Van Halen’s third album slams: Women And Children First

Van Halen - David Lee Roth - Pinkpop 1980 (theguardian.com)

Van Halen – David Lee Roth – Pinkpop 1980

The ’80s is it, it belongs to Van Halen.

David Lee Roth, 1980

Introduction

Ever since the fantastic debut I followed Van Halen. A year after that phenomenal album Van Halen II was released, which was somewhat disappointing to me. In 1980 Women And Children First was next, my favorite album by the band.

Van Halen II

Van Halen - Van Halen II (spotify.com)

Van Halen – Van Halen II

Following debut album Van Halen (see Van Halen – The best debut album of all time? for the complete story on the debut) the band went on tour, upon which they re-entered the studio on December 10th, 1978. One week later the band left the studio with their next album under their arm, Van Halen II. Many of the songs already existed prior to recording their debut album, so the band knew them through and through. The Van Halen tour was more than just successful, it also ensured the band was even more tight than ever before. So, when the band recorded the new album in the studio, it didn’t take them much time, as they performed everything live.

The sound was mellowed won a bit, less rock and more poppy. Is that a bad thing with the band that houses Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth? Not really, but still, I didn’t particularly like the album at the time. I thought it was all a bit too clean, it was the nicer, respectable little brother of the debut. In spite of that, the album was a huge success, even though sales were almost half of the debut sales.

Van Halen II was released on March 23rd, 1979, followed by the band’s first headliner tour. The tour was called The World Vacation Tour and consisted of 5 parts. A total of 108 shows were put on from March 25th to October 7th, 1979.

December 1979 saw the band focusing on the successor to Van Halen II.

Women And Children First

Van Halen - Women And Children First (spotify.com)

Van Halen – Women And Children First

The third Van Halen album was released on March 26th, 1980, their first album of the 1980’s. Just like the first two albums the new album was recorded live in the studio. Within four days all the music was put to tape. Another six days later the vocals were recorded as well. After some time mixing the album was completely done with two to three weeks in total. Quite a feat.

It made the album sound very organic. Contrary to its successor this albums sounds a lot heavier. Influences of punk rock are clearly audible. Containing just 33.5 minutes of music the album is very short, but it probably adds to the album’s impact. Also, it’s the first album containing the use of keyboards and the first with all original material. And, last but not least, it’s the first (and only) album where a woman’s voice can be heard. Even this album still contained songs that were around before the release of their first album (Fools, Loss Of Control and Take Your Whiskey Home).

The opening song immediately sets the tone. And The Cradle Will Rock… starts off with that glorious guitar sound, introducing the (rest of the) album perfectly. Well, that’s what I always imagined. In reality the sound is the introduction of the first use of keyboards on a Van Halen record: a Wurlitzer electric piano, which is distorted and channeled through a Marshall guitar amplifier.

The second song Everybody Wants Some!! is my favorite on this album. I love the music, the spine tingling guitar work. Roth is on a roll as well with shouts, screams and an overall jungle-feel. A highlight in Van Halen’s body of work. The following Fools stems from the band’s early days, but is added upon and contains a great boogie-woogie rhythm that’s full of swing.

Van Halen - Women And Children First - Bumper-Sticker (vhnd.com)

Van Halen – Women And Children First – Bumper-Sticker

Romeo Delight is a fast and loud rocker with a beautiful instrumental mid section. After the short instrumental Tora! Tora! another fast, hard, punky song Loss Of Control. Truly fantastic.

The bluesy and great Take Your Whiskey Home is followed by the acoustic skiffle song Could This Be Magic?, on which Roth plays guitar as well. It’s the one and only Van Halen song in which a woman’s voice can be heard. Nicolette Larson (former Linda Ronstadt background singer) paid back Eddie Van Halen’s solo on her 1978 album.

The closing In A Simple Rhyme is the one song that just doesn’t do it for me. It is not bad per se, but it sounds a bit AOR. The last 22 seconds of the song stand out, because they come across as somewhat disconnected to the actual song. The last piece is called Growth, a piece of music that could have turned into a compete song on Women And Children First if there had been more time. So why place those 22 seconds on the album anyway? The original idea was to use that piece of music as the introduction to the opening song of the next album. The idea was scrapped when recording sessions for the next album were underway.

Van Halen - Women And Children First - Gold & Platinum Awards (ha.com)

Van Halen – Women And Children First – Gold & Platinum Awards

Success

Having sold about 5 million copies, which accounts for about half the number of copies the preceding Van Halen II had sold, it still is an enormous amount of records. Just like the two preceding albums the new album was certified gold fairly quickly, in just ten weeks of its release the album was already certified platinum.

Album cover

The story on behind the album cover is emblematic for the future of the band. When Eddie Van Halen was busy writing and optimizing the songs for the upcoming album, David Lee Roth was busy writing lyrics and contemplating the way the album cover should look. He had an idea. Roth wanted to get Helmut Newton, the world renowned photographer, involved. He found out where Newton was staying (Beverly Hills Hotel) and went over. Roth introduced himself and Newton was immediately sold: “Do you know what, David? You are my new favorite blond. I would love to shoot photos of you”.

Van Halen - Women And Children First - David Lee Roth tied up (photo by Helmut Newton) (medium.com)

Van Halen – Women And Children First – David Lee Roth tied up (photo by Helmut Newton)

A problem had been born: both had visualized the idea that photo’s of Roth would be shot at his home. Newton wasn’t planning on photographing the band. Well at least that’s the way Roth remembers it. Record company Warner Bros. remembers plans for photographing the entire band.

When the other band members were summoned to go to a Newton photo shoot in December, they had no clue as to who Newton was. The Van Halen brothers didn’t feel like it, as opposed to a psyched and highly motivated Roth, who was savvy enough to know what the name Newton stood for and what it could mean.

On the day of the shoot the band members were late, so Roth and Newton had already started. They started off at a fence by the pool. They used some iron chains and tied them around Roth. Some photos were shot of Roth in a bondage kind of setting.

The other band members arrived at this scene and were immediately put off. They were probably pissed because they felt Roth had taken charge of matters (yet again) and was having a party all by himself. To humor the band members, Newton took some photos of them, but the damage had already been done. On the photos of Eddie Van Halen, he looks extremely bored, unimpressed and, well, grumpy.

Van Halen - Women And Children First - Eddie Van Halen looks happy (photo by Helmut Newton) (medium.com)

Van Halen – Women And Children First – Eddie Van Halen looks happy (photo by Helmut Newton)

Newton and the band members didn’t get along at all and they quickly left. Newton and Roth remained and they shot the famous picture that would be globally known: Roth tied to a fence.

The following day a row ensued. Roth versus the rest of the band (well, the Van Halen brothers). It was apparent Newton wasn’t going to make the cut. For the next session photographer Norman Seeff was invited. He had a gift of photographing dysfunctional groups and making them seem like the best friends of the world. His skills were badly needed. And, it worked. The session was a success and all four band members genuinely had a great time. The photos on the front and back cover of Women And Children stem from this session.

What happened to the Newton photos? Some were used as promotion, but the unease and irritation are blaringly obvious when looking at them. And still Roth got his way, kinda. The iconic photo of him chained to the fence was added as a foldout poster to the first million copies of the album.

Even though Roth’s ego was boosted by adding the poster, it was a clever marketing ploy as well, something you could leave up to Roth: “We put the poster in because it upsets people. It’s disturbing. It’s one of those beautiful things where there’s actually nothing going on in the picture, and you’re forced to use your filthy little imagination”. (sales)Success guaranteed.

But the way it had played out created distance. The Van Halen brothers were annoyed by Roth’s exhibitionist behavior and diva stance. They were the real stars, not him. The feeling smoldered on for a couple of years in the background and eventually led to the demise of the classic Van Halen line-up.

Van Halen - Women And Children First - Back cover (photo by Norman Seeff) (medium.com)

Van Halen – Women And Children First – Back cover (photo by Norman Seeff)

Review

After the disappointing Van Halen II (to me anyway) Women And Children First was a return to the excitement of the debut. Musically and lyrically the band had grown considerably and seemed able to connect to the punk and new-wave of the time, even though the music was heavily rooted in hardrock. However, unlike contemporary hardrock, Van Halen’s music had a lightness to it, the undeniable influence of David Lee Roth. His vocals were distinct and were just as important to the sound as Eddie Van Halen’s phenomenal guitar skills and sound.

Single

Just one single was culled from the album: And The Cradle Will Rock…, which wasn’t really successful.

Van Halen - Women And Children First - Ads (vhnd.com/pinterest.com/themightyvanhalen.net)

Van Halen – Women And Children First – Ads

Songs

All songs written by Edward Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, Michael Anthony and David Lee Roth.

Side A

  • And The Cradle Will Rock…
  • Everybody Wants Some!!
  • Fools
  • Romeo Delight

Side B

  • Tora! Tora!
  • Loss Of Control
  • Take Your Whiskey Home
  • Could This Be Magic?
  • In A Simple Rhyme
  • Growth (hidden)

Musicians

  • Michael Anthony – bass, background vocals
  • David Lee Roth – vocals, acoustic guitar on Could This Be Magic?
  • Eddie Van Halen – guitar, electric piano, background vocals
  • Alex Van Halen – drums

With help by:

  • Nicolette Larson – background vocals on Could This Be Magic?
Van Halen - World Invasion Tour - Manchester Apollo 06/19/1980 (flickr.com)

Van Halen – World Invasion Tour – Manchester Apollo 06/19/1980

World Invasion Tour

After the release of Women And Children First the band went on tour again, which was named the World Invasion Tour. Internally, the tour was known as the Party ’til You Die Tour, which probably has something to do with the relative party atmosphere while on tour. During this tour keyboards were played live for the first time at a Van Halen live show. Michael Anthony played the keyboard parts of And The Cradle Will Rock….

The tour started on March 16th, 1980, one week prior to the Women And Children First‘s release and ended on November 15th, 1980. The tour crossed the United States and Canada twice, during the summer months interrupted by a tour through Europe.

During the 124 shows in total the following songs were performed:

Van Halen - World Invasion Tour - Logo (themightyvanhalen.net)

Van Halen – World Invasion Tour – Logo

  • Romeo Delight
  • Bottoms Up!
  • Alex Van Halen drum solo
  • Runnin’ With The Devil
  • Tora! Tora!
  • Loss Of Control
  • Take Your Whiskey Home
  • Dance The Night Away
  • Women In Love…
  • Jamie’s Cryin’
  • Feel Your Love Tonight
  • Bright Lights, Big City (Jimmy Reed cover)
  • Atomic Punk
  • Everybody Wants Some!!
  • And The Cradle Will Rock…
  • Somebody Get Me A Doctor
  • Light Up The Sky
  • On Fire
  • Eddie Van Halen guitar solo (Eruption, Spanish Fly and Cathedral)
  • Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love

Encore:

  • Ice Cream Man (John Brim cover)
  • Growth
  • You Really Got Me (The Kinks cover)

For all the readers interested in all shows of the World Invasion Tour, click below.

Pinkpop

Van Halen - David Lee Roth - Pinkpop 1980 (themightyvanhalen.net)

Van Halen – David Lee Roth – Pinkpop 1980

A special concert took place on May 26th, 1980. Van Halen was part of the line-up to the Dutch popfestival Pinkpop in the south of The Netherlands at the Sportpark in Geleen. The concert was nearly canceled as David Lee Roth had broken his nose the day before during TV recordings in Italy.

In his autobiography Crazy From The Heat Roth remembered that the band rehearsals at the studio in Rome went fine. The plan was that after the lights had dimmed, Roth would jump high in the air and the lights would go on midway through his jump followed by a band performance. About five meters above the stage a large mirror ball hung from the ceiling. So, everything was just fine.

However, when it was time to film and lights had dimmed the mirror ball had been lowered about three meters. Roth wasn’t told and made his planned jump. His nose hit the mirror ball hard breaking his nose. The Pinkpop performance the next day was hanging by a thread.

But the band did perform and played a superb show with Roth covered in band aids. The show was reviewed as one of the highlights of the festival.

At the time it was customary that band performances were filmed and recorded for television and radio. May 26th was no exception, apart from the Van Halen show: the band didn’t grant the rights.

It would be the last Van Halen concert with David Lee Roth in The Netherlands. In 1984 the band played 7 shows in Europe, but The Netherlands were left out of the tour. It would take 13 years before the band would play The Netherland again on April 13th, 1993 (as part of the Right Here, Right Now Tour). In 1995 the band The Netherlands twice, never returning again.

Van Halen - Women And Children First - Norman Seeff photo session outtake (reddit.com)

Van Halen – Women And Children First – Norman Seeff photo session outtake

After the tour

For the next album Eddie Van Halen wanted to expand on the heavy sound of Women And Children First with more complex and serious music. Van Halen got what he wanted, resulting in 1981’s Fair Warning. It was the slowest and worst selling album of their career. Successor, 1982’s Diver Down, was filled with covers but fared much better. Album 1984 was a mega success. Within a year of its release it had been certified 5 times platinum. It also marked the end for the original Van Halen line-up. Roth went solo and Van Halen proceeded with Sammy Hagar.

In closing

What do you think of Women And Children First? Do you rate it as high as me or do you think it’s considerably less than its predecessor? Let me know!

Video/Spotify
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Van Halen’s third album slams: Women And Children First. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

Compliments/remarks? Yes, please!