I was sixteen when this record came out in 1984. At that time I was part of a gang of lads who fancied themselves as rockers or, as we were usually called, ‘grebos’ (a catch-all term in Nottingham for metalheads, bikers etc).
Although I hung around with rockers, had long hair and dressed like an idiot, my heart was never really in it. For a start, my taste in music was far too broad. Rockers, although lovely people, tend to be very narrow in their tastes: straying from the true metal path could often lead to ostracisation and ridicule (as I discovered a couple of years earlier when I declared my liking for Culture Club’s Kharma Chameleon). I managed to get around the problem of never really liking heavy metal by being a massive fan of Led Zeppelin and having quite a vast musical knowledge. This meant that I could just about continue my love of pop music – so long as I also pretended to like old shit like UFO, Saxon and Iron Maiden.
The obvious problem with Jump, from a metalhead’s viewpoint, is the synthesiser. It doesn’t seem like such a big deal now but really, for a heavy metal artist, using a synth was basically the same as telling your fans that you’re a poof. It didn’t help, of course, that Van Halen had also provided the guitar solo for Michael Jackson’s Beat It the previous year. What on earth was going on?
One of the great things about Jump is that although it wasn’t as significant as Run DMC and Aerosmith’s Walk This Way (two years later), it was a definite step towards breaking down the barriers a bit. It was still regarded as a heavy metal record simply because it was produced by a heavy metal band. But Jump, quite clearly, was nothing less than a glorious slice of pop music.
An intriguing element of the song is how it sits a little uncomfortably with the singer, the funny and charismatic Dave Lee Roth. You can see it in the video. There he is, preening, swaggering and literally jumping at the shout of “Jump!” at the same time as confessing self doubt (“I ain’t the worst that you’ve seen”). Quite odd behaviour for a heavy metal singer at the time.
But, of course, it’s the synthesiser that makes the song. Eddie Van Halen, a musician of considerable talent, treats it in pretty much the same way as he would have done a guitar riff. It not only supports the song and gives it momentum, it also washes all over it. It’s clean, crisp and still sounds new, especially against the rather lumpen bass line.
Although synthesisers had been around for a few years by then, they were often still only employed within the confines of a general electro pop/dance sound. It was just so refreshing, and so different, to hear it being used so boldly and cleverly within a rock context. Ultimately, it’s just a great pop record.