“Radio 1990: Van Halen”: A closer look at the band’s videos & an interview with “Rock’s court jester,” David Lee Roth

By on August 6, 2016

In this classic episode of “Radio 1990” — originally airing on July 10, 1985, and now streaming on Night Flight Plus — Kathryn Kinley (read more about her here) introduces several of Van Halen’s and David Lee Roth’s popular music videos, calling Roth “Rock’s court jester,” while the incorrigible singer, in an exclusive interview, tells co-host Lisa Robinson, “You cannot create these huge monstrous Tinkertoys that take up nine semi trucks unless you are a commercial success.”

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David Lee Roth dropped by Night Flight’s NY offices several times during the 1980s to chat with Robinson — check out our post from last year, on Diamond Dave’s birthday, for more — but we thought we’d tell you a little bit today about Roth’s one-time creative partner, Pete Angelus, who is mentioned by Kinley in this video special.

In an exclusive interview with the Van Halen News Desk, probably the most in-depth and informative online site devoted to all things Van Halen, Greg Prato — author of MTV Ruled the World: The Early Years of Music Video — discussed what he’d learned from talking to Pete Angelus while researching his book, which we pass along to you now, since Angelus apparently doesn’t do too many interviews.

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Pete Angelus — who ended up holding down a number of jobs with Van Halen between 1977-1985, including lighting director, art director, creative consultant and video director — had gone to high school in Connecticut in the early 70s, graduating in ’73 and moving to the west coast with plans on going to UCLA film school in order to study filmmaking.

Pete Angelus talent manager

Pete Angelus, courtesy of VHND

He ended up working in the music business, beginning in 1975, when he was hired to work at the Roxy by the club’s owner, Mario Maglieri, who owned the Whisky a Go Go and the legendary Rainbow Bar and Grill.

He actually first met the band in 1977, on a slow Tuesday night when he was working at the Whisky a Go Go in West Hollywood, as the club’s assistant manager and lighting director, and Van Halen were playing at the club on a couple of consecutive nights. Only they weren’t called Van Halen at the time — they were still known as Mammoth.

Angelus hadn’t gone to any of their legendary backyard keg parties in and around Pasadena, CA, before they’d broken into the Hollywood club scene, and he didn’t know they already had something of a following at the time.

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At the conclusion of their Tuesday night gig, Roth — promoting their next show — screamed into the mic,“Make sure you all come back tomorrow night!,”  and Angelus — who was upstairs and hanging in the sound booth during the band’s set — and switched on the talkback button and said into the mic, “We have to, asshole, we all work here!”

Angelus ended up getting fired that night for insulting the band, but as he was heading out of the club, David Lee Roth asked Angelus to join him for a drink, and drink they did, late into the night, hitting it off and becoming friends and future partners in all kinds of projects.

Roth learned that Angelus had a background in filmmaking, lighting design, and he asked Angelus to come to their rehearsals in Roth’s father’s sprawling mansion in Pasadena.

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Photo by Richard Galbraith, courtesy of VHND

Angelus ended up making suggestions about the band’s stage presentation, and soon they were incorporating his ideas into their shows and becoming close with the entire band.

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Photo by Richard Galbraith, courtesy of VHND

They were playing the Starwood in L.A. when they were discovered by Gene Simmons, who liked what he heard and offered to help their career, taking the band under his wing, so to speak. He suggested they change the name of the band to Van Halen, flew them to New York, produced a demo tape of their songs, and then got Mo Ostin, president of Warner Bros. Records, and Ted Templeman, one of the top rock producers, to come and see them at the Starwood when they came back to L.A.

Immediately after the show, Ostin signed the band to the Burbank-based label. Roth, Van Halen, and Templeman dove into the studio and emerged in only eighteen days with their first album.

Roth and the band then asked Angelus to travel with them as a “creative consultant” — obviously a catch-all term, as Angelus was offering his opinion on a great many things by then — and hired him as their lighting director on their first tour, in 1980.

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Photo by Richard Galbraith, courtesy of VHND

Angelus ended up helping design their logo, their early album covers and much of the band’s merchandise between 1979 and 1985. Angelus went on to have such a creative influence on Van Halen during the next seven years that members of the band actually referred to him as their “fifth member.”

He also designed and directed the critically-acclaimed lighting shows for Van Halen from their first world tour as a headlining act up until their split with David Lee Roth, in 1985, creating the band’s 60 ft. x 40 ft. logo out of aircraft lights, mounted on overhead lighting trusses and lowered behind the band at the conclusion of their concerts.

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As MTV became all the rage, and all major label acts were devoting time and money towards the production of music videos, Angelus ended up becoming Van Halen’s video director, conceiving and directing the videos for both “Hot For Teacher,” “Panama,” and “Jump,” all of which are featured in this “Radio 1990″ special, and videos for David Lee Roth’s “Just a Gigolo” and “California Girls,” all of which received airplay on “Night Flight” over the years.

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Five times, the videos he directed were nominated for MTV “Video of the Year” status, as well as being nominated over the years in various other categories for VH1, MTV and other networks that played videos and gave out awards.

Apparently, however, Angelus wasn’t a very good cameraman himself, though — none of the footage he shot on his hand-held 16mm camera for “Jump” was usable in the final edit of the video (there was also a professional DP on hand, luckily). He did, however, shoot hours of footage of Roth, driving his chopped Mercury hot rod, hanging out with midgets and girls dressed as sexy maids, which were later used in a different video.

Van Halen’s “Jump” landed at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, knocking out Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon” from the top spot, and stayed there for five straight weeks (February 25 – March 29, 1984). It would be the band’s only number one hit.

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“Jump” was the second song recorded at the band’s 5150 studios, sometime between April-May 1983, although parts of it had originally been written (in the back of their tour bus) as early as ’79 or ’80, according to some sources. The reason it hadn’t been included on any of their records until it was released on their 1984 (released on January 9, 1984 — 1, 9, 8, 4, gettit?), was that the heavy keyboards in the song just didn’t vibe with the rest of their songs on any of the albums before then.

The video — a fairly straight-forward performance of the song — was directed by Angelus, and was filmed using 16mm hand-held cameras at The Complex, in Santa Monica, CA. Angelus has said that he thinks the band spent less money making this video than they did on paying for the pizzas delivered to the set of “Hot For Teacher.”

It was nominated for three MTV Video Music Awards, winning for “Best Stage Performance.”

Van Halen’s video for “Hot For Teacher” was released in late October, 1984, and was the last single (which peaked on Billboard‘s singles charts at #56) and video released by the band before their announced hiatus and Roth leaving the band in 1985.

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The video — once again directed by Pete Angelus and David Lee Roth — was filmed over four days at John Marshall High School in Los Angeles, CA, which had been closed due to lack of funding, but Van Halen paid to re-open the school.

One of the memorable things about the video are the four young actors who are portraying the members of Van Halen as children, while the late great Phil Hartman, of TV’s “Saturday Night Live” fame, does the voice of the character known as “Waldo,” the weird kid.

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Also featured in the video were models playing the role of the hot teacher in the video — Donna Rupert (the first runner-up in the 1981 Miss Canada pageant) and Norwegian model Lillian Muller — and all the sexy schoolteacher stuff scared the hell out of then-Senator Al Gore’s wife Tipper, who in May 1985 would form the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center) who lobbied the recording industry to create a ratings system that would let CD buyers know about explicit content.

Tipper said that the images she saw in the “Hot For Teacher” video “frightened my children,” and added, “They frightened me!”

In 1985, after touring pretty much consistently for the previous five years, Van Halen announced they were going to take a break, a year-long hiatus, and David Lee Roth wanted to use the opportunity to transition into doing film work, and working on movie projects.

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Everyone in the band was apparently on the same page as far as the hiatus went, but Alex and Eddie used the opportunity of the band’s downtime to announce that Roth was leaving the band to go solo.

At that point in their career, the tension between Alex and Eddie Van Halen (particularly Alex) and Roth had gotten so bad that the key creative members of the band couldn’t agree on management, music direction, producers or touring plans, and each side spun Roth leaving the band their own way.

In 1985, Angelus — now Roth’s creative partner and manager — also became one-half of the solo David Lee Roth video team, dubbing themselves the Fabulous Picasso Brothers , and directed Roth’s “Just A Gigolo” video, using the format to parody cultural trends of the first half of the 1980s, as well as popular music video artists of the era, including Cyndi Lauper, Billy Idol, Michael Jackson, Willie Nelson, Boy George and others.

The single climbed to #12 on Billboard‘s Hot 100.

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Roth — in a January 1987 interview with Penthouse writer and editor Gerard Van der Leun — said that he’d decided that videos “were a great way to merge the songs with the movies,”, and even admitted too quite a bit of influence from super showman Al Jolson, describing how he’d cribbed some of the ideas for his videos from Jolson’s movie appearances (“… wearing white gloves, dropping to one knee, the Knickerbocker break, the flatspin, and the smile!”).

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Roth also talked to Penthouse about desperately wanting to make a movie:

“The Fabulous Picasso Brothers should really make a movie. I think the Fabulous Picasso Brothers would be just as cutting, just as relevant as Monty Python when they were at the crest of their wave, as Firesign Theater when they really had the groove. At the same time, I think we have all the rock ‘n’ roll credibility in the world here, music wise and show-wise. The combination is unique.There are people who have done the same kinds of things, but they didn’t come from this kind of rock theater. Such a move seems like a very logical step from the road show we do. I’m very much in favor of blowing my image up out of all proportion to itself. Twenty-six inches or 40 feet, what’s the difference? Where are we going? is the question I like to ask.”

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By the end of 1985, Roth –- along with Pete Angelus, and writer Jerry Perzigian — had finished writing their screenplay, titled Crazy from the Heat, which was sold to CBS Theatrial films. They were given a $10 million budget, and Angelus was going to direct with, of course, Roth starring in the film.

The plan was for it to hit the theaters in the summer of 1986, but CBS ended up pulling the plug on the movie after the Angelus and Roth had already casted the movie, found locations, and they were working with both set designers and wardrobe people.

(Read a bit more about the aborted film, including a planned opening scene from the screenplay, here).

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Roth continued on with his solo career, of course, and in the summer of 1986, instead of promoting a new movie he’d co-written and starred in, he’d re-emerged with a hot new band instead, comprised of lead guitarist Steve Vai, bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Gregg Bissonette, who he’d be taking out on the road for a barnstorming six-month tour to support a chart-topping new album, Eat ‘Em and Smile, along with two new videos for “Yankee Rose” and “Goin’ Crazy,” both built on the concepts developed for Crazy from the Heat.

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“Radio 1990″ was a 30-minute music video program (dubbed a “rock lifestyle” program at the time) that aired during the day on the USA Network from March 1983 until September 1986, and was featured as part of “Night Flight”‘s Friday and Saturday night weekly programming. Watch this Van Halen “Radio 1990” video special over on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.