This album is an odd one in the Van Halen back catalog, and disliked by some fans and even the Van Halen brothers themselves. Oddly enough, this was a reaction to the all original song approach on Fair Warning the year before, a dummy spit by producer Ted Templeman occurred after the making of that album, resulting in the cover heavy approach on Diver Down. Those are largely prevalent here, but even so, it’s a reasonable listen in retrospect, so let’s Diver Down into it.
Kicking off with Where Have All the Good Times Gone! with its heavy cymbal intro and David Lee Roth yelping, it seems to be back to business as usual with the Van Halen crew. It’s a good cover, but nothing special compared to some of the early Van Halen songs with David Lee Roth. Eddie’s playing as per usual steals the show, breathing life into a fairly ordinary cover otherwise.
Next is the blistering Hang ’em High which has some incredible guitar playing by Eddie Van Halen. His chops are very awesome here, and the rest of the band play catch up with him. The whole group sounds like that they are on fire here, and is a standout here on this album. David Lee Roth sounds like a man on a mission (literally) and does an excellent job of vocalising this great band. Good effort.
Cathedral is the instrumental standout from this album. It’s actually not a keyboard organ patch, it is Eddie Van Halen doing a technique called violining on a Fender Stratocaster. Amazing, hey? It’s a well played and thought out instrumental. It is still part of his live solo today.
Secrets is a love song, but it’s rather naff and fairly unmemorable. Sure, David Lee Roth packs a punch, but aside from being romantic, it’s pretty lacking in decent musicality. It’s an unusual piece for Van Halen to do at this point, being much more macho male typically in their songs. Not really worth the cut, to be frank.
The strange horror movie like instrumental Intruder is next, with a loud keyboard and freaky guitar. Perhaps Eddie Van Halen was thinking of matching Michael Jackson’s Thriller at the time? It’s once again, fairly ordinary, but okay listening, just not fantastic really.
It segues into (Oh) Pretty Woman which is a very unusual song for Van Halen to cover, as the song doesn’t sound very seriously done here, as though it was done as a joke. Still, David Lee Roth exudes sex and attitude throughout and the band can be forgiven in retrospect for this sort of effort. It’s still better than some other songs on this album though. Good for a laugh.
Dancing In The Street has some awesome electronic sounds throughout that are super cool. Still, it’s another cover which kills the momentum a bit, but all the same, it is a good listen. These sorts of sound effects and experimentation would eventually lead to the keyboard heavy 1984 album, although that was still over a year away. Good to see Eddie Van Halen evolve his craft in that sense, however. The guitar solo is awesome, too.
Little Guitars (Intro) is actually a wicked, yet short instrumental of Eddie Van Halen doing his thing on an acoustic guitar. It’s a must listen, and was generally incorporated into his live solo. Very flamenco sounding.
Next is Little Guitars itself which is an ode to music and love itself. It’s a Van Halen original, with reference to a said “Senorita”, which is pretty cool. The humour here is pretty classy in that sense. Still, it is a little too poppy for Van Halen really, as is much of this album. If more time and a better thought out musical process were here, this album may have done better overall. Unfortunately, the song and album are merely good, not great.
Following is yet another cover, Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now). It’s clearly intended to be a bit of a musical joke. It features the father of the Van Halen brothers playing clarinet on this song, no lies. It does sound joyful and quirky, one of the better tracks on this album for that reason. It’s a parody, yet an enjoyable one.
The Full Bug is an original that is surprisingly uptempo and goes back to the male sexual attitude that is prevalent of the first era of Van Halen with David Lee Roth. It’s the sort of attitude on a recording that does not exist anymore. Just goes to show how much sexism of the male kind has died in recent years. It’s a good and enjoyable listen anyway.
Happy Trails is the last song and a rather laughably ridiculous cover with all four Van Halen members singing in a quartet mode. It’s short and sweet, but seriously dated.
This album is not as good as any of the other early Van Halen albums, and even some Sammy Hagar era Van Halen material. Still, it’s quirky and enjoyable enough to listen from time to time. Soon 1984 would be unleashed onto the world of music, a far better effort. It’s good history this record, but not that good listening.