Thursday, October 15, 2020

Certain Songs #1935: Van Halen – “In A Simple Rhyme” | Medialoper

Album: Women and Children First
Year: 1980

. . .

One of the reasons that Women and Children First is my favorite Van Halen album is that it was a complete mish-mosh of styles. You never knew what you were gonna get next. And so after the opening salvo of “And The Cradle Will Rock…” and “Everybody Wants Some!” they did big electric blues, punky metal, metallic punk and acoustic folk, in an order that seemed like it was chosen via dartboard.

And indeed, that was kinda reflected on the original back cover of the LP, which had a completely different tracklisting than ended up on the album, showing just how much they didn’t give a shit how you heard the album, as long as you heard it.

. . .

And so, when we got the final song, which followed up the all-acoustic “Could This Be Magic?” with an acoustic guitar intro that kinda reminded me of the intro from The Clash’s “Capital Radio Two,” which had also just come out, though I doubt that Eddie had been first in line to buy The Cost of Living EP. And in fact, since this song had been kicking around in one form or another since 1974, maybe Mick Jones stole from him.

That intro though, was just a trick, a feint, the beginning of a song that had about a million moods, all of them big, naturally.

Alex Van Halen follows that intro with twisting, winding drumbeat, zig-zagging left and right daring his brother and Michael Anthony to catch up, as David Lee Roth sings the opening verse.

Well, back in the past, when I was treated so coldly
My love life was a darn disgrace
Needed someone to love and hold me
That’s one of the reasons that I was out of place

This is all done at a breakneck pace, but unlike the other faster songs on the album, like “Romeo Delight” and “Loss of Control,” the speed and power aren’t really the point. It’s just a really complex, pretty song that’s done really fast because David Lee Roth has a lot of things to say about his new love interest.

So this is love? Well, she finally kissed me
Had me all worked up inside
I was in love, but Cupid missed me
She upped and left, and I almost died

But I was young, and I was far from lonely
I been that way for a long, long year
Needed a girl to call my one and only
Is that you?

And as Roth asks that question, the song shifts gears into a tom-rolling stop-time that tumbles over itself like a song from Abbey Road, Eddie improbably channeling George Harrison and his hero Eric Clapton at the same time while still sounding like himself.

You think you got the int’rest
C’mon and take the time
‘Cause you know I wanna be
Yours in a simple rhyme

The cool thing about “In A Simple Rhyme,” is how they do something different every single time they get to the end of the chorus. If “Everybody Wants Some!” was stupid genius, then “In a Simple Rhyme” is, er, smart genius.

So the first time around, after Eddie and Michael Anthony join in harmonies for the last two line, going up on “rhyyyyyyymme,” Alex kickstarts the song again, Eddie riffing while Michael Anthony, who they usually had play the most simple things possible, takes a really cool bass run, singling Roth to sing once again.

Well, ain’t life grand when you finally hit it?
I’m always a sucker for a real good time
Woke up in life to find I almost missed it
Ain’t I glad that love is blind?

Like Bono, I think David Lee Roth is both utterly ridiculous and one of the greatest frontmen ever — two sides of the same coin, really — so I’ve spent this last week making fun of him, but “Well, ain’t life grand when you finally hit it?” is one helluva line, that always has and always resonate with me.

The second time they come out of the chorus, they come to almost a full stop, slowing it down to a crawl while Michael and Eddie sing “rhyyymmmmmmme” a couple of times after which, during maybe the quietest part in any Van Halen song (outside of the space between the two halves of “Eruption,” of course), and with the “ahhhhhhhhhhhh” harmonies in the background, David Lee Roth get :: checks notes :: tender? What?

She made the mountains sing
Birds against an icy sky
And I heard bells ringin’
I think I heard an angel sigh

It’s insanely pretty, and goes on longer that you’d expect, ending with the “ahhhhhhhhhs” sounding like sighs, like the goddamned fucking Beatles again. In no way, shape or form am I suggesting that any of this is Beatlesque, I’m just saying that — OK, that’s exactly what I’m saying. And on an album where the patented Eddie/Michael harmonies are actually in short shrift, a song where they’re used in this fashion should practically be illegal.

This, of course, was followed by one last massive build up — Michael Anthony again tossing out amazing bass runs all over the place — leading to one last Eddie Van Halen guitar solo. Look, I’ve pretty much run out of words to describe Eddie Van Halen guitar solos, so let’s just say that it fits the crazy-quilt nature of the rest of the song.

After that, one last chorus. One last gorgeous run of “rhyyyyyyymmmmmmmmeeee” and “ahhhhhhhhhh” and it ends. Followed by a few seconds of a big dumb plodding instrumental, just to remind that this was still Van Halen.

Which, of course, it was. “In a Simple Rhyme” has somehow remained a deep cut all these years, but — to me, it was as great of a song as these reprobates ever managed to write.

“In a Simple Rhyme”

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