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Top 100 Hard Rock Songs

#18 Van Halen - Mean Street

By James West,

Did someone say “Fair Warning?” Lord strike that poor boy down!  No one gave us Fair Warning when Mean Street, my favorite Van Halen song, came screaming out of the speakers to punch you in the face when cranking up this album opener off Fair Warning upon first listen!

Yes, I have the song as my ringtone on my cell, and yes, I will crank it up louder even when other people are having a conversation with me if it comes on!  A Rocker has to have his priorities you know!  Lol

If Rockers had their own ambulance then the intro to this song would be blaring instead of the siren. If you don’t get out of the way then King Edward will smash you with Frankenstein!  The heavy - handed tapping heard on the intro was still trying to be figured out by both guitarists and fans when Fair Warning was released in April of 1981.  It had been used before on the three previous Van Halen records, but not to this magnitude.  There was a certain Anger in Eddie’s delivery that can be felt not only on this track but Fair Warning as a whole.  It’s like Eddie wanted you to not only HEAR the cool sounds, but you had to also FEEL them as well.  The intro ends with screaming feedback that was bound to have fried someone’s ears listening through headphones to this for the first time!  Lucky bastards!

According to Eddie, “I tapped on the 12th fret of the low E and on the 12th fret on the high E and muffled both with my left hand down by the nut,” he says.  So, what I think he is trying to tell us is that it sounded cooler than shit! Ha!

Then, out of nowhere comes this awesome riff that’s part funk, part rock, and part jazz-swing in its delivery.  And it’s thrown in your face as well.  You’re either gonna take it or you’re just gonna have to pick the needle up off the vinyl, boy! Eddie’s got something to say and you’re gonna listen…

Then it’s Dave’s turn to say something, and he’s talking about something new, too:

“At ‘nite I walk this stinkin’ street, past the crazy’s on my block.  Same old faces, same old places, same old useless talk.  I’m searchin’ for the latest thing, a break in this routine.  I’m talkin’ something new- kicks like you ain’t never seen!”

Silly, Kix are for kids, but these type of kicks were right up my alley with being 18 and full of angst back in ’81.  I had just joined the military, and “Mean Street” would serve me well in surviving Boot Camp.  It became my anthem, especially after I got out of boot camp and came back to my home town full of piss and vinegar!  Not to say I went out of my way when I got back home in looking for trouble or anything, but…

After another round of lyrics and chorus, Eddie launches into what sounds like a tango of confrontational – type riffs like he’s getting ready to start something.  Then, after fair warning, he then launches it off full throttle with an incredible solo that sucker punches your senses. 

Dave then affirms, “ This hole is here and now; not once upon a time.  It’s all over but the shouting- I’ve come to take what’s mine!  The song then slows to an alley-quiet pace…. “See a gun is real easy, in this desperate part of town.  Turn to from Hunted into Hunter- Gonna go hunt somebody down.  Somebody said ‘Fair Warning’, Lord strike that poor boy down!”

Then what sounds like a lightning bolt being launched from Frankenstein comes from Eddie; followed by choking-type notes given in a delivery like you’ve just been hammered senseless, and then more screams of horror resonate from his strat as the Mean Street comes to a dead end.


Wow, sounds a bit intense doesn’t it?  Well, it’s a good thing the next song is just about pornography.  The album just gets better and better!


Rock It Like You Live It!

-The Rocker

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