Panama (song)

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Van Halen - Panama (US).png
Single by Van Halen
from the album 1984
B-side "Drop Dead Legs" (US)/"Girl Gone Bad" (UK)
Released June 18, 1984
Format 7"
Recorded 5150 Studios, Hollywood, California; 1983
Genre Heavy metal[1]
Length 3:31
Label Warner Music Group
Songwriter(s) Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, Michael Anthony, David Lee Roth
Producer(s) Ted Templeman
Van Halen singles chronology
"I'll Wait"
"Hot for Teacher"
"I'll Wait"
"Hot for Teacher"
Audio sample
Alternative cover art
European release
European release

"Panama" is a song from Van Halen's album 1984. It was the third single released from that record and is one of their most recognized songs.


The song was reportedly written about a car.[2] In an interview with Howard Stern, lead singer David Lee Roth explained the meaning behind the trademark song. Although the song features some suggestive lyrics, it is about a car that Roth saw race in Las Vegas; its name was "Panama Express", hence the title of the song.[3] In the Stern interview, Roth did not explain why the song was about a car rather than the usual Van Halen material.

Panama was the name of Roth's car.[4] He had the hood and bumper mounted in his hallway, which can be seen in his video for "SHOOBop". He has a stuffed deer's behind crashing through the front windshield. A plaque underneath reads, "Your First deer, courtesy of PANAMA."

During the bridge of the song where Roth says "I can barely see the road from the heat comin' off it," guitarist Eddie Van Halen can be heard revving his 1972 Lamborghini Miura S in the background.[5] The car was backed up to the studio and microphones were attached to the exhaust pipe to record the sound for the song.[2]

Music video[edit]

The music video for the song, directed by Pete Angelus, features mostly on-stage antics by the band.[6] The video was shot at The Spectrum in Philadelphia during soundcheck and the live show.[7] It uses numerous shots of band members flying through the air attached to a cable. During the breakdown, Roth is seen sword dancing and ribbon dancing. Bassist Michael Anthony's Jack Daniel's whiskey bottle bass guitar is also seen.


Cover versions[edit]

Pat Boone recorded a swing version of the song in his 1997 album In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy.

Eddie Van Halen played an instrumental version on Late Night with David Letterman.[8]

The Smashing Pumpkins also released a cover of the song in their Live Smashing Pumpkins album series.

The band re-recorded the song for the video game Guitar Hero: Van Halen.

Christian parody band ApologetiX did a spoof of the song called "Santa Claus".

The band Bloodhound Gang sometime covered the bridge of the song during live performances of "Kiss Me Where It Smells Funny", while doing so, singer Jimmy Pop would drop his pants and rub his genitals, saying "I feel like fucking Van Halen!", and continue speaking the lyrics.[9]

In June 2012 comedian and musician Reggie Watts recorded a live a cappella version with looped vocals for The A.V. Club's A.V. Undercover series.[10]

In popular culture[edit]

"Panama" is featured in the opening title for the American version of the PlayStation 2 game Gran Turismo 4 (along with part of "Moon Over The Castle").

"Panama" is used as introduction music for the conservative talk show The Mike Gallagher Show.

"Panama" is featured in TV shows, films and video games including The Drew Carey Show,[11] Rock Band 4, Superbad,[12] Guitar Hero: Van Halen, The Amazing World of Gumball and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

"Panama" was one of the requested songs for Operation Just Cause, and subsequently, Operation Nifty Package. "Panama" was reportedly one of the songs played outside Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See in order to coax Panamanian dictator, Manuel Noriega, for capture.[13]

Panama was the seventh track on the playlist 'Barney's 'Get Psyched' Mix' in the American sitcom How I Met Your Mother. In the season 1 episode "The Limo", he uses a mix tape titled 'Barney's 'Get Psyched' Mix' to liven up the limo ride that the group were having on New Year's Eve. Barney says the tape is the answer to how he remains psyched all the time.

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1984-85) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[14] 74
Irish Singles Chart[15] 30
UK Singles Charts[16] 64
US Billboard Hot 100[17] 13


  1. ^ Bukszpan, Daniel; Dio, Ronnie James (2003). The Encyclopedia of Heavy Metal. Barnes & Noble Publishing. ISBN 9780760742181. The album also featured plenty of guitar-dominated heavy metal, such as "Hot for Teacher" and "Panama." which became hits in their own right. 
  2. ^ a b - 1984
  3. ^ "The Super Book of Useless Information: The Most Powerfully Unnecessary Things You Never Need to Know". Amazon. A Pedigree Book. Retrieved 9 February 2016. 
  4. ^ The Super Book of Useless Information: The Most Powerfully Unnecessary Things You Never Need to Know. A Pedigree Book. Oct 4, 2011. ISBN 978-0399536960. 
  5. ^ "Eddie Van Halen Smithsonian talk (full Interview, 2-12-2015) HD". Retrieved December 26, 2015. 
  6. ^ - Van Halen - "Panama"
  7. ^
  8. ^ The Video on YouTube
  9. ^ YouTube - The Bloodhound Gang - Kiss Me Where It Smells Funny (1997)
  10. ^ "Reggie Watts covers Van Halen". Retrieved April 1, 2013. 
  11. ^ "A House Reunited: The Drew Carey Show (TV Episode)". Retrieved February 1, 2013. 
  12. ^ 24, 2014 "Superbad (2007) film" Check |url= value (help). 
  13. ^ "The Rock 'n' Roll assault on Noriega". George Washington University. Retrieved November 6, 2013. 
  14. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6. 
  15. ^ "The Irish Charts". Retrieved February 27, 2010. 
  16. ^ "Panama". Archived from the original on August 23, 2013. Retrieved February 27, 2010. 
  17. ^ "Billboard Singles". AllMusic. Retrieved February 27, 2010. 

External links[edit]