David Lee Roth was aware that his second solo album, Skyscraper, would be viewed as a departure from the music his fans liked best. Eat ‘Em and Smile, from 1986 and his first release after his separation from Van Halen, was a crowd-pleaser, but as he prepared for the launch of its follow-up in January 1988, he suspected there could be a backlash.
“You don’t just do it out of the blue, I put in a good amount of time,” Roth said of the album in a TV interview at the time. “It’s just like nuclear engineering: You ask a lot of questions till you learn the ropes, and you start to apply the ideas. I worked very closely with [producer] Ted Templeman for a number of years, working on the Van Halen projects and my solo stuff, trying all different kinds of approaches. … Then once I felt I had all these tools at the ready, [I thought] let’s create radical redesign; let’s do something that’s completely different, take a good shot at it. And hopefully, you don’t see where we’ve welded the different styles together.”
It was hardly his fault that some Van Halen fans, disappointed with that band’s synth-heavy direction since the split, were expecting him to keep flying the flag for full-ahead rock ‘n’ roll. But he did have a trick up his sleeve in the form of the lead single, “Just Like Paradise.” Released on Dec. 31, 1987, the song became one of Roth’s most successful songs, peaking at No. 6.
Co-written by keyboardist Brett Tuggle and co-produced by guitarist Steve Vai, “Just Like Paradise” featured every excess the typical Van Halen fan could wish for. The video even included scenes of Roth climbing the Half Dome rock formation in Yosemite National Park. “Lyrically, the song ‘Paradise’ has nothing to do with mountain climbing [but] climbing is the visualization of the way the music sounded to me,” he said in a radio interview, adding that “pure rock ’n’ roll could be translated as “excitement or fear.” “What’s the difference, really? It’s the thing of unpredictable finish, a careening rush towards an unpredictable finish. That’s what I get in the studio and what I get up on a rock.”
Watch David Lee Roth’s ‘Just Like Paradise’ Video
Vai, who went all-out with a triple-neck guitar, recalled that Tuggle’s song didn’t take long to put together into a quick demo.
“I did a certain solo, it was like one pass. I wanted to throw a little something on there, so I threw the echo on,” he told Guitar World. “Then we did the real demo, which is higher quality, and I did a completely different solo. Well, Dave ended up liking the solo from the original demo, so when we made the record, I learned that solo and put it there.” If Vai had his way, the track would have been even more guitar-heavy.
“What I wanted to do was a double solo,” he explained. “I wanted to play two guitars and pan them left and right, have them solo against each other, do answer licks, harmony licks. But I never got to that because that original solo became everybody’s favorite.”
While the Skyscraper tour proved successful, it marked the end of the road for Vai’s time with Roth. Bassist Billy Sheehan left before the trip even began. It took awhile for the album to settle in with fans – and it never did for some of them. But having proved he still had the chops with “Just Like Paradise,” Roth remained certain he made the right move. “Left-hand turns, that’s what rock ’n’ roll is all about,” he noted in a radio interview. “A little bit of unpredictability … always gotta take a chance otherwise you play it safe … and that’s not the spirit of it. The spirit’s what it’s all about.”
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