Wednesday, March 19, 2008

No. 415: Van Halen

Band: Van Halen
Album: Van Halen
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The first Van Halen record is about as good as party rock gets. David Lee Roth's ridiculousness is the perfect compliment to the steady rhythm section and, of course, the manic guitar soloing of Eddie.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Due to the list's mostly anti-metal bias, this record is kind of low.
Best song: "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" is probably the best song on the record, though "You Really Got Me" is up there, also. "Eruption" is great, as well.
Worst song: The second side isn't great, save for "Ice Cream Man" and "Janie's Cryin'."
Is it awesome?: Yes!

Here's something you probably didn't know: There are five rock bands with two albums that have achieved diamond status (10 million records sold). They are Def Leppard (I know...), The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and... Van Halen.


I love Van Halen's first six (aka the "Roth years") albums. Well, love may be a little strong for "Women and Children First" and "Fair Warning," but they're still very strong albums.

"1984" is the more celebrated of the two diamond-selling records with huge singles like "Hot for Teacher," "Panama" and "Jump." The videos for each song made were perfect for the time -- mid-1980s -- and made the album a huge, huge hit.

But, the band's debut is better.

"Van Halen" is a knockout record and nearly a revelation.


I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Eddie's style influenced a type of guitar-playing that annoys just about everyone. Without Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani never move outside their respective basements. Speed and technical skill over melody is not attractive, on any level.


Even with the horrid Van Halen knockoffs, "Van Halen" is a wonderful combination of unabashed hard rock and party music. The band's rock and roll songcraft pits awesome melodies (and great musicianship) against David Lee Roth's ridiculous vocals.

To tell the tale of "Van Halen" is to tell the tale of "Eruption." The guitar-solo-as-song was not much of an entity and tapping wasn't really a big guitar form until "Eruption." It was a big part of the band's stage act before being recorded for the band's debut and Eddie was strange in trying to keep a hold on his new technique. Our good friend Wikipedia explains it well:

When performing live before the release of their first album, Eddie would place his back to the audience to prevent other guitarists from stealing "his" technique. His brother Alex had warned him that other guitarists would "rob him blind" if his tricks were exposed before a major album release. Afterward he was indeed widely emulated, but was comfortable displaying his techniques once credit had been firmly established on vinyl.

Strange, but pretty cool.


"Eruption" is awesome and rolls into the band's cover of, in my opinion, the greatest rock and roll of the early rock era, the Kinks' "You Really Got Me." Eddie's side bends and taps are as skilled as anything on the record, including "Eruption" and his use of effects after the solo evoke the sexuality inherent in the song. Of course, Diamond Dave's moaning and screaming helps being the point home: This ain't your parents' rock and roll.

"Runnin' with the Devil" has been sampled about a thousand times and rightfully so. The interplay between the Van Halens makes for a delightfully fun song and, of course, the guitar solo is amazing.

"Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" is the album's highlight in that it's the near-perfect Roth song. Diamond Dave's yells and screams about the difference between love and sex are fantastic.


The RS list doesn't have a lot in the way of metal. I wouldn't call the first Van Halen record a metal one, but Eddie's style has been imitated by most metal guitar players. To place it this low on the list is something of an insult to hard rock, a genre that's not just Sabbath and Zep.


kellydwyer said...

Great, stupid, album. I bought it on tape around 1998 or so and the first side has gotten a lot of burn since then.

I love Alex's take on EVH's tapping. Guys like Harvey Mandel and Brian May were tapping well before Eddie -- not to Van Halen's extreme, I'm aware -- and it's cute that big (or little?) bro is that protective of Eddie's talents.

R.J. said...

Big brother. Alex is older.

Eddie wasn't the first tapper, but, boy howdy, he was the first one to make it the centerpiece of his solos.