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The Best

David Lee Roth

Rhino

Crazy From the Heat

David Lee Roth

The Best of David Lee Roth should be a multimedia package, like the man himself. At the very least, Rhino might’ve sprung for an enhanced-CD version, tacking on a couple of the Davemeister’s mystique-puncturing videos. After all, though Louis Prima’s “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody” medley was a perfect choice for Roth’s writ-large persona, Prima’s own version is in stock on CD at Tower. What makes Roth’s take still viable is the visual satire that pricked the pretensions of most of MTV’s circa-’85 trademark faces, including his own, which would’ve given this package an appeal beyond the marginal.

The Best? Of David Lee? With not even a second of Van Halen? No “Jump,” no “Have you seen Junior’s grades?” To be sure, the photos plastered all over the CD booklet include none that come anywhere near depicting Roth’s now-receding hairline (and his publicist is sending out an old photo with the date cut from the margin). The front cover shows the singer in typical ’80s regalia—seatless leather pants with several bottles of Jack Daniel’s at the ready—in his prime, as it were. Seventy-seven minutes of post-VH Dave, however, is the wrong kind of overkill.

A new track, “Don’t Piss Me Off,” is familiar-sounding, ordinary blooze-rock that, beyond its title, doesn’t catch the spark that landed the original Van Halen in nine out of 10 high-school parking lots between 1978 and 1984, and which left immediately upon Roth’s ouster, rendering VH a highly formulaic outfit with a decent guitarist.

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In addition to tracks from the Crazy From the Heat EP and its successful long-playing follow-ups Eat ‘Em and Smile and Skyscraper, The Best culls stuff from two already-deleted ’90s albums that proved that being a core artist at album-rock radio doesn’t guarantee record sales anymore. Often, Roth is relying on his mannerisms and little else on the likes of “A Lil’ Ain’t Enough” and “Hot Dog and a Shake.” He apes the music of his most glorious days, with hacks like Steve Vai and Billy Sheehan taking over key instrumental roles. (“It’s Showtime!” mimics “Hot for Teacher,” right down to the false ending, except for the addition of an oh-so-authentic Hammond organ—not an improvement—while “Skyscraper” is as hokey a sprightly-keyboarded production number as anything Van Halen committed with Roth successor Sammy Hagar.) The rage that, in his new autobiography—also titled Crazy From the Heat—he says fueled the old group had drained off to feel-good platitudes by 1987’s “Just Like Paradise.” Even the gleefulness of “Yankee Rose” feels slight compared with the snarl of, say “Everybody Wants Some!!” And parsing the difference between “Put your head in the clouds and your feet on the ground” and Van Hagar’s icky “Right Now” is easy: There’s very little.

The book is much better. Presumably sellable mainly because of last year’s abortive reunion of the original arena-filling Van Halen lineup, it goes surprisingly light on the whole sorry episode, instead celebrating the force that was VH, Roth’s role in shaping it, and anything else he happens to feel like going on about.

This is the story of a guy happily playing backyard parties and, later, Sunset Strip clubs before taking his shtick to the big time—and, oh yeah, to the ladies. Scattershot or, to use a favorite Roth word, freewheeling, it’s definitely the work of a man who filled instrumental breaks with jive talk and regaled reporters with claims that professional wrestling was so popular because wrestlers were more passionate than the average rocker—Roth being far above average, of course. (Paul Scanlon is credited with “whittling this monster manuscript down from 1,200 pages to the gem you now hold in your hands.”)

Some of Roth’s claims are grandiose—actually, a lot of them are—but except for the occasional clunker like his assertion that “There are hardly any videos by other artists that you can name…from 10 years ago, that are still popular now.” Uh, Michael Jackson? But most of the book is about as much fun as his old interviews, with the singer’s wide-screen view of life and music reigning. (he credits the Ohio Players as being at least as big an influence as Led Zeppelin and explains that part of VH’s magic was that he “tested” the songs for danceability.)

He sets the record straight on the tales of giving roadies bonuses for tracking down one-night girlfriends for him—it was a ploy to get the stage and equipment broken down faster, sez Dave—and does indeed project a knack with the females. But despite asides like the one about it not being “unusual to have 50 different gals show up at lunchtime sound check demanding to give a blow job,” this isn’t Diamond Dave’s Big Book of Sex and Chicks. In fact, Roth comes off a bit regretful of his lack of serious relationships. Not that he’s complaining, mind you, or looking to step onto Bryan Ferry’s world-weary turf.

No. Sentences like, “I woke up in the bushes, about ten o’clock, the next morning” are far more typical of the effusions on display here. And would anyone who remembers the fun, the total blast of records like Women and Children First and 1984, have it any other way? Eddie?CP