Hear the first known recording of Eddie Van Halen playing Jump's iconic, band-breaking synth part: "If I want to play Bavarian cheese whistle, I will do it"

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Best of 2023: It’s a well-established fact that when Eddie Van Halen first proposed Jump for Van Halen, as early as 1981, it was vetoed as beyond the ken of the band’s established and growing rock fanbase, so how did it ever end up being released?

“I've been getting into synthesizers a lot. Can I play you something?”

Eddie Van Halen

“I put it down with a Linn drum machine", Eddie had said of an early demo, "but when I played it for the rest of the guys in the band they said, ‘Look, Edward, you’re a guitar hero. Don’t stretch yourself too thin. Don’t start playing other instruments.’” 

In 1978 David Lee Roth had already told Rolling Stone, “I don’t like the word evolving, or any of that bullshit. The idea is to keep it as simplistic, as innocent, as unassuming and as stupid as possible.” The mission statement was clear: stay in your lane.

But, Eddie later told Guitar World, "Dave said I shouldn’t be playing keyboards. My response was if I want to play a tuba or Bavarian cheese whistle, I will do it."

So when, fully two years before the song saw the light of day, and EVH's self-built 5150 studio empowered him to force the song into production, one lucky journo caught up with Eddie Van Halen, he probably wasn’t expecting the guitar virtuoso's guitar virtuoso to unveil the synth part that would lead off what would become the band's chart apex.

And little could he have known that the synth hook he captured on his dictaphone would become one of the most iconic in rock and pop history and that more than 40 years later we’d be willing – keen even – to struggle through this scratchy recording for a first known aural glimpse. 

And yet here we are.

“I've been getting into synthesizers a lot," begins EVH in the interview you can hear above. "Can I play you something?... It's just at home on a little cassette machine, with a rhythm box.

"This is something I did last night." (Skip to 3:00 above for the good stuff)

On guitar synths, which were being touted as the six-string's next big step at the time, EVH is scathing: "I don't like them - it's keyboard technology applied to a fuckin' guitar but you have to play their guitar. 

"Why not just goddamn play a keyboard?"

Van Halen Jump Video keyboard solo close-up

(Image credit: Van Halen/Youtube/Warner Brothers)

Getting into the details later, EVH told Guitar World: "I wrote Jump on a Sequential Circuits Prophet-10 in my bedroom while the studio was being built. 

"Every time I got the sound that I wanted on the right-hand split section of the keyboard, it would start smoking and pop a fuse. I got another one and the same thing happened. 

"A guy I knew said I should try an Oberheim OB-Xa, so I bought one of those and got the sound I wanted."

A sound investment, as Jump became Van Halen's sole US number one, and 1984, the album it spearheaded, clocked up over 8 million sales in its first year of release. 

"Bonus": check out an Oberheimless version of the track below.

Will Groves

I'm lucky enough to be MusicRadar's Editor-in-chief while being, by some considerable distance, the least proficient musician on the editorial team. An undeniably ropey but occasionally enthusiastic drummer, I've worked on the world's greatest music making website in one capacity or another since its launch in 2007. I hope you enjoy the site - we do.