In 1978 I saw Halen’s Runnin’ With The Devil on tv. That was something. The singer was fantastic, but the guitar player as well. It sounded massive!
Van Halen’s debut album is one of the best debut albums of all time (see also The best debut albums).
Mammoth, Van Halen
The bothers Edward (Eddie) Van Halen and Alex Van Halen were born in The Netherlands. In 1962 the family moved to Pasadena, California. The children were musically talented. Edward learned to play the piano and was reasonably proficient. Eventually the brothers ended up playing together: Edward on drums and Alex om guitar. Because Alex frequently sneaked in to play the drums, a switch was proposed. Edward was going to play the guitar and Alex drums. A great proposal indeed.
After going through some bands they formed Mammoth. To save money they hired a kid as a singer, even though earlier auditions with him were unsuccessful. But the singer rented out sound systems. They would be free if he came on board as a singer. His name: David Lee Roth. In 1974 bass player Michael Anthony was added to the band. The band was complete now.
In 1974 the name of the band was changed into Van Halen (according to Roth it was his idea). The band played everywhere, from garden parties to schools and parks. Clubs in Pasadena and Hollywood followed. The band promoted itself fanatically using handmade posters, which were handed out before and after gigs. In 1976 the band was hired by Gazzarri’s, a nightclub at the Sunset Strip.
When they played there, they were noticed by Gene Simmons, bass player for Kiss. Simmons immediately recorded a demo with the band at the Village Recorder Studios in Los Angeles; overdubs were done at Electric Lady Studios in New York. But Simmons backed out, after he had presented the demo to the Kiss management and was told the band wouldn’t stand a chance of making it.
According to Simmons, he asked the Van Halen brothers to help him with the recording of the Kiss song Christine Sixteen and two other songs. Therefore, recordings exist of the both Van Halen brothers doing Kiss songs with Gene Simmons. These songs have never been released.
Halfway through 1977 Warner Bros. managing director Mo Ostin and producer Ted Templeman saw the band play at The Starwood in Hollywood. They were so impressed by the band that they offered the band a contract within a week. A few weeks later the band were in the studio, starting recordings for their debut album. An album that was the start of a long and fruitful career for the band, and also of an album that would save hard rock.
Van Halen – the album
The album was recorded by Ted Templeman at Sunset Sound Studio, within a three week period. To give the album a live feel, overdubs were kept to an absolute minimum and minor mistakes were left on the album on purpose. The album cost about $ 40,000,- to make.
For a debut album it is insanely good. Many of Van Halen’s signature songs are on this album: Runnin’ With The Devil, You Really Got Me, Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love, Jamie’s Cryin’ and Ice Cream Man.
But the prize song, of course, is Eruption, which essentially is a guitar solo. It has become a template for many guitar players. A primary example for guitar players all around the world and (to this day) it stands as a testament for skill. It contains the so-called “finger-tapping” technique; something Eddie Van Halen has become famous for. It would earn him the title “best guitar player in the world” for years in a row.
The photographs for the cover were shot at the Whisky A Go Go club in Los Angeles. The guitar Eddie holds, is his famous Frankenstrat Guitar (before red paint was applied), a replica of the classic Fender Stratocaster.
Fairly quickly after its release the album Van Halen was hailed as one of rock and roll’s best debut albums. It’s hard to believe that many initial reviews were negative. Critics are off the mark oftentimes (zie ook The most hated album in jazz: Miles Davis’ On The Corner), but with this one it was a disaster. Luckily, hardrock magazine Kerrang! was very positive: an “essential purchase”.
In hindsight everyone agrees that Van Halen is a classic album, which is worthy of every praise that is bestowed upon it.
Well, what is there left to be said. Van Halen is an incredibly good album (number 19 in my album top 50 of all time). From start to finish, it’s all good, everything clicks. The music is great. Musicianship is at a very high level. And, the band doesn’t have 1, but 2 main characters. Of course guitar virtuoso Eddie Van Halen, but also David Lee Roth. What he brings to the table on this debut album can not be underestimated.
The album sounds like no other album I know. It is a completely unique and highly original piece of work by a band that was only at the beginning of its (very long and successful) career. It all sounds loose and free, spontaneous even. But what ultimately stands out is the vast energy, the full commitment with which the songs are played and, still after 40 (!) bangs through the speakers.
All songs written by Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, David Lee Roth and Michael Anthony, unless stated otherwise.
- Runnin’ With The Devil
- You Really Got Me *
- Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love
- I’m The One
- Jamie’s Cryin’
- Atomic Punk
- Feel Your Love Tonight
- Little Dreamer **
- Ice Cream Man
- On Fire
|*||Written by Ray Davies|
|**||Written by John Brim|
Platinum, double platinum, etc.
Van Halen reached Gold status on May 24th, 1978, and just a few months later (on October 10th, 1978) followed by Platinum status. On October 22nd, 1984, sales led to the 5 times Platinum status. On August 7th, 1996, the album reached Diamond status (at least 10 Million sales).
Based on sales figures in the USA.
After Van Halen
The band went on tour and recorded the second album at the end of 1978, which was titled Van Halen II and would be released in 1979. Many albums followed, among which the fantastic Women And Children First and 1984. More on that at a later time.
From the very beginning, the attention of the press and music lovers was divided between the ‘ultimate showman’ David lee Roth and the ‘ultimate guitarist’ Eddie Van Halen. At first that was great, but the two would end up as opposites. That would lead to David Lee Roth leaving Van Halen. Also, more on that at a later time.
For now: what do you think of this album? Let me know!
Van Halen May 1978 image: teamrock.com
Van Halen La Canada High School 1976 image: medium.com
Van Halen Starwood 1977 & Van Halen – Van Halen – Platinum Billboard ad 1978 images: vhnd.com
Van Halen – Van Halen image: neongods.com
Van Halen – Van Halen – Innersleeve image: cddvdcovers.wordpress.com
Eruption Sheet Music – Eddie Van Halen Initials image: liveauctiongroup.net