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Retro-Review: Van Halen - Van Halen (1978)

Keith Higgons

Posted on April 8, 2019 11:00

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Yes, it's still a masterpiece, but 41 years later and after all the nonsense, has it lost any luster?

The landscape on which Van Halen landed in 1978 was diverse. The Bee Gees were at their apogee and Peter Frampton was a guitar god. That tells you what Van Halen faced because they were equal parts Black Sabbath and Rick James (with a touch of Elton John).

Sure, now we can say unequivocally that Van Halen is classic rock, but at the time? They were a hybrid genre unto their own. Not quite hard rock and not quite pop. Recognizing the genius of Eddie Van Halen, FM radio programmers quickly added the first single, a re-make of The Kinks "You Really Got Me".

Many cried foul when Eddie used keyboards on 1984. Hogwash, I always point to the first few seconds of Van Halen’s first track, "Runnin' With The Devil". That song stomps and rolls right into your ears and bellows the bands presence. If there was ever a first song on a debut album that announced a band to the world, this is it.

Track two is “Eruption”, a 1:42 minute guitar solo. That’s a strong statement by any artist . . . at any stage in their career. But a new artist . . . track two, instrumental . . . on their first album? That's chutzpah.

“Eruption” was followed by the Van Halen-ing of "You Really Got Me". The Kinks? Seriously? That’s some intrepid musicianship.

The rest of Van Halen is a barrage of originality. Yes, Eddie Van Halen and Diamond Dave are unique, but to discount the contributions of drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony would be a mistake. Van Halen, the album and band, is bupkis without them.

Van Halen toured and worked hard quickly rising from opening act to headliner. By the end of 1978 the album was platinum and Van Halen were bona fide rock stars.

41 years later, and ignoring all the Page Six nonsense, Van Halen sounds just as fresh. A testament to not only the band but to producer Ted Templeman and engineer Don Landee.

Masculinity was important in 1978 and Van Halen proved that you could still rock, make catchy tunes, look good and appeal to women. They were the first to package that. From the heavy “Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love” to the poppier “Feel Your Love Tonight” to the tongue in cheek cover of “Ice Cream Man”, the band often vacillated from threatening to playful.

Van Halen announced they were not a band to be trifled with and weren’t about to be pigeon holed.

The album was a watershed moment for rock music because it helped expanded the parameters. It pushed guitar sounds sure, but more importantly, it announced that a band could appeal to both guys and girls.

With Van Halen, the band built the template for what followed: guys wanted to be them, girls wanted to be with them . . . and parents were terrified of them.

A rock band, and record label's dream come true.

Van Halen is arguably the most consistent, if not the best, Van Halen album.

Keith Higgons

Posted on April 8, 2019 11:00

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