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Artist: Van Halen
Label: Warner Bros.
Producer: Ted Templeman
Personnel: David Lee Roth (Vocals), Eddie Van Halen (Lead Guitar, Backup Vocals), Alex Van Halen (Drums), Michael Anthony (Bass Guitar, Backup Vocals)
You know the feeling you get when you happen upon something spectacular and think, “Where have you been all of my life?” Maybe it’s a new Italian restaurant you’ve discovered and you just can’t get enough of their lasagna, or your mom makes the best apple pie in the country and you can’t help but expand your waistline with every bite. When I have found or tried something spectacular, something I deem just “out of this world”, I feel the sudden need to tell others about it. When I first heard Van Halen years ago, I couldn’t keep it to myself. I had to share. Many of my friends weren’t interested in a hard rock album from 1978 when they’d rather hear some crap from Lady Gaga or Katy Perry, but I didn’t care. When people rode with me, they were going to have “Eruption” and “Ice Cream Man” foisted upon their ever-loving ears. My car. My music.
I get that the “millennial” generation as a whole doesn’t appreciate classic rock, but I know the truth, and I know good music when I hear it. Van Halen possesses some of the most unapologetic, pulse-pounding, head-banging, foot-tapping, rip-roaring fun the music industry has ever heard, and probably ever will. I’ve read reviews that believe Van Halen doesn’t get the credit it deserves for its influence on rock ‘n roll. I agree. Until this point, no one had created a sound like Van Halen. The commanding riff at the onset of “Runnin’ With the Devil” is ample proof that Van Halen was unique, and had something to say.
Image via Guitar World
A little background with this album for us humble bloggers at ED. When I was introduced to Van Halen, I got instantly hooked and was blown away that an album from the 70’s could sound like that. When I first met Mr. Collins and we began discussing our music interests, I told him about two of my favorite bands: Van Halen and Black Sabbath, and let him burn a copy of my Van Halen CD. To make a long story short, this album made it to each of our top ten lists. I think we both agree Van Halen is nothing short of a masterpiece.
Now, when I call this a masterpiece, I’m not talking in the sense of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony or a John Williams composition, I’m talking about a garage band from California that breathed new life into punk rock and took rock ‘n roll to the limit, paving the way for future bands. The riffing, screeching, and thrashing done on Van Halen were not common traits with any big-named band at the time. One of the heavier albums to date was perhaps Kiss’s Destroyer or Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin IV, both containing mega hits. “Detroit Rock City” residing on Destroyer, while Led Zeppelin IV had the likes of “Black Dog”, “Rock ‘n Roll”, and the iconic “Stairway to Heaven.” I’m going to go ahead and commit sacrilege by saying Van Halen is better than either album. Now, before you get too heated, bear in mind that I mean no disrespect to either album and concede they were each highly influential (especially Led Zeppelin IV). I believe Van Halen is more impressive an album and more challenging. I’ve always maintained that Led Zeppelin influenced rock ‘n roll perhaps more than any other band, infusing folk and blues into rock unlike anything prior; however, I think Van Halen built on Zeppelin’s rock ‘n roll developments and made them heavier, faster, and in my opinion, better.
Having mentioned Kiss and Led Zeppelin, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, two of Eddie Van Halen’s major influences. Eddie cites that despite his guitar play not sounding like Clapton’s, he considers Clapton to be his greatest influence which led him to drop the piano and drums and pursue the guitar. I think we’ll find a few witnesses who will concur that that was a wise choice.
Eddie’s play is indeed different, but I’m not going to get into a greatest guitarist of all time argument here. Van Halen is a technically proficient wizard on the axe. There isn’t a note on Van Halen that is dirty or remotely questionable. Where his play is different than Clapton or Hendrix is that their styles were dirtier, free-wheeling, and explorative. Van Halen’s play was perhaps technically better, but he did have some pretty dang good influences. Now, to get more into the album and the band that the Van Halen brothers created.
Image via Complex
To say the least, this album is loaded with radio hits and classic riffs. To this day, “Eruption” and “You Really Got Me” are still played back to back on the radio, and they are still some of the band’s best work. Any aspiring guitarist has at least tried his hand at “Eruption” and has posted his performance if successful, on YouTube. As for “You Really Got Me”, this rendition blows the Kink’s original out of the water with Diamond Dave’s ridiculous screaming and Eddie’s iconic, intricate guitar fillers. “Runnin’ With the Devil”, “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”, “Jamie’s Cryin’”, and “Feel Your Love Tonight” possess some of not only Eddie’s greatest riffs, but some of rock ‘n roll’s greatest. When each song begins, there’s no question as to who’s playing.
A big plus to this album (besides superb guitar play) is Michael Anthony’s backup vocals. They’re really good. A great example of his input is on “Jamie’s Cryin’” and “On Fire” where he even exceeds Diamond Dave on the vocal range. Having another great set of pipes to compliment David Lee Roth and to provide harmony was part of Van Halen’s signature sound, and I think is vastly underrated.
Now, every band needs a front man, and to say the least Van Halen had a wild one. Charismatic, flamboyant, obnoxious, and spectacular are just a few words that describe David Lee Roth. This album doesn’t give us the full scope of his personality, but it gives us enough to see how much of a ball of energy he was. Forget the Sammy Hagar days. David Lee Roth was large and in charge, and he let you know about it. Despite the band being named after Eddie and Alex, one might think the band was Roth’s with his command and overbearing stage presence. This of course led to David and Eddie to eventually hate one another with a passion, but that didn’t stop them from putting out some great material together.
Besides Michael Anthony, another member that tends to reside in the shadows is Alex Van Halen, the drummer. Had it not been for his younger brother becoming an insanely good guitarist, we may be talking more about Alex’s skill at the skins, or who knows, maybe not at all. Alex is an accomplished drummer, and does a fine job providing tempo for the album. I think some of his better work is on 1984, but he’s no slouch on the band’s debut. There is usually a weak link somewhere in a band, but not for this lineup on this album. Considering the other members in the group, that speaks volumes of how good his play really is. Check out “I’m the One” to get a good sample of his chops.
To wrap things up, Van Halen should be forever etched in rock ‘n roll lore as one of the classics, and perhaps even a bit of an influence on the direction of heavy metal. I imagine most everyone that’s read this review has heard Van Halen before, but just in case you haven’t, you need to.
I’m going to give Van Halen a 98%.
Photo via Feel Numb
P.S.: My favorite track is “Ice Cream Man”, what’s yours?