July 1986: David Lee Roth Tells Us to 'Eat 'Em and Smile'

David Lee Roth
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On July 7, 1986 - by now very much out of the Van Halen fold - David Lee Roth released his first solo full-length album, challenging his former bandmates for a seat at rock and roll's table of heavyweights.

Eat 'Em and Smile was something of a marked departure from anyone who'd regarded Diamond Dave's first solo work, 1985's Crazy from the Heat, with mild bemusement. Roth exited VH within weeks of its release; surely he wasn't going to cover more jazz and rock numbers like "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody" or "California Girls," right?

READ MORE: December 1984: David Lee Roth Releases "California Girls"

Indeed, Eat 'Em features a few nods to Roth's omnivorous musical tastes ("That's Life," "Tobacco Road") - but it's mostly a return to hard rock alongside longtime VH producer Ted Templeman. And Dave was playing for keeps: his backing band was made of a powerful rhythm section featuring future Mr. Big bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Greg Bissonette, and a guitar virtuoso named Steve Vai, who'd recently completed a stint in Frank Zappa's band.

Vai's guitar theatrics were apparent from the jump - dig the "talking" guitar that opens lead single "Yankee Rose" - and critics were soon discussing the young shredder as a worthy competitor to Eddie Van Halen's guitar god status. For his part, Vai never bought into the comparisons. "Dave got the best musicians he could, who he thought was the best," the guitarist said in 2012. "And I thought it was a hell of a band. It was one of my favorite times in my whole musical career, becaase we were rock stars, you know?...It was just glorious, man."

READ MORE: April 1986: Van Halen Hits No. 1 with '5150'

Coming into record stores just months after 5150, Van Halen's first album with Sammy Hagar on lead vocals, Eat 'Em and Smile would reach the Top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100, with "Yankee Rose" becoming a modest Top 20 pop hit. (Roth would return to the Top 10 of the Hot 100 in 1988 with "Just Like Paradise," featuring the same band as Eat 'Em and Vai promoted to co-producer.) Less successful - though notable for its novelty value and attempt to branch out into international markets - was Sonrisa salvaje, a version of Eat 'Em and Smile with Dave re-recording all his vocals in Spanish.

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