Jump – Van Halen’s Upbeat Take on Suicidal Tendencies

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Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ – a song that fully deserves a place in any Classic Heavy Metal song blog. It’s a combination of catchy lick and chorus, and an unusual take on a possible suicide victim in LA.

So it’s lucky for us that it’s around at all – since it’s a song that very nearly got thrown in the ideas garbage room, from where it would never have seen the light of day. It had already served at least a two-year period in purgatory. Strap in to find out more.

Ready to Jump?

Guitarist Eddie Van Halen had come up with the iconic keyboard riff to ‘Jump’ on the band’s bus on a tour in maybe 1980, or even as early as 1979.

But when Van Halen played it to the rest of the band, they were none too keen, resistance coming especially from the singer, Dave Lee Roth. Classic Metal Hawk supposes that with 20/20 hindsight, you can see why they were a bit reluctant. Such a keyboard heavy number would certainly have represented a departure from their earlier guitar heavy work. Pretty much from the outset, Van Halen were noted for Eddie’s Guitar-Hero virtuosity above all else, and, y’know, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it etc etc.

Caution: Guitar God In Action

Roth? Really?

Mind you, Classic Metal Hawk was surprised to learn that Roth himself was at the forefront of the resistance to a more pop-culture direction. After all, at the start of the music video for ‘Jump’, we see him fixing his hair for the camera. Then the chorus section allows him to showcase various ‘Jump’ related moves – the full splits early on, right the way through to a Jean Claude van Damme style spinning kick towards the end. The Hawk can’t help but feel that Roth would REALLY have wanted to showcase moments like these to a wider audience. Although, to be fair, Roth was a martial arts student at the time, even going as far as to eventually dedicate ‘Jump’ to his instructor / mentor, one Benny ‘The Jet’ Urquidez (who is apparently quite the legend in his own field).

(History doesn’t tell us whether Roth had his own fighter nickname, but that doesn’t stop a bit of harmless speculation. Dave Lee ‘The Rocket’ Roth? Dave Lee ‘The Rhino’ Roth? Write in with your suggestions – The Hawk will add in the best ones as a postscript.)

Anyway, back to the point. How was Eddie Van Halen going to exert more control over the musical direction of the band, and get them to agree to new ideas like ‘Jump’? The band was named for him after all.

Studio for Van Halen

After some pondering, he came up with an expensive but effective solution, building his own recording studio in Los Angeles, 5150 Studios. Named for Van Halen’s previous album ‘5150’, the studio immediately became the rehearsal space for Eddie and Alex Van Halen to try out and record their own material, and it would become the base for recording Val Halen albums from then on.

Using their newfound recording freedom, Eddie and Alex Van Halen went on to lay down a basic version of ‘Jump’ with a handful of tracks, and presented it to Dave Lee Roth yet again, this time as a fait accompli. Seeing which way the wind was blowing, Roth relented and agreed to work on lyrics.  As so often in the music business, inspiration would be found during a road trip, in this case Roth riding round in the back of his 1951 Mercury, with Van Halen roadie Larry Hostler driving.

(Best on-the-road composed lyrics reman, for The Hawk, Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’, which Lemmy composed in the back of a van at high speed. We don’t know how fast the Mercury was  going, but the result is less exhilarating, so probably they got stuck at a few red lights.)

That Suicide…

The idea for the ‘Jump’ lyrics came originally from a news story Roth had seen about a potential suicide – someone standing at the top of the Arco tower, and threatening to … wait for it … ‘JUMP’. Roth figured that one of the onlookers on the street would just yell ‘Go ahead and jump’ before too long – LA is a tough city after all. Equally though, Roth must have figured that he was writing against an upbeat major-key synthesizer riff, and so dealing with suicide in the lyrics would have been jarring.

As a result, ‘Go ahead and jump’ became a line about embracing life and taking action. Don’t wait for life to happen to you, JUMP into it and grab all those opportunities. Want to ask someone out on a date? Go ahead and jump. Sick of the boss treating you like crap and feel like quitting? Go ahead and jump. Been holding off booking that hiking journey of discovery you always wanted to make in the Hindu Kush? Well, you get the idea.

Anyway, with the idea in his head, and the wind in his hair in the back of that Mercury, Roth was suitably inspired and finished the lyrics that afternoon. Eddie Van Halen had already put down a lot of the music in his new studio – he played the keyboard himself, an Oberheim OB-Xa, and the song was completed in double quick time.

It made its debut on the next album, ‘1984’, was released as a single and duly hit the top of the Billboard charts in the US where it would remain for 5 weeks – displacing none other that Culture Club’s ‘Karma Chameleon’.

The music video was none too complex, simply featuring the band performing the song on stage (as said, with proper hair and moves from Roth). Classic Metal Hawk suspects that the video was thrown together in a hurry as well. Why? Watch the official video at the end and check out the end of the guitar solo, where we see Eddie Van Halen coming in with a changed-up keyboard lick (about 2 minutes 30 seconds in). And then have a look at that layer of dust covering the keyboard – absolutely filthy. Hopeful he washed his hands after the cameras had stopped rolling.

Average Solo 🙁

And what about that guitar solo? Not one of Eddie’s best, unfortunately. It’s obviously very technically accomplished, like most Van Halen guitar solos. Featuring the usual medley of tapping and fast picking, it ensured that Eddie’s tried and trusted ‘Guitar Hero’ persona would still be part of the song. I dunno – Classic Metal Hawk just feels like Eddie couldn’t quite figure out how best to put a guitar solo alongside that dominant synthesizer riff. No doubt he’d have figured it out given time, but he maybe didn’t want to interrupt the momentum in getting the song together so quickly. The result is a bit unsatisfying, a phoned in noodle that doesn’t really add much to the song. That keyboard solo right afterwards fits the bill much better.

But whether or not you agree with The Hawk on that, it did nothing to hinder the express train success of the song, which is now not only a Classic Heavy Metal anthem in its own right, but also one of those tunes that has fully crossed over into popular culture. It’s found everywhere. Football stadiums as far flung as France and Italy play it. NBA basketball team the Detroit Pistons have used it at their games.

(But when does it appear, you ask? That’s right, whenever there’s a JUMP ball.)

It’s been in films – the 2015 biopic ‘Eddie the Eagle’, where the title character is a Ski JUMPER!! – as well as the sci-fi flick ‘Ready Player One’ in 2018.

Parting Shot

‘Jump’ turned out to be Van Halen’s only US #1 with Dave Lee Roth on vocals – indeed, even the success of the record couldn’t smooth over the musical and personality differences between him and the Van Halen brothers, to the point where ‘1984’ turned out to be his last album as their vocalist. Bands with more than one leader often run into difficulties, and that turned out to be the case with Van Halen. Even after having objected to the concept of ‘Jump’ for all that time, once it was planned to be a single, Roth wanted himself front and centre. For the video, he was filmed engaging in various Rock-Wildman activities – riding a big motorbike, getting arrested in only a towel. (No booze and drugs scenes though, for such an intended MTV friendly commercial smash.)

The video’s producer, Robert Lombard, ended up trashing all the extra footage, presumably on the grounds that it was super lame. Lombard was duly fired by Van Halen’s manager, Noel Monk, for failing to get Roth’s approval for the final cut – although that ended up being the one they used anyway. Monk himself was fired by the Van Halen brothers not long after that. In 1985, Roth released a solo project, ‘Crazy from the Heat’, an EP of pop covers that may have briefly scratched his creative itch, but also led to the Van Halen bothers questioning his long-term commitment to their band.

They parted ways,  and Van Halen continued their world dominance with Sammy Hagar at the mic. But, with ‘Jump’ as his parting shot, Roth went on to have plenty more success himself, and you can see why. Let’s watch him do his moves in all their glory.

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