Thursday, March 04, 2010

Perfect Rock Songs

My friend Geoff has been posting videos on Facebook lately and he went on a Van Halen kick tonight, which reminded me of something - that Van Halen has what I consider the Perfect Rock Song. By this I don't mean the Best Rock Song, but the "perfect." And there is a difference. I never was a Van Halen fan until the summer of 2001, when I lived in California. I had just bought a BWM 323, which was by far the fastest and coolest car I had ever driven, and cost far more than I had any business paying. I had to take a business trip to Fresno for reasons that don't bear the repeating, and very late one summer night I found myself screaming up Highway 99 far in excess of the speed limit. It was hot and dry and I was the only car on the road - only slow-moving semis laden with fruit were in my way. And on the radio came Van Halen's Dance the Night Away. And I was transported. I had never given the song a second though, but at that moment I realized I was happy because it is the perfect rock song. It's shallow, but it's happy, smooth, sexy, and calls up all that's best about being 17 or 18, free, adventurous, and without a care in the world. The guitar is smooth and big and jangly. The beat is slow, regular and - well - perfect. I realized I could listen to that song and drive forever and never, ever, miss where I had come from and never care if I got where I was going.


dogimo said...

Man, you've been touting this song since forever, and I was like, "yeah I know that song, it's aiight." But now I click on the link, and realize I was mis-remembering it! I had the right song, but I had mentally "added in" all that chunky stuttering skittering background guitar track from "Dancing In The Street". Now I can decide which version I like better, dang it! They're both pretty great. But only one actually exists.

I guess, you gotta give it to the one that exists. Yup, this is indeed a great tune, for real.

So what's with the plural in the title?

dogimo said...

Say Sean, do you edit Wikipedia? Can you do anything with this?

"While the rest of the songs from this album had existed in some way, shape or form since their days doing demos and playing clubs, this song was possibly the only song written during the recording sessions for the album. Having become a hit in July 1979, the band conceived the song during the recording sessions while the band members were standing in a circle humming to each other."

- From the current wikipedia entry for the song.

Hey, like that sunny little island-style breakdown in the middle!

Sean Scully said...

Ah, now I understand your resistance. "Dancing in the Streets" is probably Van Halen's least successful cover song. It is tolerable, but no better.

I had not seen the Wikipedia piece - that explains why the song is so good and such a crystalline expression of exuberant joy.

And I said "songs" semi-intentionally since I think there may be other "Perfect Rock Songs." Not many, but a few. An old high school friend thinks that Born to Run" may be one. I am not a huge Bruce fan, but I think she may have a point.