Living for the past decade in one of the hottest regions of the American mid-South, I don’t often launch into celebrations of the summer season. In fact, normally I just hunker down under the gauzy comfort of air conditioning and wait for autumn to arrive. Nevertheless, when I happened to hear a snippet of this week’s spotlight track in a local radio bumper last week, I became momentarily inspired to make an exception. Back during the summer of 1986, Van Halen’s 5150 quickly gained prominence as one of the two primary hard rock cassettes I was listening to repeatedly. This was just before I started to get into rock music on a more serious level, but it turned out that the two albums in question (the other being Judas Priest’s rather underrated Turbo) did a decent job of foreshadowing my general listening preferences for the next couple of years, for better or for worse.
Looking back, I still feel that several tracks on that Van Halen album – the first recorded with Sammy Hagar on lead vocals following the high-profile departure of David Lee Roth – qualify as solid arena rock and guitar-centric classics of the ’80s. In the case of “Summer Nights,” we may better speak in terms of a minor classic, but the fact remains that the chorus of that deep track remains a celebratory, unabashedly feel-good rock and roll moment. As for the rest of the song, it’s probably most accurate to categorize the verses as the sonic equivalent of liquor being poured down the front of a busty, scantily clad female during a beach-bonfire night of debauchery. Surely that comment would probably be interpreted even by aging rockers like Hagar as more of a compliment than a criticism, and I suppose that makes sense. Nevertheless, the testosterone-heavy, melodically bereft portion of the song overindulges in bravado and macho posing to say the least. But ultimately that’s a minor complaint, as the harmony vocals of bassist Michael Anthony and Eddie Van Halen help transform the pure, visceral joy of a lyric full of simple pleasures into something more: “Summer nights and my radio, That’s all we need, baby, don’tcha know.” You forgot to mention air conditioning, Sammy.
- Sample or download “Summer Nights” here.
- Top Van Halen Songs of the ’80s
- Compare prices on Hagar-era Van Halen CDs here.
- Top 10 Arena Rock Artists of the ’80s
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.