“Everybody Wants Some!!” might not be the best Van Halen song ever recorded, but it is a very Van Halen song. It contains all the elements one associates with Van Halen: it is aggressive; it is epic; it is sexual in a completely unsubtle way, thanks in part to one David Lee Roth; and it contains guitar riffs by Mr. Eddie Van Halen that are so blistering they could single-handedly light the grill at a backyard summer barbecue, which is 100 percent where you should be listening to a song like “Everybody Wants Some!!”
As in most Van Halen songs, the guitar is the core around which the entire track is built, just as Eddie Van Halen, who died of cancer Tuesday at age 65, was the core of Van Halen the band. The most important part, the most idiosyncratic part, the most exciting part of Van Halen was the guitar. There have been many gifted guitarists in the rock pantheon: Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Prince (whose guitar greatness is often overlooked because he was so damn good at everything). But Eddie Van Halen’s guitar singularly defined the genre in the late 1970s and ’80s. If an alien showed up on Earth in 1980, a couple of years ahead of E.T.’s schedule, and asked what rock-and-roll sounds like, you would have put on a Van Halen song, isolated the guitar track, pointed to your speaker, and said: “That.”
That’s why, in Back to the Future, when Marty McFly scares a young George McFly into believing he’s an alien, he blasts an Eddie Van Halen guitar riff through his Walkman earphones. That’s why, when Richard Linklater made a pseudo-follow-up to Dazed and Confused set in 1980, he called it Everybody Wants Some!! And that’s why, in a memorably weird sequence in a delightfully weird movie, a hamburger rocks out on guitar to Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some!!”
That delightfully weird movie is 1985’s Better Off Dead in which John Cusack plays Lane Myer, a teenager who can’t catch a break. His girlfriend dumps him for the captain of the ski team. He’s being stalked by a weird paper boy who keeps begging him for two dollars. He hates his job at Pig Burgers, where he flips patties to make some cash and where the slogan is, “Everybody wants some.”
Lane also has a huge imagination, which leads to a fantasy sequence in which he frankensteins a claymation burger into existence and watches said burger turn into the fast food equivalent of the great Eddie Van Halen. The scene is silly and infectious and a bit subversive, or at least it played that way at the time. It couldn’t have been all of those things if another song or artist had provided the soundtrack.
I mean, look at that burger. It’s so cute. It’s smiling and it’s got googly eyes. It’s packed with all the best claymation fixings: tomato, lettuce, what I believe is a slice of cheese. It’s even wearing a darling pair of sneakers on its feet. This burger is a California Raisin before the California Raisins existed. (Young people: look it up.)
Yet there is something vaguely badass about that burger, as well as his interactions with a female burger and his brief time hanging out poolside with a bunch of french fries — pool party, that’s another place where a song like “Everybody Wants Some!!” should be heard. It’s a purposely absurd, unrealistic scene, but the fact that a white teenage boy in 1985 like Lane Myer would be transported by the sound of Eddie Van Halen’s guitar grounds it in measure of believability.
Back then, Eddie’s guitar regularly transported young men — and also everyone — to other places. It made you feel powerful by proxy even though you weren’t the one whose fingers slid with abandon up and down the neck of that Frankenstret. (Lane Myer frankensteined a hamburger, Eddie Van Halen frankensteined his own signature guitar.) It was the only guitar, then and now, that justified putting two exclamation marks at the end of a song title.
And in Better Off Dead, Eddie Van Halen’s sound proved to be the rare electric roar that could transform an adorable cartoon cheeseburger into a rock god and make a young man working a shit job feel, for a few seconds, like he was truly alive.