Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Lil' Ain't Enough

Sit back, kiddies. I'm going to tell you the tale of a music video that is simultaneously the greatest and worst thing I've ever seen. It's the story of a once-great star on the cusp of a serious career decline. And it's a case of horrendous timing.

It was January 1991. It was a strange time. The U.S. had just entered the first Gulf War, launching airstrikes on Iraq. The Berlin Wall was coming down. The Soviet Union was breaking apart. And David Lee Roth was about to embark on a quarter-century career dip before he finally rejoined his old band.

Roth was not yet six years removed from his first stint with the mighty Van Halen, which was the one of the biggest bands in the world before he parted ways with Eddie, Alex and Michael Anthony. DLR's first solo effort was impressive: 1986's Eat 'Em and Smile, featuring a killer band comprised of virtuoso players Steve Vai and Billy Sheehan. It was a lean, mean hard rock beast that contrasted well with VH's first Sammy Hagar album, 5150, which had its share of rockers but also continued Eddie Van Halen's fascination with keyboards. I saw both bands in the summer of 1986 at the Portland Civic Center in Maine and DLR was better by far.

His follow-up, 1988's Skyscraper, went in a different direction altogether, as Roth became interested in danceable pop and lightened the hard rock edge with tons of synths. It sold well, about 2 million copies in the U.S., but Vai and Sheehan were not pleased with the change in sound and left the band (Sheehan after the album release, Vai after the tour). DLR went back to a hard rock sound on his next album, A Little Ain't Enough, which was released in January 1991. He brought in 19-year-old guitar wunderkind Jason Becker and producer Bob Rock and things were looking up. Or so he thought. Before the tour began, Becker was diagnosed with ALS and was unable to continue.

Which brings us to the video in question, for the "title track" (quotes used because it's not spelled the same), "A Lil' Ain't Enough." I remember seeing the video premiere on MTV; as it turned out, the clip only aired a few more times before MTV decided to ban it because of the scantily clad women throughout. I bought the CD when it came out, but I only listened to it a few times before moving on; eventually I sold it to a used CD store.

I hadn't given the video much thought since it came out until I was bored and started watching old videos on YouTube and stumbled across this one. It's got all the earmarks of a DLR video of the time: Dave jumping around doing high kicks, doing his hammy "wocka wocka" schtick (which I love, BTW); hot chicks all over the place, wearing not a whole lot (but really not much different than his "California Girls" video from 1985); the familiar synth-drenched hard rock sound he'd been trafficking in; and the slapstick antics he liked to include in his videos.

But the repeat viewing also reveals the following:

  • Recession. I didn't notice it at the time, but Dave's hairline here is clearly racing upward. He was still wearing it long, but it wasn't what it was even a few years earlier. Fast-forward to 1994 and Dave actually had cut his hair shorter. But the mighty DLR mane declined to the point where he recently decided to shave his head for an appearance with the Foo Fighters in January.
  • A massive pink jeep that DLR drives throughout the video. Absolutely ridiculous looking, but fitting with Dave's Big Rock ethos.
  • Little people in blackface. You read that right. At the 1:58 mark of the video, there's a Busby Berkeley-esque sequence featuring DLR standing in the middle of a circle of little people wearing blackface and Afro wigs. Honestly, I don't know how I forgot I about that. I don't think it's racist so much as...ill-advised. Still, wow.
  • Gym babes. Dave sings while surrounded by bikini babes working out on Nautilus equipment because, you know, boobs.
  • Football stadium. Dave's dancing around a bunch of cheerleaders in a stadium, then strutting past a line of women holding guitars in front of a zillion amps. Then back to the little people, this time doing pelvic thrusts. This video is truly insane.
  • 50-foot-long boom box. The sight gags continue. Get it? A little ain't enough, so everything's big (except for the little people, I guess).
  • Old and fat. In the last section of the video, Roth presciently fast forwards to Oct. 10, 2021 to "Diamond Dave: THE ABSOLUTE FINAL TOUR" at a sold-out Anaheim Stadium. At the time it was 30 years away; now it's only six. DLR's back in a fat suit, like he did in the "Goin' Crazy" video from 1986, doing goofy dance moves. He's still in pretty good shape, so it's doubtful he'll be gigantic in six years, but he was also wrong about the hair: It was long in the video but as we know, it's all gone now.
I have no idea what DLR spent on this video, but it couldn't have been cheap. Had to be at least $1 million. For maybe four airings on MTV. There were other videos and singles from this album, but they didn't fare much better. The album went gold, but it was quickly forgotten and by the end of the year, Roth's brand of spandexed hard rock was pretty much extinct. Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains soon dominated the sales, MTV and the radio.

As for DLR, in the decades that followed, he periodically released albums that sold less and less, had an infamous and short-lived reunion with Van Halen at the 1996 VMAs, appeared on The Sopranos, had a brief stint as Howard Stern's morning radio replacement, became an EMT, was busted for buying weed, wrote an autobiography, played with the Boston Pops and performed on an album of bluegrass covers of Van Halen. Hey, he kept himself busy. And then in 2007, he reunited with Van Halen again for an initial tour and a 2012 album/tour. It's looking doubtful that another VH album will happen anytime soon, if at all. They announced a live album release from the last tour.

So even if there's no more new Van Halen material or tours, things seem to have turned around for good ol' DLR. But it was one ill-timed and ridiculously awesome video that led to a prolonged dry stretch for Diamond Dave.

1 comment:

Kelley said...

Wow. Truly bad. Fun read, tho, and I enjoyed analyzing it for myself. I had to watch on my iPad to get a fuller view. I actually liked Dave when he wasn't acting like a tool, and I had a vague recollection of this song and video. I don't think the song is as bad as the video. The helicopter legs always left me cold. Loses it's appeal when he starts looking like a Las Vegas showgirl. The pink jeep seems to take the androgyny a bit too far and the use of little people, while not actually in black face, is truly disturbing. I guess we should be glad he didn't bowl with them. I almost had hope when the black and white segment started, but that's almost the worst part, with a crazy concentration of helicopter legs and him looking super self-important and self-conscious at the same time. Ew. Then the flash-ahead ending just made me uncomfortable. Remember that poster of Dave in the exotic feathers and face paint that I had framed? I still have it, stored away. I prefer to remember him that way, or in the early days of VH.