Van Halen – Diver Down

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this copy of Van Halen’s fifth studio album 
  • Surprisingly big, lively, open, rich and present with real extension both up top and down low – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This album put the band’s hard-rocking spin on a number of covers, including “(Oh) Pretty Woman,” “Dancing in the Street,” and Where Have All The Good Times Gone!”
  • “…this is undoubtedly the work of a finely honed band who has only grown tighter and heavier since their debut… it’s one of Van Halen’s best records, one that’s just pure joy to hear. Like the debut, it’s a great showcase for all the group’s strengths…”

Most copies in our experience just do not have the kind of weight to the bottom and lower mids that this music needs to work. Put simply, if your Van Halen LP doesn’t rock, then what exactly is the point of playing it?

Richness is also key — every instrument should be full-bodied and solid, never thin and squawky. The copies with the most resolving power are easy to spot — they display plenty of lovely analog reverb trailing the guitars and vocals.

What excellent sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1982
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

The other qualities to look for on the best pressings are, firstly, space — the best pressings are huge and three-dimensional, with large, lively, exceptionally dynamic choruses.

And lastly (although we could go on for days with this kind of stuff), listen for spit on the vocals. Even the best copies have some sibilance, but the bad copies have much too much and make the sibilance sound gritty to boot.

Donn Landee and Ted Templeman

Credit DONN LANDEE (and Ted Templeman too) with the rich, smooth, oh-so-analog sound of the best copies. He’s recorded many of our favorite albums here at Better Records.

Most of the better Doobies Brothers albums are his; more by Van Halen of course; Lowell George’s wonderful Thanks I’ll Eat It Here; Little Feat’s Time Loves a Hero (not their best music but some of their best sound); Carly Simon’s Another Passenger (my favorite of all her albums); and his Masterpiece (in my humble opinion), Captain Beefheart’s mindblowing Clear Spot.

What We Listen For on Diver Down

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — Donn Landee in this case — would have put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Where Have All The Good Times Gone!
Hang ‘Em High
Cathedral
Secrets
Intruder
(Oh) Pretty Woman

Side Two

Dancing In The Street
Little Guitars (Intro)
Little Guitars
Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)
The Full Bug
Happy Trails

AMG Review

1982’s Diver Down is indeed much lighter than its predecessor. In many ways, it’s a return to the early albums, heavy on covers and party anthems, but where those records were rough and exuberant — they felt like the work of the world’s best bar band just made good, which is, of course, kind of what they were — this is undoubtedly the work of a finely honed band who has only grown tighter and heavier since their debut.

…it’s one of Van Halen’s best records, one that’s just pure joy to hear. Like the debut, it’s a great showcase for all the group’s strengths, from Eddie Van Halen’s always thrilling guitar to the bedrock foundation of Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony’s throbbing pulse to, of course, David Lee Roth’s strut.

Each member gets places to shine and, in a way, covers showcase their skills in a way none of the originals does, since they get to twist “Oh, Pretty Woman,” “Dancing in the Street,” and “Where Have All the Good Times Gone” inside out, all the better to make them their own. But this isn’t complacent; Van Halen is stretching out in different ways, funneling the menace of Fair Warning into the ominous instrumental “Intruder,” playing with the whiplash fury of a punk band on “Hang ‘Em High,” and honing their pop skills on the bright, new wavey rock of “Little Guitars” and the sweet “Secrets,” which displays the lightest touch they’ve ever had on record.

Combine that with the full-throttle attack on the covers, along with Dave’s vaudevillian song and dance on “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)” — a shtick that’s electrified on the equally fun “The Full Bug” — and the result is a record that’s nothing but fun, the polar opposite of its predecessor.

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