During my college days in the mid-’90s, I would often wait for the Greyhound Bus heading to Sudbury to arrive at the terminal in North Bay. I remember how they would pump in some soft rock/pop over the PA like Maria Carey or one of Bon Jovi’s ballads.
It was funny that this was the time and place to hear Van Halen II‘s most popular tune, Dance The Night Away, a couple of days after debating with my roommates whether if the album suffered from the sophomore slump. I was on the side that it wasn’t, but my friends did make a good case.
Even though it is a fine rock ‘n roll album, it is weaker than their debut. Spanish Fly is a cool 1-minute 02-second acoustic solo, but it wasn’t going to change how every player approached the guitar the way Eruption had. You’re No Good is a decent cover, but it wasn’t a loud statement like their cover of You Really Got Me was.
I don’t believe Van Halen II is weaker than the debut because they were slipping. I think it was because they were rushed to make it happen.
The record label wanted them to strike while the iron was hot, fearing that Van Halen might be a fluke or a fad. Their self title debut came out in February of ’78, they toured, and by December they were back in the studio recording Van Halen II. And they did it in a week.
One of the reasons how they were able to pull this off is some of the songs like Beautiful Girls and Somebody Get Me a Doctor were already written and recorded to demos years prior. So all they had to do was re-recorded them with some polish.
Another is the album’s total length of 31:36. (The Black Sabbath “EP” I bought the other day, The End, is 55:06!) But a few of the album’s tunes truly benefit from the band being concise. Bottom’s Up!, Outta Love Again, and Light Up The Sky (the album’s hidden gem with a great metal chugging riff) are 3-minute-ish hard rockers. Each are highlighted by Eddie’s brilliant guitar leads that don’t carry on for more than a bar or two.
Even when rushed, Van Halen remained to be brilliant.
The back half of the album isn’t as strong but they’re still really good tunes. D.O.A.‘s big riff might go one verse too long but it has its moments, especially that ending. And really, I think my only issue Women In Love and Beautiful Girls is how they wrap up the album back to back as they are too similar. I would appreciate much them more if they were blended in with the rockers instead.
Regardless of how you feel about Van Halen II, I think hearing Dance The Night Away at a Greyhound terminal in the mid-’90s speaks volumes. Even at a low point in popularity (especially the Roth years) a song from one of their average albums could still find a way to reach you in an unusual place.
As a Van Halen Album: 3.5/5
Compared to everything else: 4/5