35 Years Ago: Revisiting Van Halen’s Ill-Fated ‘1984’ Tour
On paper and in the bank, Van Halen had everything going for them as their 1984 Tour commenced.
The band's sixth album, also titled 1984, had just been released, and lead track "Jump" was five weeks away from becoming their first No. 1 single. New deals cut by manager Noel Monk meant Van Halen were finally making real money from their world-class success, and they had recently set a show-fee record after being paid $1.5 million for their appearance at the U.S. Festival.
The group had everything to play for – only some of the members didn’t see it that way. Things hadn’t been good behind the scenes for some time. It’s possible they'd never been good, as a result of what frontman David Lee Roth once referred to as the members’ “immigrant energy,” which he believed was a result of family histories that left them as “desperate people seeking desperate fortune – with a smile.”
The catalyst that forced the rollercoaster off the rails may have been their 1983 cover of “Dancing in the Street,” which, despite its success, represented a battle of wills between Roth and Eddie Van Halen. The guitarist wanted his synth riff to become a Peter Gabriel kind of song, but was coerced into allowing it to be used as the cover version. After losing that fight, Eddie determined to never lose another, and moved the band towards pop-rock and away from hard rock, as demonstrated with the groundbreaking “Jump” – a track Van Halen said no one originally wanted to record.
Sensing his loss of control, Roth began talking up his plans to pursue a solo career, suggesting that if Van Halen’s music no longer suited him, he didn’t need to front it. "I've always been a showoff," he said during the tour. "But I've also always had something to say. I will express myself through other avenues. Just so long as I'm famous; so long as the spotlight's on Dave."
From behind the drumkit, the perspective seems to have been a little clearer for Alex Van Halen – although that didn’t mean he could do anything about it. “We were in the middle of this thing and it was getting bigger and bigger," he said later. "Individually, we were so far apart that it was like night and day. We were never together, although it looked like we were from the public's standpoint. That's why in 1984, it was very natural for it to fall apart. We saw it coming, even though when it actually materialized it was a surprise.”
Of course, it didn’t happen overnight. The band set about planning the 101-date North American road trip with all the rock ’n’ roll attitude they could muster. “Our live show for the 1984 tour just could not get any bigger,” Eddie recalled, “but it was so over the top that we never made any money from it. We had 18 trucks hauling the stage and equipment. That was unheard of. The standard lighting rig had 500 to 700 lights, and we had over 2,000. We could never have topped that. … Great memories.”
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Bassist Michael Anthony recalled the fun and energy of the first tour stop on Jan. 18 at the Coliseum in Jacksonville, Fla. “[W]e were doing ‘Running With the Devil’ and I went into a squat during the number while Dave flipped over my back. … I realized my pants ripped from front to back, and there I was, left playing the rest of the number hunched over. When it was over, Dave went into his rap, which gave me a chance to run into the quick-change booth onstage to change.”
The good feeling wasn’t to last. Perhaps the success of “Jump” had an increasingly negative impact on Roth; and perhaps his comments about going solo did the same to Van Halen. “We accused each other of betrayal and thievery and lies and treachery,” the frontman said later. “And it was all true. We were all guilty.”
Monk pointed out the single event he believes shook Van Halen's foundations apart, while also demonstrating the naivety of its leading members. In his 2017 book Runnin’ With the Devil: A Backstage Pass Into the Wild Times, Loud Rock and the Down and Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen, he detailed how Anthony was trapped in no man’s land after the battle lines had been drawn.
Roth had personal power as lead singer, and the Van Halen brothers had each other, so the bassist stood alone – and Monk says that’s why, midway through the tour, he was forced to renounce his equal partnership in the band, and accept a backdated loss of songwriting royalties. “In all my years in the business, it was the most disgusting thing I ever saw," Monk said. “They didn't just cut him out; they did it in the middle of one of their biggest records. He was the nicest guy in the world and they didn't even let him get the benefit of that album. He lost millions. MILLIONS. My stomach turned flips."
Incredibly, Anthony remained on the road, and indeed remained in the band until he was dismissed in favor of Eddie’s then-teenage son Wolfgang in 2006. Yet, there’s no doubt that backstage relations soured – and Monk’s own tenure was to end following the road trip’s completion with five appearances across Europe on the Monsters of Rock touring festival. By then, the situation onstage wasn’t as much fun anymore either. “[T]he tension level started to rise,” Anthony recalled. “[Roth would] do something to piss off a male fan, and then he’d say, ‘Hey buddy, after the show I’m going to fuck your girl,’ and point right at them. And boy, sometimes some guys would get heated up for that. … Some nights you want to just laugh, and other nights you want to go, ‘Oh, I don't want to stand near this.’”
Eddie Van Halen recalled how he and Roth had begun rattlling each other during performances: "All my solos end with a nod to Al, so I just keep going until I turn around. I have no idea what's the longest I've gone – about 20 minutes, probably. That's when I started getting ragged on by a certain person: 'Your solo's gettin' too long!' I'd say, 'Fuck you. Your raps are getting longer!' It used to be nothing but talk, man. It was three-fourths talk. But as soon as I got up there to do my solo… he couldn't stop me anyway."
The Van Halen story, of course, wound on and on. Roth was replaced by Sammy Hagar, who was replaced by Roth, who was replaced by Gary Cherone, who was replaced by Hagar, who was replaced by Roth. Monk hasn’t spoken to his former colleagues since they terminated his 30-day rolling contract in what he called a “greedy” bid to “get 20 percent more” – but with the distance of time he can look back fondly.
“If you take away Eddie, Dave is not Van Halen. If you take away Dave, Eddie is not Van Halen," Monk said. "We drove on buses for thousands of miles; you can't do that and not get along. I loved Eddie. He was my closest relationship in the band. He was incredibly naive, but he was brilliant.”
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