“Riff” – a short repeated phrase in popular music and jazz, typically used as an introduction or refrain in a song. That is the literal definition of a riff, and while there are countless guitar players who make their living with mean riffs, in my opinion, in the world of rock music, two guitarists stand above the rest with their portfolio of riffs. The first is Jimmy Page, the other master is Edward Van Halen. After an inconsistent last release, in my opinion, “Fair Warning” is possibly Eddie’s greatest collection of riffs on a single album. It is debatable whether this record has quite the caliber of songs as their first album, but Eddie is absolutely filthy from beginning to end on this record, and it is such a treat to listen to, preferably very loudly. Surprisingly, this is the lowest seller of their six albums with David Lee Roth, but for my money, this is as good as it gets.
From the first notes of “Mean Street”, Eddie is just on fire. You begin to hear some of the limitations in range from David Lee Roth, but what he lacks in pure vocal quality, he makes up for it with pure attitude. Brimming with debauchery, the rest of side one, while possibly a secret to casual fans, contains three more dominant EVH performances on “Dirty Movies”, “Sinner’s Swing”, and “Hear About it Later”.
As good as side one is, side two has you searching to see if that volume knob can go from 10 to 11. The opening track, “Unchained”, may be Eddie’s best riff ever, and if you have ever seen this track performed live, it is this incredible act at their very best. Occasionally when someone tries to tell me they think Van Halen was better with Sammy Hagar, I will redirect them to this track as “Exhibit A”.
“Push Comes to Shove” is a strong interlude before we hit the next classic from this album, “So This Is Love?” Michael Anthony drops an aggressive, fast-paced bass line, and complimented by Alex Van Halen on drums, they set the foundation for Eddie and Dave to do what they do best. The album ends with “Sunday Afternoon in the Park”, which is a bit of a foreshadow for what is coming down the road with “1984”, and “One Foot Out the Door”.
It is clear from this writeup that I am a big Van Halen fan, but I will take this time to give some love to the biggest Van Halen fan we know, our good buddy Shane. Bish, Squishy, Joey Capri… this guy loves Van Halen like nobody else I know. As we all took our turns as DJ, he always got Van Halen in the mix, and even in later years, I knew him to be searching the dark depths of Napster for bootleg live performances of the band. Van Halen was always about having a good time and enjoying every night, and so was Squishy. Miss you and love you buddy… “This is home, this is Mean Street…”