‘It’s juxtaposed with this very happy music’: Van Halen’s David Lee Roth talks about the darker side to his lyrics

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For all of David Lee Roth’s happy-go-lucky antics on stage, many of his most recognizable songs — from Van Halen’s “Jamie’s Cryin'” and “Jump” to his solo version of “Just a Gigolo”/”I Ain’t Got Nobody” — have a darker edge.

“Jamie’s Cryin,'” from Van Halen’s eponymous 1978 debut, opened Side 2 with a hooky riff and the group’s trademark soaring chorus, courtesy of the vocal interplay between Roth and the departed Michael Anthony.

“It’s very happy sounding music, but I’m singing a sad song,” Roth says in this Radio Airlift clip. “Now, you’re compelled to consider — am I laughing at her? Or am I laughing with her? Am I laughing at the predicament? Should I be laughing? Should you be laughing with me? If you’re laughing with me, is it OK for your friends to see you laughing? Should they know that about you? There’s contrast to it.”

That’s what drew Roth to the famous Louis Prima medley of “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody,” with its “sad and lonely” lyric — which is likewise “juxtaposed with this very happy music,” Roth adds. “That’s what human beings are: They’re both at once.”

Prima first issued the medley on his 1956 album The Wildest!; Roth hit with it in 1985.

Roth adds that the story of “Jump,” the 1984 song that gave Van Halen its first-ever No. 1, was initially sparked by thoughts on a famous local spot where people went to threaten suicide — and that jerk in the back of the watching crowd who jokingly encourages the afflicted to go through with it.

“The best music contrasts the tone of the lyric with the tone of the music,” Roth says. “It’s easy to take happy music and sing happy lyrics. That works, but it’s almost predictable.”

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