Artist : Van Halen
Album : Van Halen (1978 Debut)
Released : February 10, 1978
Album Rating : 5/5 (One Of The Holy Grails Of Hard Rock Music)
On the 14th anniversary of The Beatles going on the Ed Sullivan Show to save Rock And Roll music, a new band that would basically come out of nowhere to do the same thing. The year was 1978, and once again Rock And Roll music was facing tough times. Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, and Kiss were all past their prime. Punk, Disco, and sappy pop were in. Yes, you did have bands like Styx, Journey, Boston, and Foreigner playing what is now known as a “cooperate rock” sound, Bruce Springsteen had been on a three year hiatus not able to make records because of a lawsuit. Also Judas Priest had made the incredible metal record “Stained Class”, but had yet to really develop a following in America. Rock And Roll music (in the States) needed a huge jolt that The Ramones have given just two years earlier to basically bury progressive rock music, and kick off punk. Well guess what, that’s exactly what we got.
Out of the blue came this guitar player named Eddie Van Halen with a sound that we had never heard before, so unique actually that when he played gigs he actually turned his back to the audience, because he was afraid other guitarists might try to steal his technique. You also had a frontman by the name of David Lee Roth that seemed to be Robert Plant, Mick Jagger, and James Brown all in one. Even the bass player Michael Anthony had such a great singing voice that even though this was a louder and harder sound they wouldn’t forget the melodic harmonies, something that would prove to be a winning commercial formula, and an important element to their sound. Even the way Alex Van Halen played drums was a whole new vibe. Mixing the styles of John Bonham, Buddy Rich, Keith Moon, and Ginger Baker to name a few. He had the power, of Rock And Roll, but also the technique of Jazz too. The band known as Van Halen had arrived with their now legendary debut album. An album that would turn a whole new generation onto the harder rock and roll sound that had seemed to be becoming a thing of the past. When you think of the artists and the music these eleven songs on this record would go on to influence, and create, it casts a huge shadow.
Hard to believe that just a few months earlier no record company wanted any part of them. Even with the help of Gene Simmons from KISS nobody wanted to give them a record deal, or even an audition, thinking they were a clone of another band called “Black Oak Arkansas” because David Lee Roth resembled their lead singer Jim “Dandy” Mangrum so much. And though it’s true he did have a huge influence on Dave (He would write the lyrics to a song years later called “Top Jimmy” as a tribute to him) Dave was a much more overall talented Frontman, because he resembled so many different genres, and styles into his act. After failing to get them signed to a big label contract Gene Simmons would end up bailing on the band thinking he had taken them as far as they could go, (huge mistake Gene). They wouldn’t give up, and kept playing their gigs, eventually impressing some Warner Brothers executives, who eventually signed them. The rest is history.
This is one of those records where it doesn’t matter what the genre is because it’s just as essential for any music fan to own. Along with “Live At Budokan” by Cheap Trick, and Ace Frehley’s 1978 solo album, it would begin the new movement of a harder Rock And Roll sound that would eventually come to fruition a few years later in the early 1980s. Pretty much every hard rock, and Metal band that would come after would be influenced by a number of the classic songs included. What’s even more astonishing is from what we know now of the early demo’s made for Gene Simmons, and Warner Brothers is the record could’ve even been better. Either way it would work out as many of those songs would end up on future Van Halen records anyways.
Today (for better or worse) the album is a classic rock staple. You won’t go a day without hearing at least one of the songs off this album on the radio. That is obviously a double edged sword, because it can make you so tired of hearing it that you lose some respect for it. For instance in 1978 it would’ve been mind blowing to hear the instrumental “Eruption” or “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love”. Songs that introduced Eddie’s style of finger tapping which he didn’t invent btw like many people think. He learned it from listening to guitar player Steve Hackett from Genesis in the early 1970s. He did however introduce it to the masses. Even the cover of “You Really Got Me” (often played back to back with Eruption on the radio) is played more than the original version from The Kinks. Even the album tracks like “Little Dreamer” and “On Fire” get heavy rotation now. Oh, and if never hear “Ice Cream Man” again it will be too soon. Then again, you take the good with the bad, because today there is a young kid hearing it for the first time experiencing what we did when we first did. Just proof this monumental album will be relevant for generations to come.
All songs written and composed by Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, Michael Anthony and David Lee Roth except where noted.
1. “Runnin’ with the Devil” – 3:36
2. “Eruption” (Instrumental) – 1:43
3. “You Really Got Me” (Ray Davies) – 2:38
4. “Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love” – 3:50
5. “I’m the One” – 3:47
1. “Jamie’s Cryin'” – 3:31
2. “Atomic Punk” – 3:02
3. “Feel Your Love Tonight” – 3:43
4. “Little Dreamer” – 3:23
5. “Ice Cream Man” (John Brim) – 3:20
6. “On Fire” – 3:01