Shane’s Rock Challenge: VAN HALEN – 1978 – Van Halen
By Shane Pinnegar
‘Discovered’ by Gene Simmons playing in Gazzari’s on the Sunset Strip, Eddie Van Halen was so shy and protective of his revolutionary new ‘tapping’ fretboard technique that he would often play with his back to the audience, leaving singer David Lee Roth to make up for it with ever-more-gregarious frontman antics.
Roth combined a penchant for cocaine, a love of the ladies, a studious appreciated of Black Oak Arkansas’s Big Jim Dandy and an unstoppable motor mouth to create his own legend, and the tension between the singer and guitarist grew and grew over the following six years, eventually tearing the band apart.
For now though, they worked together rmagnificently – perfectly balanced not only with each other, but with that incredible rhythm section: Eddies bro Alex Van Halen on the drumkit and Michael Anthony on bass and unbeatable backing vocals. Together they were a force to be stared in awe at.
Simmons may have produced their first demos, but when KISS’s management told the demonic one they’d never be a hit, he dropped ‘em like a hot potato, and they were signed by Mo Austin & Ted Templeman to Warners. Templeman produced the album, and stuck with them all six with the original line-up.
VHI EXPLODES from the speakers – incendiary, outrageous, over the top, the energy between the black plastic grooves barely containable by mere technology. Even now when you press play it feels like a wave of energy hitting you, like they’re there in the room playing directly at you.
There are precious few albums that change the landscape noticeably, but this is certainly one. Suddenly every six string slinger was emulating Eddie Van Halen’s style: it’s still happening now. He’s arguably the most influential guitarist since Hendrix, at least in hard rock circles.
It’s also worth noting that this is an album in the truest sense: every track kills the pig. It’s an embarrassment of riches without a single flaccid moment. Thirty five and a quarter minutes of lean muscle.
Opener Runnin’ With The Devil is an incredible song that summarises all the band are about in just over three and a half minutes. Eddie’s guitar solo piece, Eruption, is jaw-dropping. Their cover of The Kinks’ You Really Got Me shows huge balls and chops. Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love and On Fire are just that: on fire.
Jamie’s Cryin’ and Atomic Punk provide a quirkier – punkier – change of pace mid-record, and they’re my favourite on the record for their sheer difference, exuberance and individuality.
After every listen to Van Halen you’re left feeling wrung out, exhausted, as if you’d just experienced one of their mid 70s gigs in a packed high school gym or beer-soaked pub. It’s timeless, and essential.
Filed Under: Shane's Rock Challenge
About the Author: Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE