There is no denying that Van Halen is one of the most iconic rock bands of the 1980s. Known for their colorful outfits and larger-than-life stadium shows, Van Halen also has an extensive catalog of songs that are incredibly fun to learn and play on guitar. I’ve put together a short list of some of the best easy Van Halen songs on guitar for beginners to enjoy, including video links and tabs to help you dive right into each selection. Let’s get started!
Are Van Halen songs easy on guitar?
Eddie Van Halen, the lead guitarist for the band Van Halen, is one of the most technically proficient guitarists ever and one of my top picks for the best heavy metal guitarists of all time. So, it goes without saying that his songs are not generally on the easy side. That said, there are some easier Van Halen songs, and many of the overly complex guitar solos can be dumbed down to be more beginner friendly.
1. Eruption (You Really Got Me)
“Eruption” is probably better known by its chorus lyric “You Really Got Me” and is one of Van Halen’s most commercially successful songs. The song doesn’t have much backstory to the lyrics and was used more as a platform to exhibit guitarist Eddie Van Halen’s insane lead guitar skills.
“Eruption” opens up with a long and frankly intimidating guitar solo from Eddie Van Halen that includes his signature dive-bomb whammy bar technique. The rhythm guitar parts are much easier to play along with for beginner guitarists and involve a single riff that shifts in between two chord structures. Taking on most of Eddie Van Halen’s lead parts will take an immense amount of time and patience for beginner guitarists to get right, but you will come out the other side a much better player.
2. Ice Cream Man
The song “Ice Cream Man” is a noticeable step away from Van Halen’s electric-guitar-driven stadium anthems. For this song, the band chose to put a glam-rock spin on the classic 1950s rock and roll standards made famous by the likes of Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley. Many Van Halen fans may not know that the song is a cover of a famous blues song released by John Brim in 1953.
New or beginner guitarists should learn “Ice Cream Man” to get a better understanding of how to play the same riffs or licks on acoustic and electric guitars. The song opens with a blues motif played on an acoustic guitar, which is then transferred to an electric guitar and a full band at around the 1-minute mark. The song is also a great case study for learning the fundamentals of a classic I-IV-V chord structure that is very common in blues and rock music.
3. Hot For Teacher
“Hot For Teacher” is the cheeky 4th single from Van Halen’s debut album 1984. As the title suggests, the song is about a young man having affectionate feelings for his school teacher and was intended to create a stir amongst high-school teenagers. “Hot For Teacher” is also featured on the video game Guitar Hero World Tour and Guitar Hero Van Halen.
This song is one of Van Halen’s fastest compositions, making it pretty difficult for beginners. This makes it a great opportunity to get your playing strength and stamina up. The arrangement revolves around two primary instrumental parts in G Minor and A Minor and includes subtle variations in chord changes and turnarounds for each section. The best way to learn this song accurately would be to play alongside the song with the tempo slowed down so you can focus on each part properly.
“Unchained” is often considered by Van Halen’s fans to be the band’s heaviest song and one that truly showed their ability to write progressive rock music. Wolfgang Van Halen (Eddie’s son and now band member) has cited this song as the “Definitive song from the David Lee Roth era of the band.” There is also a sonic easter egg in the song – as you can hear producer Ted Templeman say the words “Come on Dave, gimme a break!” in the background of the recording.
I feel the most efficient way to learn “Unchained” is to break the arrangement down into their respective sections and learn each piece separately. Even though the riff work on this song might sound a bit manic, you can find the patterns in the note choices by following the chord progressions of each section of the song. EVH rarely used distortion, but he frequently used modulation effects in his recordings. To really replicate the face-melting intro of “Unchained”, use an MXR Flanger.
I consider “Dreams” as the song the proverbial torch passed from David Lee Roth over to Sammy Hagar. The song has a distinctly uplifting feel and is written as a motivational anthem about never giving up on your ambitions. “Dreams” is also one of the first songs that showcased Van Halen’s exploration of using more synths and keyboards in their recordings. When the band refused to record a video for this song, the record label threw together some stock footage of military operations – leading to the song becoming synonymous with joining the Navy.
In the 2004 remaster of “Dreams,” you can hear a clean acoustic guitar doubling the synth intro before switching to Van Halen’s classic electric guitar “brown sound” tones. The verse arrangement has some unique phrasings, but the chorus opens to a very light and enjoyable chord progression played in time with the main lyrics.
6. Runnin’ With The Devil
Another very popular single from the David Lee Roth period, “Runnin’ With the Devil” is the first song off of Van Halen’s self-titled debut album. As Van Halen songs go, this is a relatively easy song on guitar. There is a loud sound similar to car horns blaring created by a device that Eddie Van Halen built, and he would famously bring this device with him to use during live performances. The song also captured the attention of Kiss’s Gene Simmons, who then flew the band over to New York for an opening slot performance.
“Runnin’ With the Devil” introduces you to a lot of the composition choices that Eddie Van Halen and Co. would use in their albums to come. The intro riff and verse use a key change that is very common in Van Halen songs, and instead of playing standard chords, the lyrics are sung over very easy consistent power-chord-based riffs in each section.
“Panama” is one of the more personal lyrical tales from vocalist David Lee Roth’s journal. The song details a day at the Panama Express – a rare race event that occurs in Las Vegas. Roth uses an Opel Kadett that he calls Panama to symbolize a destructive relationship with a toxic lover. The idea is a beautiful but sad metaphor set against the backdrop of fascinating instrumentation.
“Panama” is a slightly more technically complex song for rhythm guitarists to enjoy, as certain sections dedicate both lead and rhythm parts to the same guitar. However, the verse and chorus parts follow a relatively simple set of power chord shapes that should be straightforward enough for beginner guitarists to grasp. A very dark and slick phrasing variation is used for the breakdown just before the final chorus.
8. Right Now
The instrumentation for “Right Now” was originally written for David Lee Roth to sing over, but he found no interest in the song during his time with the band. Later on, Sammy Hagar and Eddie Van Halen would mess around with the song idea, which is where Van Halen came up with the song’s iconic piano introduction. Hagar used the song as an opportunity to give the band a more wholesome identity, and the lyrics are about enjoying the present moment.
“Right Now” uses chord choices and rhythms that show the band’s intention to freshen up their sound for newer listeners. The intro and verse use the same sets of chord progressions that help keep a solid tension up until the chorus, which also pays off with a very simple but effective power chord structure to back anthemic lyrics.
9. Can’t Stop Lovin’ You
“Can’t Stop Lovin’ You” somehow found its way onto Van Halen’s album Balance as a B-side single after many years of being thrown around as a demo idea. The original song was written as a tribute to singer David Lee Roth’s late friend – who sadly took his own life. The demo was first written in 1983 and lived long enough to become part of Balance in 1995. Coincidentally, the final version of this song was released in dedication to a band manager’s untimely passing.
“Can’t Stop Loving You” is definitely one of the easiest Van Halen songs on guitar. It uses pretty simple chords with 4 distinct parts.
There are fewer songs with synth-based intros that sound as iconic as “Jump”. This is by far one of Van Halen’s most popular songs and firmly planted its status as a serious rock icon shortly after its release. Very simple in concept, “Jump”’s lyrics revolve around the ideas of staying optimistic in hard times and of the relentless perseverance of the human spirit. The song is the lead single from the band’s album 1984.
The coolest part of playing along with “Jump” is learning to adapt the synth intro to guitar. The part works surprisingly well on guitar and sets you up nicely for the timing of the verse chords to come. The upside of learning “Jump” is that it is not nearly as complex as most Van Halen songs, but it is definitely as fulfilling.
11. Atomic Punk
“Atomic Punk” rounds off the end of Van Halen’s debut album, first released in 1978. The album itself was soaked in heavy guitar riffs and speedy rhythms, as the band wanted their initial releases to have a loud and abrasive feel for listeners. “Atomic Punk” never quite reached the commercial success of some of the other songs on the album, but it definitely fits the musical intentions of the band at the time and is a long-time favorite for several die-hard fans.
“Atomic Punk” has a feel and mood much closer to the band’s heavy metal sensibilities. The opening and interlinking sections use a very simple riff that revolves around E Minor before lifting a whole tone for the verses to be sung over. There is a classic Van Halen key change in the guitar solo about halfway into the song before the arrangement closes off with one final verse and chorus.
12. Dance The Night Away
This is one of the handful of feel-good songs that Van Halen released during David Lee Roth’s time with the band, as they would mostly opt for darker, more technical songs with him as the singer. The lyrics tell of a pretty standard evening for Roth, who sees a woman from across the room of one of his local bars before inviting her for a dance with him. The song’s original title was “Dance, Lolita, Dance” and is supposedly written in tribute to a woman that Roth met and made love to in the back of a truck.
The primary riffs of this song’s composition lock into the backbeat of the drums for a tighter overall sound. You can use the backbeat as a reference to make sure you get the right amount of attack, sustain, and release to give the song its crucial groove. The arrangement is a wonderful example of how to work subtle lead phrasings in between your rhythm guitar parts.
13. Somebody Get Me A Doctor
“Somebody Get Me A Doctor” is another song likely written purely for Eddie Van Halen to flex over. The arrangement has all of his signature guitar lead moves worked into it, with tapping, pinch harmonics, arpeggios, and the classic Van Halen dive-bomb. The song is about riding a wave of positivity and generally encourages listeners to keep their heads up through hard times. During some live performances of the song, the band would hire an actress to come on stage as a fake nurse to give the band their “shots” (which would mainly consist of Jack Daniels).
Aside from the incredibly complex lead guitar work, “Somebody Get Me A Doctor” is one of the easiest Van Halen songs to learn on guitar. Most of the arrangement centers around the key of E Minor, and you will use this power chord shape as a foundation to build the rest of the chord progressions that run throughout the song.
14. Drop Dead Legs
If it’s not obvious in the song title, “Drop Dead Legs” is based on a chance encounter that singer David Lee Roth had with a random stranger, who he thought carried an impressive set of legs. The song is taken from the album 1984, the final album to have all the original founding members of the band recording. The lyrics are quite tongue-in-cheek, which sticks to the fun, hedonistic themes of the original members’ final album together.
The opening riff of “Drop Dead Legs” wasn’t a common technique used by Van Halen, as the picked-out progression is a lot more tucked in and staccato than the band’s usual playing. The chords open up over the chorus, but you will still have to fill specific gaps in the rhythmic parts with complimentary lead licks. Lead guitar-wise, this is also an easy Van Halen song on guitar and is quite easy to master. This song is a great stepping stone to the band’s more complex and advanced arrangements.
15. Ain’t Talkin Bout Love
Even though the chord choices and aggressive vocal delivery of “Ain’t Talkin Bout Love” have a dark and somber feel, the lyrics are actually quite cheeky and don’t take themselves too seriously. The song is written about David Lee Roth’s affinity for casual sex, particularly while he was traveling the road. Rap group The 2 Live Crew famously sampled the riff from this song for their track “The Funk Shop”, resulting in a massive legal dispute between the two acts.
Most of the arrangement of “Ain’t Talkin Bout Love” centers around the intro riff, which is both pretty easy to learn and wonderfully satisfying to play. There are no key changes in the song, which is uncommon for Van Halen, but given that the song was intended as a radio single, this also makes sense. If you listen carefully in the mix, you can also hear a sitar playing in the background.
Van Halen’s guitar parts are not known for being easy. After all, Eddie Van Halen was one of the most technically proficient guitarists of all time. But if you look past the insanely technical lead guitar parts, there are many easy Van Halen songs on guitar.
Looking for some more awesome beginner guitar song recommendations? Check out my article on the best songs for beginner guitarists.
Anirudh Koul from Montreal, Canada.
Attribution: Anirudh Koul CC BY 2.0