This Is Van Halen's Most Underrated Member

With the passing of Eddie Van Halen, there's been a resurgence of interest in the band. Most of that interest has focused, reasonably enough, on Eddie himself — Van Halen was a musical genius and a guitar innovator who deserves every bit of the praise and attention. And Van Halen (the band) was a guitar-based heavy rock band, so it makes sense that Eddie's virtuoso playing overshadowed everything else. It doesn't help that in 2015 Eddie gave an interview to Billboard in which he basically said that bassist Michael Anthony couldn't play very well.

But the everything else matters. David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar (and even Gary Cherone) were very different, but were great rock singers and magnetic front men for the band. Eddie's brother Alex is an incredible musician in his own right who created an iconic drum sound — after all, how many bands can you identify just from hearing a single drum fill?

And while the bass playing on Van Halen records, whether by original member Michael Anthony, journeyman Mark Stone, or Eddie's son Wolfgang, was never the center of attention, it's time to put to rest the idea that Michael Anthony isn't an amazing bassist. In fact, the man who played on most of Van Halen's biggest hits and most memorable songs is probably Van Halen's most underrated member from any era. Here's why.

Brilliant simplicity

One reason Michael Anthony never seems to get any respect as a bass player is due to the perceived simplicity of his bass lines. On classic songs like "Jump" or "Runnin' with the Devil" he plays straight fourth or eighth notes (meaning he plays each note four or eight times per whole note), which sounds like he's just mechanically strumming the same string over and over again.

And ... he is. Unlike some bass players who like to create intricate bass lines, Anthony worked to lay down the foundation of the song with his bass playing. But here's the thing: That simplicity was brilliant.

As producer and music expert Rick Beato notes in his analysis of "Runnin' with the Devil," (posted on YouTube), Anthony's playing on the song is "simple but right-in-the-pocket." This is crucial when you've got a guitarist like Eddie Van Halen, whose musical style is intricate and complex. If the bass started roaming around and doing crazy licks, the song would be a mess. Instead, Anthony concentrates on defining the beat and keeping time. As Beato notes in his analysis of another Van Halen song, "Jump," (also on YouTube), Anthony's bass playing combines with Alex Van Halen's drumming to create a groove so tight it rivals the precision of computers. His playing might seem simple, but there are actually very few bassists who could play with that kind of precision.

He was a tremendous background vocalist

When you think Van Halen, you think of Eddie shredding on guitar, or maybe Diamond David Lee Roth doing splits in mid air. But you probably also think of the remarkably beautiful harmonies that the band produced — one of the signatures of a Van Halen song were their soaring, high-pitched background vocals on songs like "Jamie's Cryin'" or "Love Comes Walkin' In."

As Jeff Mezydlo writes at Yardbarker, Anthony was the secret ingredient in those background vocals. It's arguable that Anthony was an essential part of Van Halen's sound; if you remove his spot-on backing vocals from their most famous songs, what you'd have left would certainly still be a great song, but it wouldn't be nearly as memorable.

As noted by Ultimate Classic Rock, one reason Anthony's background vocals aren't always recognized as a vital component to Van Halen's success is the fact that some of his best performances are on deep cuts instead of the songs released as singles, which usually favored Eddie's guitar riffs (for obvious reasons). Another great point is that Anthony's reliability as a backing vocalist extended to live shows, where he often salvaged some of Roth's lazier performances by being incredibly consistent even when the band's lead singer was not.

He's a class act

When it comes to rock bands, ego is always in the mix. Rock stars don't always treat the fans well, and when bands break up, things can get really nasty. So it's worth noting that Michael Anthony, despite having been a member of one of the biggest rock bands in history, is by all reports a really nice guy.

He's defended by his colleagues. When Eddie Van Halen attacked his playing and singing, Stereogum reported that he refused to snap back, instead issuing a statement that read, "I've always chosen to take the high road and stay out of the never-ending mudslinging, because I believe that it ultimately ends up hurting the Van Halen fans." And Sammy Hagar, who worked with Anthony on four of Van Halen's albums, said that Anthony had the best work ethic in the band: "Mikey was the most loyal guy in the band, he was the first guy there at rehearsal, the last guy to leave ... 100-percent dedicated."

And as Louder reports, when Eddie Van Halen passed away, Anthony had nothing but warm, positive things to say about the man who fired him from Van Halen and went out of his way to say bad things about him. That's class.