Review Summary: Bottoms Up! Cuz this album will kick your butt!
Van Halen came roaring out of Los Angeles / Pasadena in the late '70's with a big 'ol chip and their collective shoulders and a handful of hard rocking party songs in their bag.. Amidst bland, stale AOR crap like Boston and Peter Frampton, a dying Led Zeppelin, a dead Keith Moon, and an angry punk scene, they released their debut, which would simply become known as Van Halen I as the years passed. With a sexy howler out front named David Lee Roth, a fat bass player, and two crazy brothers on drums and electric geetar, the boys were revved up and ready to go from...the word go. After the debut sold millions of albums and the band had trashed hundreds of hotel rooms and even more underaged groupies, the only question that remained was what comes next?
Well Van Halen II, of course! And it picked up where the previous left off, if not exactly. After kicking things off with a serviceable but somewhat tight cover of a Linda Ronstadt tune, the guys kick into high gear with one of hard rocks all time great party tunes, Dance The Night Away
. Its got chops, its got melody, its a good time waiting to happen. "Take a chance, you're old enough to DANCE THE NIGHT AWAY" Diamond Dave sings into the mic as Eddie Van Halen lays down tasty guitar licks behind him and the boys join in with some great vocal harmonies. Which has always been an underrated strength of this band. This is happy music...Van Halen are just in it for a good time. And they do a fine job of conveying it.
While "Dance The Night Away" was the most "pop" thing the band had ever done on record up to that point, at the time pop was not Van Halens calling card as it would become later. No, hot, sweaty, sexy hard rock was Van Halens ace in the hole. And not until the last song on the album would this breezy sort of tune like Dance The Night Away show its face again. Instead we get a lot of what we got on the first album. Most of the time its very good.
The uproarious Somebody Get me A Doctor
finds Dave and the boys in heat for some lovin' as this track smolders with heavy riffs, bombastic drums, and thundering bass. "I'm overloaded I can hardly walk" Dave proclaims. So you know whatever he has he's got it bad as he wails like a choo choo train and the music drives him forward. Bottoms Up
follows this smoldering number with hard rock boogie that would make ZZ Top blush and lyrics that leave no doubt about the intent of Dave's desire. No friends and neighbors Bottoms Up is NOT a drinking song, although in bars across the nation I'm sure it has been. But this is a song about bending it over and banging it home, and with lyrics like "pretty maids all in a row / go on set'em up" you just know some slamming of the non drinking kind is gonna get done!
On top of everything else good about this album it just flat out sounds good. Van Halen didn't just energize a stale hard rock scene at the time, it polished it up with loud clean guitar work that laid the foundation for future "shredders" all over the world, a rollicking and expressive rhythm section, layered harmony vocals, and a vocalist in David Lee Roth that sounded like a one man sexual steamroller. And producer Ted Templeman managed to make a three man musical ensemble sound like ten in the studio while keeping it lean and simple and uncluttered. This was no Def Leppard fluff or Journey like studio pap. No, this was lean, muscular, and intrepid. And Van Halen while not exactly original still managed to sound
like no other band before them.
So with the table set from here on out its all gravy, baby. With the lone exception of the plodding and out of character Women In Love
near albums close, the rest of the album goes down nice and easy. Light Up the Sky
is great driving song if you're old enough to drive and has some great drum work from brother Alex Van Halen, while featuring some of those fantastic VH vocal harmonies. Outta Love Again
sounds like a leftover from the debut album (not a bad thing) with its shuffling rhythm and Dave's wild wailing accompanying Eddie Van Halen's tasty guitar licks, and D.O.A. is one of the catchiest pieces of hard rock rebellion VH ever laid down, period. "We were broke and hungry on a summer day" Dave moans into the mic as the band pounds out a steady beat behind him. And when he growls "We were broke and down and dirty dressed in rags/ From the day my mama told me boy you pack your bags," you can almost see a million disaffected youth flipping off their parents in unison with great joy. And of course a Van Halen album wouldn't be a proper Van Halen album without a wank fest buy Eddie VH, who gives us an acoustic shredder number called Spanish Fly
. Which is sort of like Eruption from the first album minus the electric guitar. Its serviceable enough so I'll forgive him this self indulgent muck.
Van Halen closes the album out with a hint of what is to come in their career with the sunny and swinging "bum is the sun" Beautiful Girls
. This is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on who you talk to, as its pop sensibilities are certainly suiting to the band in some respects, but also brings out the worst in Dave, who turned into the worse sort of frontman ham in rock n roll history with Beach Boy covers and show tunes and Vegas style pomp in the years to come as he went solo. Yup, got so bad they had to boot him from the band in favor of the boring arse Sammy Hagar. Which is pretty damn bad when you consider that no talent hack.
The "original" Van Halen would make two more "early" albums after this...one a mess but with some good tunes and the other half good, and half bad. Literally. Then would come a couple of the best things they ever did as they fell squarely into the mainstream with the Diver Down
albums, with the former serving as a transition album of sorts after their original vision of rebellious fun had somewhat burned out. But for a few glorious years before, Van Halen owned the sleazy and sexy side of the Sunset Strip and fired the imaginations of sexed up horny teens everywhere who just wanted to Dance The Night Away and Light Up The Sky a little, while giving the world the middle finger all the while. And Van Halen II hits the mark right on the head if that's the sort of thing you like. And after all at some point in our lives, who doesn't?