I dropped this as a comment at Billy Beck’s place earlier… And decided I’d post it here, too.

I’ve held off for quite a while I’m saying anything at all about the passing of Eddie Van Halen.

Guitar genius? Certainly.

Although, I will quietly suggest the guitar geniuses are not something we’re exactly short of. There’s one in just about every band in the country, including many you’ve never heard of. I know of a number of them and I’m still conversing with a few of them.

Worthwhile music? Without question.

That said, I will forever be a little annoyed with him about the treatment of those around him. For examples consider David Lee Roth, Sammy Hagar,and consider Valerie Bertinelli. In registering that annoyance I will make a couple of allowances here…first of all I’m not totally privy to all the situations that developed between those people, and I will also admit to having had a bit of a teenage crush on Valerie back in the day. Oh, bloody hell, what kid didn’t?

Val’s statement regarding Van Halen’s death made it fairly clear to me that she did not want them to be separated. It’s my sense that that’s the larger of the tragedies here.

Finally I will also say that Van Halen’s playing, while excellent, was not the sole reason for the success of the band.

Listen closely to the recorded works and you will find that there is a consistency of sound there all of which to my ear is added post production. Tightly controlled, compressed and limited, with every single cycle of audio examined manipulated and finally mixed. Extraordinarily bright, extraordinarily and consciously designed for FM radio.

Technically speaking the recordings are dense in terms of overall level but they are also spectrally dense. The audio was not just run through a single stage compressor limiter as for example The Beatles recordings were, we’re probably talking about multi band processing. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, imagine a system with a compressor limiter on each band in your graphic equalizer. The result is Phil spector’s wall of sound on steroids.

The end result of Eddie’s playing plus all of that technology is a leap out of the dashboard sound that was difficult if not impossible to match. The influence of the technical side of Van Halen’s recordings has reached other bands as well. I think I’d be correct in mentioning Def Leppard as one such at least their last four or five albums.

Was his playing really that much better than everybody else? I’ll leave that for the musicians to decide. But I will quietly suggest that absent the production values that I speak of here, the man wouldn’t have had his chance to shine… Because nobody would have been paying attention.

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