VAN HALEN — Van Halen (review)

VAN HALEN — Van Halen album cover Album · 1978 · Hard Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
VAN HALEN has been without a doubt one of the major forces in modern music having debuted all the way back in 1978 with this stunningly energetic and off-the-wall self-titled debut that kept hard rock relevant in a time when punk rock, disco and new wave were taking over the world. The eclectic quartet of lead vocalist David Lee Roth, guitarist Eddie Van Halen, drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Mike Anthony literally swooped onto the music scene and forever altered its course and would ultimately spawn the glam metal scene of the 80s although VAN HALEN itself was a much more interesting act than any mere imitators as the band was larger than life mostly due to the wild antics and brash bravado of frontman David Lee Roth along with Eddie Van Halen’s virtuosic guitar antics that took hammer-ons and lightning fast soloing to unthinkable stunning levels.

While VAN HALEN would go on to sell over 80 million albums worldwide making it one of the top selling bands of all time, like any other this band had humble beginnings. After having moved from the Netherlands to Pasadena, CA as kids, Eddie and Alex took up music at a very young age and as is well known, Eddie started on drums and Alex on guitar until one day they suddenly switched instruments and never looked back. The brothers formed its first band The Broken Combs as early as 1964 playing in backyard parties and then changed the name to The Trojan Rubber Co and then in 1972 formed a band called Genesis and played for a couple years in which time recruited Roth as vocalist and Anthony as bassist. Once they discovered that another band Genesis already existed (remember this was before the internet!), they quickly changed the name to Mammoth but Roth insisted that the name VAN HALEN had a certain ring of success to it. Wow, he was right!

After establishing itself as an energetic and charismatic band that found regular gigs at clubs like the Whisky a Go Go (the photos on the album cover are from that venue), VAN HALEN caught the attention of Gene Simmons of KISS and once Warner Bros. producer Ted Templeman caught the band live, it was recording contract time and the band was headed for the big time fast. The album was mostly recorded live in three weeks time to keep that authentic band sound from sounding too overly produced. The album was released in February 1978 and quickly shot up the charts with songs like “Runnin’ With The Devil” and the remake of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” becoming instant classic rock radio hits that have been played ever since. The album has since been certified diamond having sold more than 10 million copies.

Opening up with “Runnin’ With The Devil,” VAN HALEN immediately established itself as a bad boy band with playful mischievous intent and the ability rock like nobody else ever had. The track begins with Michael Anthony’s pounding bass groove which signifies the band’s emphasis on melodic grooves above all else but once the fiery guitar and drum sections let loose, both the Van Halen brothers fire off their best chops but of course it’s the flashy charismatic charm of Roth that steals all the attention his way. Having established the band’s sound which in many ways was a typical if not upgraded hard rock not too overly distant from what had been happening all through the earlier 70s, the album is followed by the thundering intensity of “Eruption” which at only a minute and forty-three seconds immediately established Eddie Van Halen as the king of rock guitar thus giving him that instant guitar god status for his fiery pyrotechnic virtuosity. Basically the track took the basic intro from Cactus’ 1970 track “Let Me Swim” but added blood-curdling squeals, tremolo bombs, hammer-on gymnastics and unparalleled tempos that would give birth to the legion of guitarists that spawned the countless forms of more extreme metal to come.

Having dropped the nuclear bomb on the listener with the mostly guitar oriented “Eruption,” the band reverts back to, well a band with the following Kinks cover of “You Really Got Me” which takes it to the wild 70s with heavier guitar heft and sizzling solos along with Roth’s talent of turning everything into a Vaudeville extravaganza. This track was released as the fist single and reached #36 on the Billboard singles charts and paved the way for a many cover tunes to follow on following albums. This is one of those songs that i swear is being played somewhere in the world at any given minute of the day but displayed the band’s love of classic rock music that they could easily adapt into the repertoire. It is well known neither the band itself nor Ray Davies who wrote it have claimed that they really liked this version. The band was disappointed that the Warner Bros chose a cover as their first single but considering it all worked out they probably no longer care!

“Ain’t Talkin Bout Love” is a two-chord blast of energetic guitar bravado that started out as a spoof of a punk song. VAN HALEN was notoriously vocal in their disdain for punk rock and even went as far as posing as a punk band called the Enemas in 1977 where they claimed they were from Scotland and they talked shit about the punk rock scene before the band was quickly booted from the stage. Despite the song starting off as a punk rock parody somehow it took on a life of its own as Eddie added lightning fast riffing along with Roth’s sensual sensibilities coming out of the woodwork. This one has also become a classic rock staple. Next up is the heavy metal rocker “I’m The One” which kept the adrenaline supply surging despite the track actually taking on the characteristics of a swinging showtune piece which only becomes obvious when the band steps out and Roth is left to employ a rather competent “Bop bada, shoobe doo wah, bop bada, shoobe doo wah” vocal performance.

“Jamie’s Cryin” is another beloved classic from VAN HALEN that has also been on heavy rotation for over 40 years now and was only made all the more popular when 80s rapper Ton-Loc sampled the guitar riffs for his mega-hit “Wild Thing” in 1989. This track showed a more serious side of the band and recounts a tale of a girl named Jamie who had a one night stand with some undisclosed guy with whom she tries to kindle a bonafide relationship only to find the guy has not interest. This high school drama has resonated with audiences from the moment it was released. While VAN HALEN straddled the border between hard rock and heavy metal, they mostly veered toward the hard rock side of the equation but VAN HALEN I (as it’s often called) does deliver the metal goods on the tracks “Atomic Punk” and the closing “On Fire” which turns things up a few notches and delivers the incessant guitar rampage, fast tempos and proper metal bombast.

The tracks “Little Dreamer” and “Feel Your Love Tonight” provide the blueprint of how VAN HALEN would often skirt the line between hard rock and melodic pop with strong vocal harmonies and emphasis on the melodic groove over the flashy virtuosity of the heavier songs. These types of tracks also display the excellent vocal counterpoints of bassist Michael Anthony whose backing vocal duties added a whole extra layer of melodic flavor to the mix. “Little Dreamer” in particular showcased Eddie’s excellent guitar playing to find a solid grounding in a simple melodic flow without the pyrotechnic excesses while Roth was allowed to deliver some heart-string tugging vocals that would become the band’s style of delivering the more pop infused ballads. The backing oooo’s and aaaah’s also showed the band’s love of the classic vocal harmony bands of the 60s .

One of the best tracks of VAN HALEN’s career came in the form of “Ice Cream Man” which is a cover of the rather unassuming blues song from John Brim recorded in 1954 and turned into a veritable VAN HALEN classic. The track begins with the rare acoustic guitar performance of David Lee Roth as he plays contemporary folk dude but then taken into the stratosphere as the band bursts in and rockets off to heavy rock heaven. The track was a favorite of Roth which he performed regularly before joining VAN HALEN and displays his love of boogie boogie blues sounds that he brings to life in a rather Las Vegas strip nightclub performance. The song perfectly encapsulates the band’s fondness of double entendres as the lyrics of “Ice Cream Man” quickly reveal themselves to have nothing to do with tasty frozen treats. While the track adheres to its bluesy stomps that made it so Chicago bluesy cool AF, the musicians deftly adapt it to the world of hard rock and Eddie even crafts the perfect mind numbing solo to its irresistible charm.

VAN HALEN I is indubitably one of the classics of the heavy rock world with its audacity to take the world of hard rock into arenas hitherto unthinkable. Thinking outside of the box while maintaining the integrity of the genre with its bluesy hard rock underpinnings that nurtured irresistibly addictive melodic hooks is what propelled VAN HALEN to the top of the music scene virtually overnight. Tarnished only by its popularity of being played to death, VAN HALEN I still is one of the most entertaining albums in the world of rock music and although i have to stay away from this album and band for long bouts of time due to overdosing on many of the classic songs on here, once i throw this album on after a few years it still retains all that magic that made it so special upon first exposure. While this album was historically innovative beyond anyone’s dreams at the time of release, i never rate albums on that aspect alone but rather on how well the album hold’s up in its own right. Despite all the years of glam rock bands that borrowed a thing or two from VAN HALEN, this album still remains the best of the style and was never topped by even the band itself. This was their crowning achievement where every track is perfect. If i could change only one thing i would put “Ice Cream Man” as the last track so that the final words would be “all my flavors are guaranteee-eeeee-eee-eeeeeed to satisfy!”
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siLLy puPPy wrote:
54 days ago
Thanks kitty Kat! Appreciate the kind words. My sniffy snout thanks you too :D
Cylli Kat wrote:
54 days ago
It's always a pleasure to read your reviews, but this one is beyond exemplary!!!
Thanks for doing so much "bloodhounding" and posting such a well researched, in-depth review!
I so very much like being able to get some history behind these albums and bands that I love, so I offer my most sincere thanks for your efforts on this one!!! Amazing!!!

Unitron wrote:
54 days ago
Interesting trivia that I've never known before. Thought Mammoth was the first name, and funny that it was Roth who wanted the name Van Halen rather than the Van Halen bros!

This whole album's classic, but I've always loved Atomic Punk most. Probably one of the most intense metal songs of the 70's.

siLLy puPPy wrote:
54 days ago
Thanks, Vim. Love sniffing things like that out. I'm a bloodhound, ya know :D
Vim Fuego wrote:
54 days ago
Great review! You did A LOT more research than I did (i.e. none!) when I wrote my review. Love that stuff about The Enemas, Tone Loc, Ice Cream Man, and Cactus. It's detail like that which takes a review to the next level.

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