1988 Countdown #40: David Lee Roth, “Just Like Paradise”

(New to the countdown? Forgotten what it’s about? Catch up here.)

A rock climber dangles from a steep cliff, pulling himself up with his left leg. To emphasize that this is a raw, elemental scene, the only soundtrack is a howling wind. The climber would not be identifiable as David Lee Roth without the block of information in the lower left hand corner. (By the way, I recently learned that the MTV credit blocks were set in the Kabel typeface, specifically a shadowed bold weight version; I had never noticed the shadow, but it’s totally there. Anyway, Kabel: designed by Rudolf Koch, released in 1927, named after the first trans-Atlantic telephone cable. Information set in Kabel would evoke simultaneous trust, nostalgia, and head-banging.)

As some big synth chords kick in, we cut to a soundstage where we see David Lee Roth with his band, all heavily backlit. Dave, arms stretched high, bends his knees and leans back in a pose halfway between yoga and the limbo. Then, in slow motion, he does a spinning roundhouse kick, blond hair whipping around with him. He’s clad in the sort of outfit I imagine him wearing on vacation when he comes out of his bungalow to get the morning paper: white socks, sandals, baggy brown vinyl pants, and a black leather vest.

Cut to guitarist Steve Vai, who’s noodling up a storm: we see him riffing away on a triple-necked guitar in the shape of a heart. He seems ecstatic, possibly because he can’t believe that this gig as an Eddie Van Halen substitute in Roth’s band has made it to a second album.

The camera rapidly pans around Diamond Dave, who gestures at it with the microphone stand. Dave has changed into another vest and harem pants outfit, this one with many more spangles and sequins. “Rockin’ steady in her daddy’s car / She got the stereo with the big guitars / And that’s all right,” he yowls. This barely makes sense, but Dave’s strutting across the stage, mugging, and pointing into the camera, exuding enough charisma for eight lead singers, so it really doesn’t matter.

Intercut: shots of Vai striking rock-star poses, having studied at the assless chaps of the master. Also intercut: Dave, scaling laterally across a sheer cliff face, hopping right over a cameraman. I want to know more about the guy who’s hanging onto a cliff with a camera on his shoulder! Another intercut: the drummer, who appears to be a blond surfer dude. Meanwhile, Dave has one hand behind his head and is doing some unsubtle pelvic thrusting. Of all the rock singers ever, he has the most Gypsy Rose Lee in him.

Dave finally plants himself in front of the drum kit, with one of the widest stances since the “Jessie’s Girl” video. Vai runs around the stage with the dark-haired bassist Billy Sheehan. Outside, we see Diamond Dave on the cliff face, where he appears to be wearing overalls and hip-waders: his climbing look is basically rock-star farmer. The cameraman zooms out, revealing that he got this shot with a bad-ass lens: we see Dave as a little dot on a vast expanse of bleached cliff, with some lush mountains behind him. Back on the soundstage, Dave shakes his midriff like somebody set his switch to “puree.”

Second verse: Vai lip-syncs, doing some very Dave gestures. He then walks across the stage and throws his wide-brimmed hat towards the camera. To stop us from getting bored, we get three seconds of oversaturated color. Then the camera spins around Dave as he pretends to look at his watch and winks. Without any warning, the drum kit is suddenly hovering eight feet in the air. I don’t know if Dave has telekinetic powers or if he’s sent the drummer up to meet the mothership, but either way, I feel like this turn of events deserves more attention than the video is giving it.

Costume change! Dave is now wearing hot-pink leggings with palomino chaps over them. There was a time when I wondered whether Dave was actually gay and blatantly flaunting his sexuality to an audience of metalhead teenage boys that was in huge denial about it, a la Freddie Mercury. (That time was before I wrote VJ with the MTV VJs and heard Mark Goodman’s stories about what went on backstage at a David Lee Roth show.)

On the cliff, Dave lopes towards a crevice and puts his left hand out to grab it. But he can’t hold his grip and slides away. Onstage, Dave does a slow-motion roundhouse pirouette, and lounges around for a couple of shots. On the cliff, we see him triumphantly standing on the summit, his left fist raised in the air. Being able to see the three safety ropes he’s tied into makes it somewhat less bad-ass.

Guitar solo. This is a good time to note that this song, while listenable enough, is basically the Splenda version of Van Halen’s pop-metal sugar, and doesn’t even have the demented energy of Dave’s previous solo album, Eat ’Em and Smile. (That record was even better in its Spanish version, Sonrisa Salvaje. I got into a heated argument with my then-roommate Dan about that album–I contended that Dave’s Spanish accent was quite good, and he pointed out that I had no way of judging, since I didn’t speak Spanish myself. Twenty-three years later, I can admit that Dan was right–but Dave’s commitment was so total, I believed in his fluency.)

Somehow, Dave has gotten into a boxing ring. He hops and struts around, wearing a bright red robe, golden trunks, and sequined boxing gloves. When men discover stripper wear, whole new fashion horizons open up. We see the drummer, who appears to be wearing a shimmery green dress (although it’s more likely just a weird lycra thing), sitting on top of his kit, beating on the drums sideways. Dave twirls his mike stand like he a drum major marching through Pasadena in the Rose Parade. Then, just in case you thought you hallucinated the whole bejazzled boxing glove thing, we cut back to the ring and Dave punches the camera with one glittery glove.

“1-800-hey hey,” Dave adlibs as we head for the outro. I recently reread his (hugely entertaining and shockingly out of print) memoirs, Crazy from the Heat. As far as I can tell, his onstage clown schtick isn’t masking any deep inner pain–but he does play down the fact that he’s crazy smart. At a certain point, David Lee Roth made a deliberate choice that he had a better time going through life as Diamond Dave.

Final image: Dave cruising away from the stage, standing on the device that the Village Voice reviewer (I no longer remember who, I’m afraid) mocked as a “surfboard with handlebars.” And that’s accurate, but awesomely, the surfboard leaves a little trail of smoke. Even better: Dave poses on top the surfboard, moving his arms around like he’s sending a semaphore message, spelling out “PARTY AT DAVE’S HOUSE.”

“Just Like Paradise” hit #6 on the Billboard charts (Dave’s last top-forty hit to date). You can watch it here.

posted 9 July 2013 in 1988 and tagged , , . 6 comments

6 Comments on 1988 Countdown #40: David Lee Roth, “Just Like Paradise”

  1. Gavin Says:

    It’s been almost exactly eighteen months since the last countdown entry, “Heaven Is a Place on Earth.” I apologize for the delay. While I was working on VJ, I was thinking about classic MTV pretty much all day long, which made the countdown feel too much like a busman’s holiday. But now that VJ is out and I’ve finished some other big projects, you’ll see updates more frequently. (Easy to promise, when annual entries will improve the pace.)

  2. Chris Molanphy Says:

    Yay, returned ’88 countdown!

    This is a good time to note that this song, while listenable enough, is basically the Splenda version of Van Halen’s pop-metal sugar, and doesn’t even have the demented energy of Dave’s previous solo album, Eat ’Em and Smile.

    Quite literally: Or the demented energy of that album’s two videos, “Yankee Rose” and “Goin’ Crazy!” each of which featured absurdist mini-sketches at the start that were deeply un-P.C. (cf. “Not if you was the LAAAST immigrant grocer on EARTH, Honey”) and bore no relation to the live antics that followed.

    I like how Dave matured enough between album one and album two to skip the skits and try to look like a cliff-scaling badass, but not enough to think an incongruous boxing ring or flying surfboard were bad ideas.

  3. Gavin Says:

    When I said “busman’s holiday,” I was going to make a reference to Dave as the tour-bus driver in the “California Girls” video, but I was worried the metaphor would collapse under its own weight.

  4. azul120 Says:

    Wasn’t he also displaying his katana twirling talents in this one? (Can’t watch the vid at the moment.)

    Really expected this video to be higher on the list (there are one or two vids up ahead I kind of find question with being placed higher as much as they have). It was one of the bigger rock hits, and hey, MTV was still fond of the Dave, and played the heck out of this one, which had a fairly danged quick ascent to the top spot of the top 20 and had some overall hang time on the chart. Also, I vaguely remember this being on the all time countdown in ’91.

    By comparison, he had two year end entries in ’86: the aforementioned “Yankee Rose” at #25 and “Goin’ Crazy” at #72. The latter could have been a curious case of that list’s randomness; it also went to #1 on MTV and was somehow present on a soon to follow top 100 of all time list.

    Digressing, I remember this song was featured at the end of the 3rd season premiere episode of “Chuck”. Miss that show.

  5. Gavin Says:

    I believe he is nimbly twirling a microphone stand, not a katana. But that’s probably how he learned.

  6. Jason Says:

    I f’n love the work your doin’ here, yo, but I bring one quick clarification. In reference to the following: “Vai runs around the stage with the dark-haired bassist Billy Sheehan.” That ain’t legendary bassist/Scientologist Billy Sheehan; that is the drummer’s brother, Matt Bissonette. The dude plays for Elton John and is the bassist on some terrible shit, such as the “Friends” TV show theme.

Leave a Reply

Keep up to date with new comments on this post via RSS.