Before you read this review, find your neighborhood’s casual classic rock fan. Ask him or her this simple question: Who is the greatest guitarist in the world? For the sake of my point, let’s hypothesize that their answer is Eddie Van Halen. Wouldn’t be to much of a shock, in my opinion. There’s no doubting that EVH is remarkable. His innovative virtuosity and galactic dominance over the guitar have been proven all too many times over the last thirty years. While well-versed musicians may scoff and say that they’ve heard better (I myself fall into this category on occasion), everyone eventually has to come to the realization that Eddie is a legend. However, I’m not going to ramble on about Van Halen the man, but rather Van Halen the band. Well, the band are equally legendary. Since their early days as a staple act of California’s “Sunset Strip," Van Halen (then-known as Mammoth), have been a constant presence in mainstream rock, carving their place in the annals of music history. Playing host to some of the most talented vocalists and musicians in rock music of the past and present, Van Halen have changed significantly since their humble beginnings.
Those beginnings start with Van Halen
. The band’s first release took the world by storm, and become an early forefront for American heavy metal. Containing classics such as “Runnin’ With the Devil," “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love," “Jamie’s Cryin’," and of course, the iconic “Eruption," Van Halen
is the pinnacle of debuts for a rock band. While it suffers from some severe drawbacks, it is nonetheless and excellent album, worthy of the accolades (and Diamond status in sales) it has garnered.
starts off with a horn. Literally. “Runnin’ With the Devil" opens with a fade-in of a car horn. Next we hear the trademark wails of front man David Lee Roth. Van Halen make it very easy to connect with this track. Rock ‘n’ roll to the max lyrics, combined with Roth’s flamboyant vocal work, on top of the Van Halen bros. and Michael Anthony (guitar, drums, and bass respectively), make for one hell of a song. By far one of Van Halen’s greatest, and a sure-fire gem of this album.
“Eruption" is really something that defines classification. At the time, tapping, dive-bombs, and all those other wild shredding techniques were relatively unheard of. Meaning a lot of people were impressed by what they heard when this monstrous solo came pouring out of the stereo. It excited fans, floored musicians, and excited teenagers all of the world to purchase angular guitars, and cover them with stripes. In 20/20 hindsight, ‘Eruption" is no less than incredible piece of work today that it was then. Sure, we’ve heard other things that are just as (if not more) impressive in the thirty-ish years of musical history separating the release of Van Halen
and this review; but one still has to admit that “Eruption" is the reason why EVH is a household name among classic rock lovers and guitarists the world over.
Oh yeah. And all that ridiculousness is just an intro. Yep, “Eruption" is simply a lead in for Van Halen’s take on the popular Kinks
song “You Really Got Me." It may seem curious for a band who could easily be credited with kicking off heavy metal’s dominance of the 80s airwaves, to be covering such a simple pop-rock song, but Van Halen do it, and do it well. Roth’s voice and overall persona make him the perfect singer for this song. Eddie’s fantastic take on the guitar work in the song compliments the larger-than-life presence that Roth gives off. All-in-all, Van Halen have “really got something" with this one.
One of my favorite Van Halen songs is “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love." Great lyrics, fantastic music, and attitude. That’s right: It’s hard rock goddamnit. And it’s not afraid to admit it. “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love" is one of those songs that you want to blast out of a stereo whilst driving down a highway during summer-time. One of the greatest highlights of this song is Eddie’s fantastic solo. Good work, EVH. I salute you on that one. “I’m the One" is yet another great song (it’s a growing trend on this album). I’ll admit to you, Van Halen
(for the most part) starts to go downhill after this one. It’s just that the first few songs are just of exceedingly good quality (not to detract from the others, as the album is excellent on the whole). Anyways, back to “I’m the One." Again, the highlight of this one is Eddie’s fantastic guitar playing. I always thought that the “doo wap" thing that Roth pulls right after the guitar solo was an interesting (and welcome) twist.
Ah, here we are at “Jamie’s Cryin’." This song brings back some of my best memories. A very good friend of mine (who is quite possibly the world’s biggest Van Halen fan) has a little sister name Jamie. We used to constantly play this song around her, because it annoyed her to no end. “Jamie’s Cryin’" showcases what are probably the most well-written lyrics on the album. For once, Eddie’s guitar work really isn’t all that spectacular. Rather, his brother, Alex’s drumming would be the musical strongpoint of this song. “Atomic Punk" is widely considered to be one of Eddie’s greatest masterpieces. I agree. Especially after hearing the fantastic guitar solo. Lyrically, “Atomic Punk" is more or less the anti-thesis to “Jamie’s Cryin’." Whereas the latter features the best of Roth’s writing ability, the former features the most nonsensical. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just something you can mull over as you listen to these tracks in succession. “Feel Your Love Tonight" is another fun rock song. Lewd lyrics, hard instrumentation, and Roth’s typically elaborate vocal-work make this a solid track. Still, it really can’t stack up compared to much of what has preceded it, and is therefore, one of the weakest songs Van Halen
has to offer.
“Little Dreamer" is a curiosity. I can’t really decide whether or not I like this song or not. I suppose you could say that it’s Van Halen’s attempt to get a ballad on their debut (even though it clocks in at a mere 3:22). It’s slower pace and choir of a chorus isn’t exactly a welcome change of pace for Van Halen
. To be honest, you’ll just get so energetic from the other songs, that you probably just won’t put much stock in this one. “Ice Cream Man" is another curiosity. I’m not quite sure what Van Halen are playing at with this one. Sure, it’s a classic John Brim song, but I just have one simple question: why? I mean, it’s not an inherently bad
song, it just doesn’t fit. At all. Van Halen
closes with “On Fire." The album continues it’s streak of oddity, only now, it’s combining elements of pure “What the hell?" (in the vein of: “Little Dreamer;" “Ice Cream Man") with elements of pure “Rock on!" (in the vein of: everything else on the album). It’s a fairly disappointing closure to a great album, and a rather disappointing continuation of a chain of less-than-adequate songs.
In the end, Van Halen’s debut is a great hard rock album. It may not be a “must have" for everyone, but for a classic rock fan (or any other rock fan in general) it probably should be included in your CD collection. The only real shortcoming that Van Halen
suffers from is the gradual decline in overall song quality from the beginning of the album to the end. If you can over look this, you’ll see that there are some real gems here. Just pick this one up and find out what all the fuss was about back in the day.