[Album Review] Van Halen | Van Halen

I put Van Halen’s debut on the turntable for my wife the other day.  She’s enough of a fan to know the songs but doesn’t have the catalog memorized like I do.

After a few tunes, she asked, “Which one is this?”

“Their first” I replied.

“Wow!”

Yeah, that is this album in a nutshell.  A debut that plays like a greatest hits compilation.  Van Halen was one of those bands who had toured for years before signing to a major record label.   So, when it came time to record they just put their live set to tape for Warner Bros. producer Ted Templeman.

“We didn’t have a ton of material”, recalled bassist Michael Anthony, “so we basically just took our live show and all the songs we knew and went for it. The whole album only took a couple of weeks. Ted Templeman wanted to make a big, powerful guitar record, and he had all he needed in what Eddie was doing.” – musicrader.com

Eddie Van Halen’s guitar playing was the band’s major force, highlighted by the 1-minute and 42-second one-off solo, Eruption.  His style was big and flashy while connected to a melody and rhythm.  His playing would go on to directly shape hard rock music for the next decade, then continue to be a major influence on what followed beyond.

20201014_163017

But as legendary as Eddie was, all four members of Van Halen were incredibly lucky to find each other.

Bassist Michael Anthony and Eddie’s brother, drummer Alex Van Halen would create a rhythm section with a distinct driving sound.  There are not many bands you can immediately identify by only the playing of their drummer and bassist.  Michael Anthony’s high vocal range as a backup singer was a valuable asset as well.

Singer David Lee Roth’s was not only a vibrant personality but also had the ability to come up with catchy vocal melodies to layer over Eddie’s far-out guitar riffs like in The Atomic Punk or On Fire.  If fact, I highly doubt this album would have been easily excepted as it were without Roth to aid the masses in connecting to it.

The band was so wild and out there it is little wonder that a cover of the well-known Kinks tune, You Really Got Me was chosen as the album’s first single.  It was a brilliant move to connect something familiar to the bold and new.

Above all else though, these guys were having a staggering amount of fun.  Looking at the lyrics for the album’s opening tune, Running with the Devil and they read as downright depressing:

I found the simple life ain’t so simple
When I jumped out, on that road
I got no love, no love you’d call real
Ain’t got nobody, waitin’ at home

But the song features car horns, a children’s toy, and Roth shouting “Oh yeah” into the stratosphere.  They are telling you how tough life on the road can be while bouncing off the walls with excitement.  That high-spirited energy really spoke to me. 

Van Halen had all the right ingredients and they executed them well.  Big-bluesy riffs, furious classical style guitar solos, a driving rhythm, and DLR hamming it up.  It is a perfect album with similar magic you can find on debuts from The Beatles, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, Black Sabbath, Guns ‘n Roses… I could go on.  Without a doubt, Van Halen’s belongs right there with them.

As a Van Halen Album: 6/5
Compared to everything else: Get this if you like Rock ‘n Roll.

20201014_162924

29 comments

  1. Great writeup.
    You need to get the Templeman book stat. The stories that Ted talks about on the first 6 albums is worth the price of the book itself.
    I won’t say to much as I probably did when I reviewed the book but it’s amazing that they had to work with Roth vocally on the album. Basically coach him along as he was struggling. When you hear Dave on this album you would never think of that.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Nice point about DLR being somewhat of a liaison between the band & audience – what a debut.
    Despite all the impressive playing throughout, I find that simple bassline to kick off runnin’ with the devil makes for such a memorable opener!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This album does have the magic indeed. Such a standout for a debut. Eruption is phenomenal, it’s one of the songs that made me want to play electric guitar (though I ended up on the classical route, haha!).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve listened to parts of the album and it’s taking me a while to get used to because I’m not crazy about David Lee Roth, but I see your point on the rhythm section. Alex and Michael complement each other well. Eddie’s playing, I’ll describe it as all over the place, but he plays with feeling, and it’s distinct, so it works for him. I love the doo-wop section in “I’m the One,” it’s creative and the harmonies sound good. For “Runnin With the Devil,” is that Van Halen’s version of “Highway to Hell”? Just a thought! Overall, I might upset a lot of people if I gave a review on this album!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know, I never made the connection to Highway to Hell until I started writing this. They both cover the same theme! But, Van Halen came out in February of ’78 and Highway came out in July of ’79. So, that might mean that Highway is AC/DC’s version of Runnin With the Devil. Perish the thought! It’s cool with me if you’re not there with Dave. He can be a handful!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh shoot I never knew “Runnin’ With the Devil” came out before “Highway to Hell,” I need to do my research next time before I make comments like that lol.

        I think also, I heard that David’s singing is not quite what it used to be. I’ve read complaints about it. But it’s cool there are people that like him. He was a great frontman for the group.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. lol, no. We learn from conversations! It’s true, Dave’s voice has changed quite a bit over the years. I was just listening to A Different Kind of Truth this morning and he doesn’t have much range now, but he still has that style!

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Can you rate this a 6? This is one of the best debut albums ever released. And when you mention the rhythm section, Alex has a drum sound that is so recognizable that just hearing a couple beats and you know it is him. I could go on about this album, but you covered pretty darn well!!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s