How ‘Beats Workin” Became Van Halen’s Unexpectedly Perfect Farewell
The final song on the last album Eddie Van Halen released during his lifetime serves as a lovely and fitting end to his career. The only problem is that it arrived entirely too soon.
"Beats Workin'" closes out 2012's A Different Kind of Truth, an album which at the time seemed to promise a number of new beginnings for Van Halen: It was the group's first album in over a decade, their first with original singer David Lee Roth in nearly 30 years – and, most importantly to Eddie, the first to feature his son Wolfgang as the newest member of the lineup.
By all accounts it was the younger Van Halen who was most responsible for bringing his father and his drumming uncle Alex Van Halen out of their long hibernation, encouraging them to reunite with Roth for a very successful reunion tour in 2007.
"The only way this tour is happening is because Eddie gets to play with his son Wolfie," Wolfgang's mother and Eddie's ex-wife Valerie Bertinelli later explained. "This brings joy to Ed, and that's what he wants to do now, just have fun playing. As great as [former bassist Michael Anthony] is, this wouldn't be happening if Mike was still in the band."
Eddie credited "Wolfgang's enthusiasm" for leading the band back into the studio. "He was going, 'come on, come on!'" Van Halen told Guitar World in 2012. "We went up to [Eddie's recording studio] 5150 and started jamming. It felt like a comfortable old pair of shoes. Working with Dave again was like we had never left each other. It was that comfortable."
Wolfgang also took the lead in selecting unreleased songs from Van Halen's early days for re-recording on A Different Kind of Truth.
"I wanted to remind my dad of the mindset he was in when he wrote songs like 'Runnin' with the Devil' and 'Dance the Night Away,'" Wolfgang told Guitar World in a separate interview. "I thought that recording those old songs would make it easier for dad, Dave and Al to put their minds where they were back then, and get back to writing how they would have then."
One of the seven older songs that wound up being selected for the project was "Put Out the Lights," which originally appeared on the 25-song 1977 demo Van Halen recorded with producer Ted Templeman in order to help secure their Warner Bros. contract.
Listen to Van Halen Perform 'Put Out the Lights'
After Roth wrote a new set of lyrics, "Put Out the Lights" was re-recorded and renamed "Beats Workin.'" The new track begins with a dramatic 45-second instrumental build up, then Roth holds court over Eddie's chunky riffing for a couple of short verses and choruses. After the guitar solo, Wolfgang steers the band into new territory, introducing a bass line that sounds like a slowed-down take on the Beatles' "Ticket to Ride."
"That's one of my favorite little bass moments on the album," Wolfgang later tweeted. "Love that line." Alex joins in with a cowbell, and apart from a few more "that beats working, baby" refrains from Roth, the song's final two minutes are entirely dedicated to the instrumental interplay between the Van Halen family members.
After years of personal and professional struggles, Eddie was exactly where he wanted to be. He launches into an initially slow and soaring solo that gains speed and intensity as his brother and son build to the song's bombastic conclusion beneath him. The guitar innovator's final, feedback-drenched notes fade out for nearly 30 seconds at the end of the song and album.
In 2015, Van Halen released Tokyo Dome Live in Concert, using performances from the tour in support of A Different Kind of Truth to create their first-ever live album with Roth. They mounted one more North American tour the same year, concluding Oct. 4, 2015 at the Hollywood Bowl in their hometown of Los Angeles.
Roth-fueled rumors of a 2019 summer tour were soon replaced by reports that Eddie was once again battling cancer. Wolfgang confirmed his father's death on Oct. 6, 2020.
"Not a second goes by where you're not on my mind," he wrote a month later. "I miss talking with you. I miss laughing with you. I miss listening to music with you. I miss making music with you. I just miss everything."
Listen to Van Halen Perform 'Beats Workin"