David Lee Roth breaks down the Van Halen sound — from early influences, to 'Biblical' solos, to those fiery endings

David Lee Roth has described Van Halen’s music as “whiskey in a paper cup,” recommending “short doses and not every night — please!” Now, he’s ready to go in depth on what makes their sound so special.

It starts, Roth says in an interview with The Guardian, with the principal band members’ childhood influences: “The busing program in America started in 1966 and my sister and I were sent off to schools an hour and a half away that were 95 percent black and Spanish speaking,” Roth said — leading to a key cultural impact: “Today I only listen to R&B — only listen to R&B — from any time period, doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter at all, whether it’s big band swing all the way up to anything that’s on Beatport.”

Which explains how Kool and the Gang ended up as an opening act on Van Halen’s new reunion tour.

Meanwhile, brothers Alex and Eddie Van Halen — the co-founding drummer and guitarist with the group — “went to Ridgemont High. Ever see the movie? That was their high school — 98 percent Jeff Spiccoli and home of the monster riff.”

Combine that, the returning Van Halen vocalist says, with their own outsized personalities, and you have the recipe for this group’s still-resonant blend of peacock rock and pop hooks.

“And the guitar solo?” Roth asks, rhetorically. “It is a religious icon, certainly on a par with some of our more popular professional sports, which I maintain are religions. Put the football down — I’m ready to argue,” he says, and laughs. “That’s how we do the solo.” More laughter. “And you’ll know when the solo’s coming because there’s a scream.”

Best of all, Roth asserts, are the band’s fiery in-concert song endings — saying, from the first, that they hoped to craft final moments that “sound like World War IX or just the end of the world. Who does endings better than Van Halen live? I’ll send you a ticket. I’m ready to argue this. Unarguably the best endings ever, right? They sound like the end of everything. Biblical.”

Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Van Halen. Click through the headlines for complete reviews …

VAN HALEN – A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH (2012): It’s interesting that A Different Kind of Truth doesn’t always go for the easy hook (recalling Fair Warning), something that may surprise late-arriving fans of keyboard-driven pop successes like “Jump” (and certainly the subsequent period with David Lee Roth’s successor, Sammy Hagar). Some of the material requires more than one listen to completely absorb, and Anthony’s cloud-bursting tenor is missed at times. But A Different Kind of Truth has a way of burrowing in. That’s largely thanks to the presence of Roth, of course. He’s always good for spandex-splitting laugh or two.

SHOWS I’LL NEVER FORGET: DAVID LEE ROTH, JUNE 24, 1988: What will always stick with me about that night was the showmanship. For whatever Roth might lack in vocal chops, he’s always made up for in stage presence and performance. On that night, he was on top of his game, bouncing around all over the stage, kicking and leaping with manic energy. At one point, he rappelled from the lights to the stage. He performed “Panama” from a boxing ring suspended from the roof of the arena and then rode a surfboard over the crowd back to the stage as he sang “California Girls.” It was a production drenched in the excess of the late 1980s, and I loved it.

SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: VAN HALEN: A long-waited reunion with original lead singer David Lee Roth has Van Halen back in the news … and us digging through some old albums. Here’s a look back at a few favorite moments with Roth — and yes, Sammy, too — along with updated tour date information. Let’s start shredding!

ON SECOND THOUGHT: VAN HALEN – A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH (2012): I stand corrected – and pleasantly surprised, too. When I went into my first listen of Van Halen’s A Different Kind of Truth, I was expecting a steaming pile of mediocrity. Instead, the album is loaded with big, crazy riffing from Eddie Van Halen. As I listen to the record, I keep coming back to one word – swagger. That could be a complete review of this album in itself. It’s something that the best work from Van Halen has always had, and something that, for me, was often missing in the post-DLR version of the band.

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