For the first time in A&GS’ storied (not really!) history we are doing a Classic Albums feature chosen by YOU! Yes you, dear friends. Maestro’s social media post gave you ten records to choose from, and by a close margin VAN HALEN’S self-titled debut narrowly edged out Nothing’s Shocking from JANE’S ADDICTION. Fear not though, we’ll be doing that one soon enough! Released in 1978, VH was an absolute monster of an album that made a statement to the world that this band was already unstoppable, so get on board and take the ride with them.
I personally didn’t get into the group till the mid-80’s because in 1978 I was pretty much All KISS All the Time with a few John Denver, BAY CITY ROLLERS, and BEE GEES interludes. It was somewhere around 1988 that the magic on this record really found its way into my ear holes. Back then there was this entity called Columbia House where you could get ten tapes for a penny. Most of you reading this are old enough to remember that, I hope. And those who do, every single one of you ordered your ten and never paid for a fucking thing. Stop, stop, STAHHHP you lyin’ muthafuckas. Hell at one time I ordered under five different names!
So during one of these little heists I told myself it was time to start digging into the early VAN HALEN stuff. At that time VAN HAGAR was in full swing and I was really into it. I knew all the old hits with David Lee Roth on vocals, but I didn’t own any of the material. It was also common knowledge that Eddie Van Halen was a guitarist unlike any on this planet, a God among men. His brother Alex Van Halen and bassist/backing vocalist Michael Anthony are one of the greatest rhythm sections I’ve ever heard; not up for debate. That haul brought me the debut, Van Halen II, and 1984 on cassette. What better place to start than with number one, right? So I pressed PLAY….
“Runnin’ With the Devil” starts us off with one of THE most iconic riffs in rock history and on that chorus there are harmonies that can only be described as Manna from Heaven. Fuck me, the hairs on my arms were standing straight up. “Eruption” was next and….come on, do I even need to say another word about it? Jaw-dropping and clocking in at only 1:42, it still put every other six-string rocker on notice, FACT. It also inspired waaaaaay too many wanna-bes, but that’s ok. An electrifying cover of “You Really Got Me” followed by killer track “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” had me up and moving in my bedroom at 113 Berkeley Place. I couldn’t believe I had just casually neglected this greatness for so long.
The side closes with one of my all-time best VH tunes in “I’m the One.” Talk about four guys going all in and simply owning it from start to finish, this is that track. Fast and hard as Hell. Fun fact: I got to see them encore with it at the old Spectrum in Philly on the1998 tour and I was taken right back to my childhood room in Massapequa! Side Two opens with “Jamie’s Cryin’” featuring yet another instantly recognizable riff. This one’s got some of Roth’s best singing up there with “Devil.” The guy carried a tune just fine and let’s face it, he was always more of an entertainer than a singer. And again, that’s FINE But I truly love his voice on this one. “Atomic Punk” is mean, dirty, and raw, much like the LP itself, with a killer scratch guitar sound to boot.
Another one I still can’t get enough of is “Feel Your Love Tonight”, which is undoubtedly my absolute favorite song from the early days with only “Dance the Night Away” and “Unchained” behind it. “Little Dreamer” has that chill, bob the head vibe while Eddie plays a riff that’s simply too cool for the room. “Ice Cream Man” is a cover of an old blues tune by John Brim and it’s a lot of fun. Dave croons, Eddie rips, and the band sounds like they’re having a blast. Closer “On Fire” is more greatness on an album chock full of greatness. Much like “Punk” it’s one of the heavier and more aggressive numbers, which is A-OK in my book. And make no mistake, as soon as it was over I was flipping the tape over for another go-round!
So there you have it, my thoughts on VAN HALEN’S first album. I’d been wanting to do this one for a while, but the time had to be right. Well, you guys spoke and I listened. Hope you enjoyed this little trip down Memory Lane. You should also know that after that show in ‘98 I dug out my old cassette and blared this beast on REPEAT for about a month in my ‘91 Nissan Sentra. There are some albums that just catch fire from beginning to end. This debut is one of them. It’s a record that both 15-year old and 25-year old me binged on a decade apart. And it’s one that will continue to stand the test of time, long after you and I are gone. And that’s why this is forever a Classic Album. ~dc