Few bands in hard rock history have been so adept at balancing the awesome and trivial as Van Halen in their prime. Consciously or instinctively, they understood that virtuoso mastery on instruments feels a whole lot less like work to listeners when you have a high-IQ stand-up comedian spouting lecherous asides during the bridges. And they also knew that eccentric noise goes down easier when it's got giant hooks and fun in the sun. They could be ridiculously corny, but their corn more often than not made them better. Most heavy metal since has been too scared to risk being cheesy — at least on purpose. So, since early Van Halen were so good at being "bad," parsing the band's best from their worst is a bit of a balancing act. Still, here's an attempt — the "most transcendent" and "most embarrassing" moments for each of Van Halen's seven albums with David Lee Roth in honor of new album A Different Kind of Truth. Flipping of coins was often necessary.
Van Halen (1978)
Most Transcendent Moment: "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love," one of the least romanticized admissions of manly single-guy refusal-to-settle ever recorded, not to mention ridiculously tough-chugging hard rock yawp in a proto-hair-metal context. David Lee Roth calls the target of his disaffection "semi-good-looking," tells her if she wants it she'll have to bleed for it — mean and nasty as Jagger or Axl. Excellent "Hey! hey! hey!" soccer-terrace gang-shouting at the end, too. But the best part is probably when the earth opens up and the bottom drops out and Dave tells us he's been to the edge and stood and looked down and he's lost a lot of friends there and has no time to mess around — you can hear the chasm he's talking about. No wonder the Minutemen covered it, long before punks decided liking Van Halen might be cool.
Most Embarrassing Moment: The supposed "I got bim bam banana Dixie cups" line in "Ice Cream Man" (at least that's how online lyric sites tend to translate it), which has always sounded more like "footbomb Habana (hic!) Dixie cups." A cover of a raunchy '50s Chicago blues by John Brim, "Ice Cream Man" was clearly Van Halen's attempt at an equivalent of Aerosmith's "Big Ten Inch Record" from three years before, just kind of more gross about it. And did the "pushups" mean bras, or not?