10 Times Eddie Van Halen Shined Outside The Context Of Van Halen
You're aware of EVH's "Beat It" solo, but what about these other extracurriculars?
Eddie Van Halen, who died on Tuesday at the age of 65, is inextricably linked to the band he co-founded with his brother Alex, the hard rock legends Van Halen. But although known as one of the greatest guitarists of all time, he didn’t have the kind of moonlighting-heavy c.v. some other rockers accumulated. Van Halen certainly made his guest appearances count, however — starting with his guitar solo on Michael Jackson’s 1983 hit “Beat It,” which remains one of the decade’s most recognizable interludes.
Over the years, however, he kept people guessing as to where he might turn up. In 1985, he wowed David Letterman while sitting in with his Late Night house band, and worked similar magic two years later with the Saturday Night Live band, when then-wife Valerie Bertinelli hosted the comedy show. Decades later, Van Halen showed off his lighthearted side by popping up with his red Frankenstein guitar on the sitcom Two And A Half Men.
Here are 10 other non-Van Halen Eddie Van Halen appearances you may (or may not) remember.
Gene Simmons’ “Christine Sixteen” Demo (recorded 1977; released 2017)
KISS and Van Halen are inextricably linked. Not only did the latter cover “Rock and Roll All Nite” during their early days, but KISS frontman Gene Simmons famously produced an early Van Halen demo at the height of the band’s club days. Believe it or not, however, Simmons also separately once cut a trio of songs with Eddie and Alex during an impromptu two-hour 1977 recording session. The standout from this batch is the future KISS favorite “Christine Sixteen,” which in the hands of the Van Halens is a swaggering glam-blues number with a blazing Eddie solo. “The solo Eddie played was so wonderful that I, unfortunately for Ace [Frehley], forced him to play, note for note, that solo,” Simmons later recalled in an interview when the tracks surfaced as part of his 2017 boxed set Gene Simmons Vault.
Nicolette Larson’s “Can’t Get Away From You” (1978)
The late Nicolette Larson rose to prominence for her vocal work on two seminal 1977 albums, Emmylou Harris’ Luxury Liner and Neil Young’s American Stars ‘n Bars. The following year, she debuted as a solo artist with the stellar LP Nicolette, which featured (among others) Linda Ronstadt, Albert Lee, and members of Little Feat. Curiously, however, the lead guitarist on the upbeat pop-rock firecracker “Can’t Get Away From You” was noted in the liners as a question mark. The mystery man? Eddie Van Halen. “He didn’t want his name used because they were Van Halen and that’s all there was to it,” Larson said in 1983. “That was when they were just starting, and they were very much into being just Van Halen and nothing else.”
Brian May’s Star Fleet Project (1983)
As a PhD-holding astrophysicist, Brian May is known for his love of all things space. Appropriately enough, back in 1983, he gathered a motley crew of musicians — including REO Speedwagon drummer Alan Gratzer and a pair of respected players, keyboardist Fred Mandel and bassist Phil Chen — to record a synth-driven, hard rock take on the theme song of a UK sci-fi show called Star Fleet. Eddie Van Halen was also onboard to add interstellar riffage; the results were a three-song release that also featured a May song (“Let Me Out”) and a 12-minute tribute to Eric Clapton, “Blues Breaker.”
Frank Sinatra’s “L.A. Is My Lady” (1984)
By 1984, nearly every musician finally saw the benefits of having a video to play on MTV — even Frank Sinatra, who was in his late 60s at the time. For the clip promoting the title track of his Quincy Jones-produced album L.A. Is My Lady, the Rat Pack member enlisted a galaxy of stars. Appropriately enough, the video begins with David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen, who come offstage and rush to a waiting car through a gauntlet of screaming fans. Roth then pops a VHS tape into an in-car VCR, kicking off a game of spot-the-celebrity; don’t miss Missing Persons’ Dale Bozzio, Donna Summer, and Michael McDonald, to name just a few.
“Donut City” From The Wild Life Soundtrack (1984)
Back in 1984, the guitarist and music producer Donn Landee worked on the score for a little-remembered film called The Wild Life, which featured a Cameron Crowe-written script. “Donn and I saw the script for [the movie] and said we’d do something for it,” Van Halen told Guitar World. “We ended up doing just about the whole film. It was fun, but we were kind of under pressure because of the deadlines. I had to leave on tour again, so I sort of left Donn to finish the mixing and everything.” Although these contributions appear in the movie, only one song — the moody synth-rocker “Donut City” — landed on the soundtrack.
Thomas Dolby’s “Eastern Bloc” & “Close But No Cigar” (1992)
Thomas Dolby’s 2016 memoir, The Speed Of Sound: Breaking The Barriers Between Music And Technology, boasted an abundance of illuminating stories — none more so than the one about the 1991 weekend Dolby spent at Eddie Van Halen’s studio. (The guitarist wasn’t a Spinal Tap fan, among other things.) The studio time did yield two songs that appeared on 1992’s Astronauts & Heretics: “Eastern Bloc,” which samples Dolby’s own “Europa And The Pirate Twins” before giving way to a shuddering EVH solo, and the soulful “Close But No Cigar.”
“Respect The Wind” From The Twister Soundtrack (1996)
In 1996, Eddie and his brother Alex appeared twice on Twister: Music From The Motion Picture Soundtrack — opening the album with a Van Halen song (“Humans Being”) and closing the album with an elegiac instrumental, “Respect the Wind,” that gives the duo a chance to show off their evocative, vulnerable side.
Roger Waters’ “Lost Boys Calling” (1998)
Roger Waters is no stranger to performing with powerful soloists, and so when he contributed a song to the 1998 Italian movie The Legend Of 1900, he called on Eddie Van Halen to add melancholic, keening shading to his moving, dramatic “Lost Boys Calling.”
Steve Lukather’s “Joy To The World” (2003)
In 2003, Van Halen’s longtime friend (and fellow guitar guru) Steve Lukather released a holiday album, Santamental. The album includes this red-hot spin on a holiday classic that takes inspiration from jazz and hard rock—and boasts two Van Halen solos to boot.
LL Cool J’s “Not Leaving You Tonight” & “We’re the Greatest” (2013)
The year after Van Halen released their final studio album, 2012’s A Different Kind Of Truth, Eddie Van Halen appeared on two songs on LL Cool J’s album Authentic. “I just really wanted to work with the best, work with people that I respect, people that I look up to, people that impress me, people that I believe are truly super talented,” the rapper told Radio.com at the time. “I feel like Eddie falls in that category.” Van Halen’s contributions — including a distortion-heavy, bluesy solo winding through “Not Leaving You Tonight” — fit right in.