Van Halen songs

Whether you consider them to be a glam metal outfit, a hard rock band, or something else, Van Halen is a band that shaped rock history. Started by brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen, the band has captivated rock fans for decades. Here are some of the best Van Halen songs to learn to play.

The Best Van Halen Songs to Learn

Eddie Van Halen

1. “Dance the Night Away,” Van Halen II (1979)

“Dance the Night Away” is the perfect feel-good Van Halen song to learn. It’s also bassist Michael Anthony’s best work as a background vocalist.

This song is a great one to learn if you want to try out Eddie Van Halen’s striking yet difficult harmonic tapping technique. If you want a comprehensive lesson that includes the chords, various riffs, and Eddie’s guitar solo, check out this incredibly thorough video lesson (below left).

2. “Ice Cream Man,” Van Halen (1978)

Many Van Halen fans think this song from the band’s David Lee Roth era is a Van Halen original. However, it’s actually a cover of a 1953 blues song by John Brim.

This is a great Van Halen song to learn on acoustic guitar. While it may be a little challenging for those who are new to guitar, it’s a great intro to some well-known blues techniques. This useful tutorial (video above right) takes you through the acoustic parts of the song.

3. “Drop Dead Legs,” 1984 (1984)

Eddie Van Halen has said this is one of his favorite tracks. Part of its distinctive beauty comes from the efforts of producer Ted Templeman, who produced many of the band’s songs from the David Lee Roth era.

Playing rhythm guitar on this song is a real workout, and it’s a great way to improve finger dexterity. And as you already know, if you’re a Van Halen fan, Eddie’s playing can be a real challenge to emulate. This video lesson (below left) does a great job of taking you through the intricacies of the song.

4. “Eruption,” Van Halen (1978)

“Eruption” is easily one of the most memorable songs by this band. Only Van Halen could craft such a uniquely iconic track. It’s one of Eddie’s favorite Van Halen songs, too.

This also might be one of the toughest songs to learn on the list. It involves extremely fast picking and some unusual techniques. In this video (above right), you can see a highly skilled guitarist take you through the skills and tricks you need to play the song.

5. “Hot for Teacher,” 1984 (1984)

“Hot for Teacher” was the last single Van Halen released before lead singer David Lee Roth left the band in 1985. It’s a dynamic song with a complex Eddie Van Halen solo, powerful drumming, and interesting vocals that almost reach the level of spoken word poetry.

Part of the fun of learning to play any song is learning to emulate the original tone used. This video lesson (below left) shows you how to create the sound of “Hot for Teacher” before giving you a step-by-step walkthrough.

6. “And the Cradle Will Rock…,” Women and Children First (1980)

Women and Children First, Van Halen’s third album, yielded only one single: this one. It’s unusual for a Van Halen song in that it centers around Eddie playing a keyboard, not a guitar. However, the keyboard manages to sound somewhat like a guitar.

If you want to learn the guitar solo for “And the Cradle Will Rock…,” there are countless tutorials out there. But if you play piano or want to try it out, look at the song’s cool piano tutorial (video above right).

7. “Jamie’s Cryin’,” Van Halen (1978)

This powerful song from Van Halen’s debut album is one of the band’s more lyrically complex tracks. The song’s guitar tone almost sounds like it’s crying, too. And if you learn this song, you can start to play another; a riff from “Jamie’s Cryin'” was sampled for the 1998 hit “Wild Thing.”

Like just about every Van Halen song, this one is challenging to play. But as you can see in this tutorial (video below left), it’s a great song to work on if you really want to dial in your string bends.

8. “Spanish Fly,” Van Halen II (1979)

“Spanish Fly” is a bit of a departure for the band; it’s an instrumental, flamenco-style piece. Producer Ted Templeman saw Eddie playing a nylon-string guitar at a party and asked him to record something acoustic, and the song was born.

For best results, play this one on a nylon-string guitar. If you don’t have one, a steel-string acoustic will do. But even if you have an electric, it will still sound good! This lesson (video above right) can take you through this lovely instrumental.

9. “Mean Street,” Fair Warning (1981)

This tough-sounding song is part of Van Halen’s moody 1981 album. It wasn’t technically released as a single, but it quickly became one of the band’s favorite songs to play live.

This song is a popular one for guitarists to emulate, and different players have different ways of tackling it. This video (below left) shows a guitarist’s approach to playing this highly recognizable classic.

10. “Don’t Tell Me (What Love Can Do),” Balance (1995)

This song from the Sammy Hagar era (often colloquially called “Van Hagar”) reflects Kurt Cobain’s suicide. It’s also the only Van Halen song to reach #1 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart.

This is a fun track to learn if you like playing around with the tone. As you can see in this lesson (video above right), its flanger-heavy sound really sets it apart, and its intricate arpeggios pose an engaging challenge!

11. “Jump,” 1984 (1984)

“Jump” is the lead single from Van Halen’s 1984 album. It’s also the only song by the band to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and one of three top 10 hits. It’s easily Van Halen’s most popular song.

As one of the band’s synth-heavy hits, “Jump” is a lot of fun to play on the piano or keyboard. Whether you learn just the main riff or opt to tackle the song, it’s a great piece to have in your arsenal! This video lesson (below left) shows you how to play it.

12. “When It’s Love,” OU812 (1988)

This power ballad is effectively a modernized blues song and is the band’s third-biggest hit. It even made it to VH1’s list of top 25 power ballads!

This rousing, high-energy track is a lot of fun to learn, and it sounds great with a little distortion and reverb. This tutorial (video above right) lets you easily work through the song one section at a time. It includes tabs and close-up views, too!

13. “Runnin’ with the Devil” (1978)

“Runnin’ With the Devil” features Van Halen at the top of its musical game. Bassist Michael Anthony plays brilliant staccato bass, Eddie Van Halen plays flawless rhythm guitar, and David Lee Roth handles challenging vocals while staying on pitch. The song even features car horns played backward through a device Eddie made.

If you want to learn a heavy-hitting hard-rock song, look no further than this one! It sounds great with a good dose of distortion, and as you’ll see in this lesson (video below left), it includes some neat techniques you don’t see too often!

14. “Right Now,” For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991)

Van Halen doesn’t always strive to deliver songs with a message, but “Right Now” communicates the importance of living for the moment. It’s one of the best of Van Halen’s hit songs with Sammy Hagar.

This one is a demanding song to learn, but it’s well worth the effort. This video (above right) even adapts the piano parts for the guitar. And, of course, it also takes a close look at Eddie Van Halen’s solo.

15. “D.O.A.,” Van Halen II (1979)

This sonically-textured song describes a crime: a body has been found, and the police are looking for the killer. The song’s title stands for “dead or alive,” not “dead on arrival.”

If you want to explore alternate tunings, “D.O.A.” is a good place to start. Van Halen sometimes used alternate tunings, and to play this one, you just need to tune a half-step down. This video (below left) will take you through how to play it.

16. “Unchained,” Fair Warning (1981)

The Van Halen brothers play brilliantly on this song. It includes a strange, seemingly out-of-context part where David Lee Roth talks to producer Ted Templeman about his suit!

If you prefer play-along-style lessons, you’ll likely get a lot out of this tutorial (video above, right). You can follow the tabs scrolling across the screen as you work through this intricate yet beautiful piece. It also uses a somewhat unusual tuning: drop D-flat.

17. “Intruder/(Oh) Pretty Woman,” Diver Down (1982)

This unusual song became so unexpectedly successful that it prompted Van Halen to write the rest of the Diver Down album. Eddie Van Halen was allegedly dismayed that although the song lacked a guitar solo, it still reached #12 on the charts.

This great song’s uneasy instrumental intro makes it interesting to learn. It’s also a great option if you want to learn a Van Halen song but don’t feel ready to tackle an Eddie solo yet. Like other Van Halen songs, this one is played in E flat tuning. This step-by-step video (below left) can take you through it.

18. “Finish What Ya Started,” OU812 (1988)

This song was written when Eddie Van Halen came up with the riff at 2 a.m. He lived next door to Sammy Hagar, so the two then wrote the rest of the song.

If you want to learn that same riff, Eddie suddenly came up with (and the rest of the song, of course), this lesson (above right) will take you through it. It’s a great way to sharpen your left hand while also getting good at subtle vibrato.

19. “Why Can’t This Be Love,” 5150 (1986)

This song peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 even though it was the first single the band introduced after David Lee Roth’s departure. Roth moved on with a solo career, and Van Halen’s career continued with Sammy Hagar as the lead singer.

“Why Can’t This Be Love” is one of Van Halen’s synth-driven songs, so playing it on a keyboard (or piano) is a bit more straightforward. It sounds great with effects like the ones you hear in this tutorial (video below left).

20. “Sunday Afternoon in the Park,” Fair Warning (1981)

This synth rock song is part of the band’s fourth album. It was written on a tiny synthesizer, and Eddie’s ex-wife Valerie Bertinelli has said that the stress of their upcoming wedding led him to write it.

When it comes to covers, this one isn’t as commonly played. But this video (video above right) shows you how to play it on an Electro-Harmonix Mini Synthesizer, much like the one it was originally written on. The song relies on effects, so it can be tough to replicate exactly.

21. “Dreams,” 5150 (1986)

Van Halen contributed plenty to rock history and the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers soundtrack with this 1986 track. Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang has claimed it’s one of his father’s best works.

If you choose to learn his song on the keyboard, you’ll gain a new appreciation for Eddie’s skill as a pianist and composer. This tutorial (video below left) shows you how to play it and offers advice on what effects to use.

22. “Atomic Punk,” Van Halen (1978)

“Atomic Punk” is one of Van Halen’s more lyrically interesting songs. Eddie’s powerfully unique guitar work (especially in the intro) also helps the music match the lyrics.

This video (above right) gives you an in-depth look at how to play this song, including using a reissue of one of the same pedals Eddie used, adding a little whammy bar, and more.

23. “Love Walks In,” 5150 (1986)

“Love Walks In” is one of the many songs inspired by Sammy Hagar’s alleged contact with aliens. The singer maintains that aliens telepathically communicated with him at one point.

Many Van Halen tracks are quite difficult to learn, especially if you’re new to an instrument. But this tutorial (video below left) will show you an easy, slowed-down piano version of the song to help get you started.

24. “Panama,” 1984 (1984)

Critics have praised the guitar riff in “Panama” as particularly strong. The song is rumored to have been written after a reporter criticized the band for only writing about partying, women, and fast cars. David Lee Roth noted that the band had not yet written a song about a car, and “Panama” was written after.

“Panama” is a great song to learn if you want to learn some new techniques and are up for a challenge. Learning it will likely take some time, as it’s incredibly musically complex. This tutorial (video above right) is quite involved, but it will take you through all you need to know.

25. “Summer Nights,” 5150 (1986)

“Summer Nights” is the very first song Sammy Hagar recorded with Van Halen. He has claimed that he simply made up the first line on the spot after hearing Eddie’s riff.

Though “Summer Nights” isn’t known for deep or complex lyrics, it’s somewhat complex to play. But its various licks and riffs combine to create one of the band’s more upbeat songs. This video will show you how to play it.

More Top Van Halen Songs

Eddie Van Halen Songs
  1. “Little Guitars,” Diver Down (1982)
  2. “Romeo Delight,” 5150 (1986)
  3. “Hear About It Later,” Fair Warning (1981)
  4. “Best of Both Worlds,” 5150 (1986)
  5. “Somebody Get Me a Doctor,” Van Halen II (1979)
  6. “Dancing in the Street,” Diver Down (1982)
  7. “On Fire,” Van Halen (1978)
  8. “Light Up the Sky,” Van Halen II (1979)
  9. “Learning to See,” The Best of Both Worlds (2004)
  10. “Ballot or the Bullet,” Van Halen III (1998)
  11. “Beats Workin’,” A Different Kind of Truth (2012)
  12. “Cathedral,” Diver Down (1982)
  13. “Poundcake,” For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991)
  14. “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love,” Van Halen (1978)
  15. “You Really Got Me,” Van Halen (1978)

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re a die-hard Van Halen fan or are just getting into the band’s music, playing these songs can be a lot of fun. Whether you’re just strumming the rhythm or tackling some of Eddie’s intricate solos, these Van Halen songs will keep you challenged!

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