How Van Halen’s ‘So This Is Love?’ Stands Apart on ‘Fair Warning’
How in the world did “So This Is Love?” end up on Fair Warning?
Van Halen hunted out dark, seething and downright weird tones for their fourth album. Opener “Mean Streets” had Eddie Van Halen tapping with an unchained fury and David Lee Roth sneering, “At night I walk this stinkin' street past the crazies on my block.” The following track, “Dirty Movies,” mixed sleaze, smut and a grinding guitar. Most of the rest sat uncomfortably among aggression (“Sinner’s Swing!”), fever dreams (“Push Comes to Shove”) and angular, ugly prog (“Saturday Afternoon in the Park”).
Then there’s “So This Is Love?”
Released in June 1981 as Fair Warning's first single, the song shows off Roth's love of cheeky pop, Eddie Van Halen’s talent for pop hooks and the band’s ability to simultaneously swing and stomp. “So This Is Love?” sounds unlike anything else on the LP. It’s closer to the shake, shimmy and wink of “Beautiful Girls” and the pop thrills of “Why Can’t This Be Love” than the oddities found on Fair Warning.
Fair Warning, which was released a couple months earlier in April, remains the band’s darkest record as well as the worst-selling LP by the original lineup. Still, it sold well enough to eventually earn double-platinum status. But you can hear that the band isn't quite on here as they approach a breaking point.
Eddie Van Halen pushed them to embrace prog and progressive jazz, while Roth held steady with the group’s reputation as the ultimate party band. Granted, some of the album's best moments stem from these conflicts, compromises and dramatic artistic poles.
Listen to Van Halen's 'So This Is Love?'
The guitarist reportedly rerecorded parts of songs in secret, noting years later that "the fucked-up thing was, no one even noticed. … That's how uninvolved they were on a musical level.” He generally seems to win the tug-of-war with Roth. But not on “So This Is Love?," which flies in the face of his experiments: There's no prog and no jazz, and everyone appears to lock comfortably into their traditional roles.
According to lyrics Roth later provided to Van Halen News Desk, the song was initially titled “Flesh and Blood (Banana Oil).” The words “flesh and blood” were to appear where he now cries “So this is love.” Whatever the lyrics (and these lines are Roth at his simplest and laziest), the music cooks.
The track opens with some funky bass by Anthony, big band-style drums by Alex Van Halen and Roth peeling off a classic “Oh, yeah!” before declaring to everyone to check him out “on the good side here.” The song is never rushed. The rhythm section keeps up a bumping groove with occasional spikes of volume, as Roth splits his time between laid-back purrs and lascivious growls. Eddie Van Halen echoes him by dropping in nuanced vamps and loud, roaring chords.
Rumor has it the guitarist and producer Ted Templeman cobbled together four short solos to build a longer one. Listen closely and that makes sense. It feels like different bursts of madness smashed together for an epic result.
The song reached No. 110 on the Billboard singles and No. 15 the Mainstream Rock Tracks charts. But the band gave it plenty of love onstage at the time.
You can feel that love ooze across the stage at a legendary performance at the Oakland Coliseum Stadium from June 12, 1981, where Eddie Van Halen added a ton of extra fuel to the hot outro solo. But the band retired the cut after the 1983 US Festival and didn’t return it to set lists until the 2007 reunion tour with Roth.
Watch Van Halen Perform 'So This Is Love?' in 1981