically) about putting a banana in a Dixie cup. Van Halen takes Jimi Hendrix's bombastic approach to the bluesy "Red House" several steps further, with unprecedented speed.
"I'll Wait": Van Halen's producer, Ted Templeman, famously hated the synth-heavy track on the unusually synth-heavy "1984" album. But when the guitar finally comes in at the end, it's Van Halen at his most melodic, beginning in the style of string-bending "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" before getting into the fast-fingered stuff.
"Runnin' With the Devil": Van Halen is a guitar band -- it's named after the guitarist! -- but Roth declares himself the rock star on the opening song of the debut album. He screams, whoops, ad-libs, "I'll tell you all about it," refers to the "simple life" as the "simple lie-eef" and slips perfectly into the band's underrated harmonies.
"Hot for Teacher": No Van Halen song captures Dave's stand-up comedy or his leering, uncontrollable id as well as 1984's "Hot for Teacher." He doesn't appear in the song for roughly a full minute, with the appropriate sound of a beer bottle dropping onto a classroom floor, but when he does, he's unforgettable: "I brought my pencil!" In a video packed with bikini babes, nerds with glasses and shaggy '80s hard-rock hairdos, Roth steals the show by doing the splits in a peach tuxedo underneath a disco ball.
"Hang 'Em High": The 1982 underside to "Hot for Teacher" is Dave as desperado, "heading for the moon" and "listening to the dead" as he walks the highways in black leather. Refreshingly, there's no crazy ad-libbing or high-pitched screaming.
Eddie vs. Dave, a history
1984: Tension began to infect the world's biggest hard-rock band. Dave hadn't liked Eddie's emphasis on keyboards for the "1984" album, although it was a big hit, and the rest of the band didn't like the way Dave harassed male fans during the Monsters of Rock tour.
1985-86: Roth recorded his "Crazy From the Heat" solo EP and plotted a star turn in a movie by the same name. In a dirty-laundry article in Rolling Stone, Roth, who stopped showing up regularly to rehearsals, said he told the band: "I can't work with you guys anymore. I want to do my movie. Maybe when I'm done, we'll get back together."
1996: After more than a decade away from Van Halen, which by then had recorded numerous hits with Sammy Hagar, Roth and his former bandmates appeared on stage together at the MTV Video Music Awards. They'd recorded a couple mediocre new songs for a greatest-hits album, but Dave dashed any hopes of a broader reunion, ruefully calling the appearance a "quickie" and blaming Eddie for misleading him.
2013: Although Van Halen finally reunited with Roth for successful tours in 2007 and 2013, the singer explained in an interview: "The conflict was immediate and sustained from day one. Not a note of this symphony has changed."
2015: Van Halen spelled out the troubled relationship between Roth and the band. "He does not want to be my friend," he told Billboard, ripping the singer for coloring his hair and acting like he did in his 20s. "It's hard, because there are four people in this band, and three of us like rock and roll. And one of us likes dance music. And that used to kind of work, but now Dave doesn't want to come to the table."
WHEN | WHERE Aug. 13 and 15 at 7 p.m., Nikon at Jones Beach Theater