Eddie Van Halen died Tuesday at age 65, and instantly was remembered as a harmonic master, a finger-tapping virtuoso and an all-out rock god who turned legions into admirers and air guitarists.
They forgot one title: Sports anthem royalty.
When Eddie and his older brother, Alex, started their first band in Southern California in the mid-1960s, they likely never dreamed of the stardom that awaited. Van Halen, while seemingly treating lead singers like hockey coaches do line changes, filled arenas and stadiums with their blazing rock sound, with Eddie coolly and capably at the controls, either on guitar or behind a keyboard. The band’s energy was infectious, and that made many of their tunes perfect “pump-up jam” material. Whenever arena DJs needed a little more from the crowd, they often turned to Van Halen.
So, in Eddie’s memory and in honor of his contributions to America’s collective sports experience, we’ve ranked the nine best Van Halen sports anthems. Naturally, a band with 131 songs (and thanks to Chuck Klosterman for ranking them all!) will have some bangers left out, so let’s start with the honorable mention, then dive into the list.
Honorable mention: And The Cradle Will Rock …, Dance the Night Away, Dreams, Eruption, Jamie’s Cryin’, Poundcake
Alex’s frenetic drum solo gets the crowd on its feet, but when Eddie announces his presence with authority 28 seconds in, it’s lift-off time for the players, fans and the arena roof.
You typically only hear the intro at games, but that’s still good enough for this song to crack this list.
Eddie and Co. had one helluva rookie season with their 1978 self-titled debut album, which spawned this classic as their second-ever single. Eddie’s opening riff sets the stage, per usual, and David Lee Roth’s vocals, with trademark swagger, tell the story of youthful freedom.
Fun fact: The demo for this song was recorded by someone who knows quite a bit about writing sports anthems -- Gene Simmons, the tongue-lashing, bass-slinging leader of KISS.
Another classic off Van Halen’s debut, this song is 3 minutes and 50 seconds of Eddie’s mastery, and another early sign of what was to come.
“Hey, hey, hey. One break … coming up!” Roth’s mid-song banter, primal screeches and guttural growls, all set over Eddie’s pedal-driven guitar, make this 1981 offering from Van Halen’s fourth album, “Fair Warning,” an arena go-to - and deservedly so.
No frills. Just rock, simple and pure.
Eddie and Alex’s 1-2 guitar-and-drum punch are infectious – so infectious, in fact, that you don’t really care why you're repeatedly yelling “Panama” without fully knowing why (Roth has explained the song is about a car, not the Central American country)
Adding to its bona fides: “Panama” made Loudwire’s list of “Top 10 Songs Heard At Sporting Events.” And it’s heard a lot.
Let’s be clear: This is not Van Halen’s fourth-best song. Not even close. But the fact it’s often played at the moment a team wins the title makes it the Van Halen song you most want to hear as a fan.
Also, giving Eddie a wah-wah pedal and Toto’s Steve Lukather alongside him on rhythm guitar is just a championship-level move.
Ray Davies of the Kinks wrote this song, but Eddie helped Van Halen make it their own – and that’s the version you hear in sporting venues around the world. Eddie’s aggressive playing, compared to the original, is the heartbeat and Roth’s high-pitched vocal the soul of the band’s first single.
For his part, Ray Davies reportedly liked the song, even if his brother Dave didn’t, adding the insult “I'm sure Eddie Van Halen played better when he was drunk.” Hey, sports fans love a little trash talk, so perfect!
Eddie on piano. Politically driven lyrics from Sammy Hagar. An experimental video that ruled MTV. So, is this really Van Halen, and why is this a sports anthem?
To answer the first question, technically it’s “Van Hagar,” although Eddie claims he wrote the instrumental eight years earlier, when Roth still was in the band. And to answer the second question, the piano’s quickening pace and Hagar’s urging to “catch a magic moment” that “means everything” translate well to sports, particularly in the playoffs, when the “right now” and “tell me, what are you waiting for?” lines become mantras.
Yes, Van Halen’s biggest sports anthem is driven by an Eddie synthesizer riff, not a guitar riff. And that’s quite OK. It’s upbeat and positive, with an easy sing-a-long portion – the perfect recipe for an arena staple.
Sports teams have agreed with that principle since the song’s December 1983 release, with the Chicago Cubs quickly adopting it as their broadcast open/theme song, and other teams using it to celebrate big moments such as goals and wins. It even topped a UK poll as the best sports song, and when the Winnipeg Jets returned in 2011, fans insisted “Jump” also come back as the franchise’s goal song. That request was honored five years later.