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Van Halen – Van Halen (1978)

January 26, 2014

[Album 282/1001]

Wow, what an entrance!



This is how to burst out of the gates.

Starting with the familiar opening trio:220px-Van_halen_album_cover

1) Runnin’ With the Devil – I’m a big fan of the simplicity of the bass line.  The steady quarter notes get the job done nicely.  Hey, I can play along with Van Halen!  That is until…

2) Eruption – At the time of its release in 1986, the film Top Gun was credited with boosting military recruitment considerably.  It would be impossible to quantify or establish a direct cause/effect relationship here, but I’d wager electric guitar sales surged in ’78 thanks in large part to this 1:43 Edward Van Halen showpiece.

3) You Really Got Me – Nice segue out of Eruption into a quality song by The Kinks.  That’s a formidable 1-2-3 punch by any certifiable measurement system.

The legacy of Van Halen could be debated, the lead singer carousel has been lampooned, and phrases such as ‘over-the-top’ are often associated with the band’s sound.  Some fans have even felt betrayed (albeit humorously in song) by the group’s career trajectory.

Is it the “best damn record I ever owned?”  It’s right up there if we’re talking about best debuts.  If I were to revise my Top 5 Instrumentals post, today Eruption would make the cut.

Is it a rock solid record that shattered perceptions about what could be done with an electric guitar?  As they sing in the chorus of You Really Got Me, awwwwwwwwwww yeahhhhhhhhhh!

From → 1970s

  1. Nice post. If this had been the only thing VH ever released, they would still be legends. Talk about a statement of intent. I don’t think GNR’s “Appetite For Destruction” would’ve existed without this as their template.

    • I could see that – when I heard Aerosmith’s ‘Rocks’ for the first time, it’s safe to say Slash & co. had heard that once or twice before releasing Appetite!

  2. I love your Seinfeld intro! Brilliant, thank you.

    Regarding this:

    “…but I’d wager electric guitar sales surged in ’78 thanks in large part to this 1:43 Edward Van Halen showpiece.”

    You’re right but I think to be more historically accurate, here’s some more detail. Definitely guitar sales were surging since Ace Frehley was at the peak of his fame in ’78. However Eddie Van Halen introduced a new kind of guitar playing that required a whammy bar. And for basically 10 years, until Slash came into style, there was this surge of guitars that enabled players to do the same tricks Eddie used. You’d want nice low cutaways on the neck so you could access the higher frets. You’d want to change your pickups and try to figure out how Eddie got his “brown sound”. The rumour was — and I believe this was accurate — is that Eddie once dipped his pickups in hot wax. I know a guy who ruined a good set of pickups trying that trick. Eddie also introduced a device that hooked up a light dimmer switch to his amps…a few kids who tried that started a few basement fires 🙂

    Anyway, enough of my rambling. I’m glad this one made the 1001 now because I’ve been on a Van Halen kick this week! Just polished a VH review last night in fact. And I think you nailed it in a nutshell with your writeup.

    • I knew the finger tapping was a signature move but I hadn’t realized he was a pioneer of the whammy bar. The hot wax trick sounds like an expensive experiment, not to mention the do-it-yourself basement pyrotechnics!

      Looking forward to your VH writeup – does anything in the catalogue (regardless of singer) come close to this one? This and 1984 are the ones on the list.

      • “I knew the finger tapping was a signature move”

        Many thank that Eddie Van Halen invented it, but he definitely didn’t. Steve Hackett used it on some Genesis songs before Van Halen’s debut, and even he might not have been the first. But Eddie was the first person to do it and be married to a soap-opera star whom Larry Flynt wanted for a centerfold. 🙂

      • I’d imagine that’s often the case – the musician credited for ‘inventing’ a style is more likely to be the one who ‘popularized’ it. Sort of like Columbus ‘discovering’ America I suppose!

        I’d associate the wah wah with Jimi Hendrix, the talkbox with Peter Frampton, but I wouldn’t be surprised if others had used similar effects previously.

  3. lol, love Seinfeld! Oh, and the album’s pretty rockin’ too!

    • Agreed! Picking a favourite Seinfeld character’s a bit of an unfair task, but if I had to choose, it would probably be Elaine’s on again/off again boyfriend David Puddy. “Yeah that’s right!”

  4. Ovidiu Boar permalink

    Great review as usual, despite the fact that this is one of those bands that I really want to like, and have given them many chances (I own the debut and have heard other songs on YouTube), but just can’t get the appeal of. At all.

    Even ‘Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love’ – the song that made me wanna get this album in the first place – lost its appeal after 3 or 4 listens. Now I just find it insubstantial, besides the riff. ‘Eruption’ is one of those things that influenced a generation of morons to play 100 notes per second in a macho, look-at-me-I’m-a-guitar-God kind of way. It just leaves me cold and emotionless. ‘You Really Got Me’ I find pointless and annoying. Sorry!

    • No personal offense taken, not to worry! I’ve definitely had those records/books/movies that the world loves but I just can’t get into. This certainly isn’t one of those records that you need to listen to repeatedly to appreciate the magic – it’s all on the surface, what you see is what you get. So I’d imagine those who aren’t into it right away will probably never become fans.

      I think what I enjoy about this record is the band is ‘all-in’ – nothing is held back. Are the songs timeless? Probably not, but I liked the energy.

  5. Really enjoyed your write-up. This is definitely one of the all-time classic and game-changing debuts. I also loved Rich’s point that if this was the only album they’d ever done we’d still be talking about them. So true!

    • Thanks HMO, that may be the biggest challenge I have with groups who keep going well past their ‘best before’ dates.

      I’m currently reading Nick Offerman’s book (Paddle Your Own Canoe), a very funny read, but some good quotes throughout. He references this Theodore Roosevelt one:

      “It is hard to fail but it is worse never to have tried to succeed”

      So one the one hand, I applaud the Van Halens of the world for ‘going for it’ (and they definitely swing for the fences!). But then again, there’s the conflicting life advice of quitting while you’re ahead…

      • Personally, I’m glad they’re still at it. Their most recent album was fantastic and, although I’ve not loved every album they’ve ever done, they’ve had a pretty consistent back catalogue. I have favourites from both Roth and Hagar eras.

      • In order to burn out, first you have to burn. 🙂

      • I’ve only heard Tattoo from the new one but it was decent. For Roth’s first studio recording with the band in 3 decades, it didn’t sound like there was too much rust!

  6. Their last CD was great!

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