“Diver Down” is a fascinating study on the dynamics of Van Halen, and although it is a quirky album filled with covers, it has some great songs and is probably some of the best partnership and collaboration between David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen, before things really began to sour. After their tour for “Fair Warning”, they released one cover single, “(Oh) Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison. As a success, including the intro track “Intruder”, which is oddly enough, primarily Roth on synthesizer with Eddie and Alex Van Halen ripping through the end of it, they released the video which inspired their record company to pressure them for a full album. They didn’t have anywhere close to enough original material, so this album has a total of five covers. That did not thrill Eddie, as he took great pride in his original riffs and songs, but if you are going to have a record full of cover tracks, there is no better choice than SoCal’s #1 party band to put them out.
The record opens with their second Kinks cover, “Where Have All the Good Times Gone!”. I don’t think this is near as compelling as their version of “You Really Got Me”, but Eddie’s guitar makes it as fun as it can be. “Hang ‘Em High”, “Cathedral” and the bluesy “Secrets” are all good, but not great original tracks, with “Intruder” and “Pretty Woman” rounding out side one.
Side two is my favorite, it opens with their version of “Dancing in the Street”. Originally co-authored by Marvin Gaye and made famous by Martha and the Vandellas, this song has been covered by many artists, but I consider this to be the best rock interpretation of this song. Eddie does some great work on keyboards and guitar, and the song is a perfect fit for Diamond Dave.
Next comes the amazing flamenco opener and full track of “Little Guitars”. Eddie was brilliant once again here, Dave proves that he once was a really good singer with lots of character, and Alex does some of his best work on drums on the main track. If you want more evidence of the color and character of this band, check out “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)”. A hilarious song written in 1924 that tells the story of the town’s toughest guy who was brought to his knees by the love for his woman, this song brings in Jan Van Halen, the boys’ father on clarinet. In recent years we have seen the love between Eddie and his son Wolfgang, and I love that he was also able to record this song with his dad; what a great memory and it is really entertaining, as they usually are.
Through all of the covers and hilarity of these covers, they come back with “The Full Bug” to remind you that they were still capable of rocking like no other band of their time. Dave opens up on acoustic guitar, and then we get the nastiest riff of the record from Eddie. This song simply kills, and Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen are equally excellent on this track as well. We even get a top-notch harmonica solo from Dave. This song is not in regular rotation among the Van Halen classics, but I will put it up against any track they have ever delivered, it is that good.
For one more laugh, we close it out with their a cappella four-piece harmony interpretation of the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans theme song, “Happy Trails”. When I look at the complete disaster this band turned into over egos and differing opinions on business and music, I like to recall the fun times like this song, and the natural chemistry, remarkable talent, and healthy tension that produced six great albums, including this one.