229. Van Halen, “Jump”
Eddie Van Halen wrote “Jump” on the synthesizer. Famously and even a bit notoriously, the song was a significant departure for the band the bore his name, a group that forged a fervent fan base largely through their vaunted lead guitarist’s six-string heroics. When “Jump” arrived as the lead single from Van Halen’s 1984, the divergence from the band’s typical sound was all anyone could talk about, a flurry of chatter which served the song well. Interest in the track was high, and it quickly became the most successful single the band ever released, cruising to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in a mere six weeks and spending a total of five weeks in the #1 position. To a degree, Van Halen generated the song, as well as everything else on the album, while under the proverbial gun. Well before work on 1984 was complete, their label committed to a major promotional push in conjunction with an album release on New Year’s Eve, 1983. That need for material may have helped smooth the way for a song that was first pitched for the band’s 1982 album, Diver Down, but rejected because it lacked a potent guitar part, the clear signature of the band. The guitarist recorded a new demo in the run-up to 1984, and this time everyone agreed that the hook was irresistible. Famous for its resonant keyboard melody, the finished track of course also featured a guitar solo (or, as the reference book Legends of Rock Guitar called it, “a scorching axe break”), which Van Halen reported was generated spontaneously, noting what’s on the record may even be a first take. Lead singer David Lee Roth wrote the lyrics to the song in the back seat of a 1951 Mercury lowrider, while being driven by Larry Hostler, one of the band’s roadies, all around southern California, Eddie’s cassette demo playing through the speakers. The initial inspiration came from a news report of a man threatening suicide while standing on a ledge of a building. Being Roth, the scenario quickly morphed into a dude overcoming his reluctance to hit on a woman he spots while hanging out in a bar (“Well can’t you see me standing here/ I’ve got my back against the record machine”). Along with all the other things that make it notable, “Jump” was the first song recorded at the sixteen-track studio Van Halen had built into his new home in the Hollywood hills.
When they released “Lies” as a single, Thompson Twins were a fairly new act as far as United States audiences were concerned, but there was a tangled history that brought them to that point. While DJs (and VJs, for that matter) never tired of guffawing over a band with “Twins” in their name having three members, the group had a total of six players when their debut album, the cumbersomely titled A Product of…(Participation), was released in the U.K. Eventually, their manager convinced Tom Bailey, Joe Leeway, and Alannah Currie (who wasn’t formally on the roster for that debut release) that they’d be better off as a trio, and the other band members were jettisoned, some of them in not altogether honest conversations, with assertions that the band was breaking up entirely instead of paring down the number of people making music. “Lies” was the first single from the band’s 1983 album, their third overall and second to be released in the United States. Titled Quick Step and Side Kick in the U.K. and the leaner Side Kicks in the U.S., the album finds the band settling into the sound that would carry them to a string of hits through the remainder of the decade. “Lies” served as a forecast of the success to come, becoming Thompson Twins’ second single to top the Billboard dance charts, and their first to cross over into the main chart, peaking at #30 on the Hot 100.
Jason Ringenberg hailed from Illinois, but formed his band in Nashville, a locale far more hospitable to the hard-rocking but country-tinged sound he wanted to pursue. Though his native state isn’t the sort of place widely associated with cowpokes, Ringenberg came at his country roots authentically, growing up as a farm boy in a more rural area. He also wanted a fierce, raw, big sound for the music he crafted, once reportedly saying that the he hoped the band sounded “like a religious service, only dirtier.” Following a pair of well-regarded EPs, Jason & the Scorchers released their debut album, Lost and Found, in 1985. It was produced by Terry Manning, who developed something of a speciality for working with raucous, headlong bands with a rootsy vibe, also producing the likes of Omar & the Howlers, the Rainmakers, and, most commonly and successfully, George Thorogood and the Destroyers. Co-written by Scorchers drummer Perry Baggs, “White Lies” was the first single off of Lost and Found. While hardly a hit, the track has shown impressive longevity, becoming enough of a signature song for the band that they performed it on Late Night with Conan O’Brien nearly fifteen years later. There’s also been a remarkable persistence to the band itself, with a bevy of albums over the years, including as recently as 2010. Younger generations get their doses of Ringenberg, as well. He’s got a booming career as the children’s entertainer Farmer Jason. Even if kids don’t know Jason & the Scorchers, they might know “Punk Rock Skunk.”
As we go along, I’ll build a YouTube playlist of all the songs in the countdown. The hyperlinks associated with each numeric entry lead directly to the individual song on the playlist. All images nicked from Discogs.