Album: Van Halen II
. . .
I guess one good analogy to Van Halen’s popularity would be a TV show like Breaking Bad, which wasn’t initially popular, but at some point, a switch seemed to be flipped, and suddenly it was on everybody’s minds.
For Van Halen, that switch seemed to be flipped sometime in late 1978, so when Van Halen II came out in March of 1979, everybody was ready. How ready? Here’s one measurement: as I mentioned before, the first time I saw Van Halen was at Selland Arena in Fresno, September, 1978, and they were the opening act. The second time I saw Van Halen was at the same venue a scant six months later, and they were the headliners.
And the crowd was so much theirs that the opening act, the noveltyish new-wave band the Fabulous Poodles — whose big single “Mirror Stars” was pretty good — were booed mercilessly the entire time they were playing. By that time, I was already mixing punk and new wave in with my metal and hard rock, so I was fine with them, while still wondering why it was happening in the first place.
Van Halen II was mostly drawn from the same set of songs that Van Halen had written during their bar band days, and it was clear that they’d chosen the best set for the debut, which makes sense, but it also meant that Van Halen II didn’t quite measure up to its predecessor.
That said, it was made it up to #6 on the album charts — better than the debut ever did! — and the initial single, “Dance The Night Away,” was utterly inescapable. And why not, as it was a great combination of hard rock and pop — not much more pop than “Mirror Stars,” actually — that featured an absolutely killer chorus.
(Ooh, baby, baby)
Won’tcha turn your head my way?
(Ooh, baby, baby)
Come on, take a chance, you’re old enough to
Dance the night away
Oh, come on, baby,
Duh-duh-duh-duh-dance the night away
Obviously, we’re not breaking any ground here, lyrically — pop music will be full of songs about instant crushes and dancefloor longing as long it exists — but there’s a lot of great band interplay going on here, as they stop-and-start at will throughout, and the rhyme of “chance” and “dance” is a thing to treasure in this case. Also at thing to treasure: Eddie Van Halen and Michael Anthony stretching out “dannnnnnnnnnnnnnccccce” at the end of the whole thing.
Featuring exactly zero guitar solos — Eddie supposedly erased one on the bridge — “Dance The Night Away” isn’t a song people are going to point to as one of his mind-blowing feats, but it’s a helluva piece of songwriting.
Which I was lukewarm about at first. At 15, I hadn’t yet discovered the fun of dancing the night away, as I was still in that period where dances were an excuse to get drunk and be terrified of asking anybody to dance, so I was suspicious of it, to say the least. But over the long years, it totally grew on me. And now I can say that one of the things I like about it is that, there just the tiniest hit of melancholy in those harmonies. Which, for Van Halen, makes it almost a weeper.
In any event, “Dance The Night Away” made it all the way to #15 on the singles charts, the first of the big singles they ever had.
“Dance The Night Away”
“Dance The Night Away” Official Music Video
“Dance The Night Away” live at the US Festival, 1983
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