Panama (song)

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Van Halen - Panama (US).png
Single by Van Halen
from the album 1984
  • "Girl Gone Bad" (UK)
    "Drop Dead Legs" (US)
ReleasedApril 1984 (UK)[1]
June 18, 1984 (1984-06-18) (US) [2]
Studio5150, Hollywood, California
LabelWarner Bros.
Producer(s)Ted Templeman
Van Halen singles chronology
"I'll Wait"
"Hot for Teacher"
"Panama" on YouTube
Music video
"Panama" on YouTube
Alternative cover art
Van Halen - Panama.jpg
European release

"Panama" is a song by the American rock band Van Halen. It was the third US single released from the album 1984.


Musically, "Panama" has been described as glam metal,[3][4][5][6] heavy metal,[7] and hard rock.[8][9]


Despite its name, the song is not about the country. Instead, the song was reportedly written about a car.[10] In an interview with Howard Stern, lead singer David Lee Roth explained the meaning behind the 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.[11]

Panama was also the name of Roth's Opel Kadett.[12]

Roth wrote the song after being accused by a reporter of "singing about only women, partying, and fast cars". He realized he had never written a song about fast cars and decided to write one.[13]

In an interview with guitarist Eddie Van Halen, he said the song was musically inspired by AC/DC's straightforward three chord rock style.

During the bridge of the song where Roth says "I can barely see the road from the heat comin' off," Eddie Van Halen can be heard revving his 1972 Lamborghini Miura S in the background.[14] The car was backed up to the studio and microphones were attached to the exhaust pipe to record the sound for the song.[10]

The song is in the key of E♭ Major.[citation needed] However, the published score is in the key of E Major, having a moderate rock common time tempo of 144 beats per minute.[15]

Music video[edit]

The music video for the song, directed by Pete Angelus, primarily features on-stage performances by the band. The bulk of the video was shot at The Spectrum in Philadelphia over two nights both during the show and at soundcheck.[16] Portions of it were filmed at the tour dates prior during performances at the Providence Civic Center in Providence, Rhode Island.[citation needed]

The car shown in the music video is a heavily customized 1951 Mercury Eight convertible - notably not "Panama Express", the Opel or the Miura.[citation needed]


Chuck Klosterman of ranked it the fourth best Van Halen song, calling it the "strongest pure riff in the catalogue."[17]

In popular culture[edit]

The song was prominently featured in "Coma Guy," a 2020 episode of the animated TV series Family Guy, in which Peter mistakes the album 1984 for a book-on-CD of George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and becomes addicted to the song.[18] It is also featured in Superbad during a parking lot escapade with McLovin’.

The song is also featured as in-game music for the video game Gran Turismo 4, with the song prominently featured in the game intro.


Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1984–85) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[19] 74
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[20] 15
Ireland (IRMA)[21] 30
UK Singles (OCC)[22] 61
US Billboard Hot 100[23] 13
US Mainstream Rock (Billboard)[24] 2
Chart (2020) Peak
US Hot Rock & Alternative Songs (Billboard)[25] 12

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Strong, Martin Charles (1995). The Great Rock Discography. p. 866. ISBN 9780862415419.
  2. ^ "Eddie Van Halen Spotted in 1972 Lamborghini Used in "Panama"". VHND. Retrieved May 14, 2016.
  3. ^ "The Ultimate Hair Metal Party Playlist". Kerrang!. April 5, 2018. Retrieved March 4, 2021.
  4. ^ Popoff, Martin (2014). The Big Book of Hair Metal. Voyageur Press. p. 58. ISBN 978-1-62788-375-7.
  5. ^ Sleazegrinder (December 4, 2015). "The 20 Best Hair Metal Anthems Of All Time Ever". Louder Sound. Retrieved March 3, 2021.
  6. ^ Masley, Ed (July 8, 2014). "Best '80s pop-metal songs, from Def Leppard to Poison". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved February 24, 2021.
  7. ^ Bukszpan, Daniel (2003). The Encyclopedia of Heavy Metal. Barnes & Noble Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7607-4218-1. The album also featured plenty of guitar-dominated heavy metal, such as "Hot for Teacher" and "Panama." which became hits in their own right.
  8. ^ Wiederhorn, Jon (January 9, 2016). "Van Halen 1984 anniversary". Loudwire. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  9. ^ Oremus, Will (May 31, 2012). "If You Want To Torture Someone, Should You Play Death Metal or Sesame Street Music?". Slate. Retrieved August 5, 2021.
  10. ^ a b - 1984
  11. ^ The Super Book of Useless Information: The Most Powerfully Unnecessary Things You Never Need to Know. Amazon. A Pedigree Book. October 4, 2011. Retrieved February 9, 2016.
  12. ^ The Super Book of Useless Information: The Most Powerfully Unnecessary Things You Never Need to Know. A Pedigree Book. October 4, 2011. ISBN 978-0399536960.
  13. ^ Kielty, Martin (June 18, 2019). "35 Years Ago: Van Halen Release 'Panama,' Their Last Roth-Era Hit". Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved February 5, 2020.
  14. ^ "Eddie Van Halen Smithsonian talk (full Interview, 2-12-2015) HD". Retrieved December 26, 2015.
  15. ^ Van Halen Guitar Anthology. Van Nuys, California: Alfred. 2006. pp. 154–61. ISBN 9780897246729. OCLC 605214049.
  16. ^ Christopher, Michael (January 9, 2019). "Van Halen '1984': A Track-by-Track Guide". Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved February 28, 2021.
  17. ^ Klosterman, Chuck (October 6, 2020). "All 131 Van Halen Songs, Ranked From Worst to Best A look back at the band's formidable legacy". Retrieved October 9, 2020.
  18. ^ Trapp, Philip (April 29, 2020). "Van Halen's 'Panama' Featured in 'Family Guy,' Puts Peter Griffin in Coma". Loudwire. Retrieved April 30, 2020.
  19. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  20. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 6820." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved January 9, 2021.
  21. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Panama". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved July 25, 2021.
  22. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved July 25, 2021.
  23. ^ "Van Halen Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved July 25, 2021.
  24. ^ "Van Halen Chart History (Mainstream Rock)". Billboard. Retrieved July 25, 2021.
  25. ^ "Van Halen Chart History (Hot Rock & Alternative Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved October 13, 2020.