February 10, 1978 is a very important date for Metal. On the very same day, two influential albums which in a sense saved Hard Rock and Metal, were released. The first, is "Stained Class", the fourth album of "Judas Priest", and the other is the amazing debut album of "Van Halen", which is the subject of our review.
In a simply cosmic and unplanned way, these two albums acted as catalysts that breathed new life into metal, on both sides of the ocean, redefined Hard Rock and Metal and becoming a very important milestone in the further development of the genres. They came out at a time when Hard Rock and Metal were in retreat, a year when Punk had established its status and Disco and Pop ruled the music world and at a time when "Rock" had become a dirty word.
Before you continue, we encourage you to read the review of the album "Stained Class", which was released on the same day and that year, only on the other side of the ocean. If you have read, then you already know that in 1978 the "founding generation" Hard Rock and Metal bands faded or disappeared from the face of earth. They became less and less relevant and were considered old, heavy and outdated.
Then, came a talented young guitarist named Eddie Van Halen. He takes the Hard Rock and Metal of the veteran dinosaurs and sticks an adrenaline syringe straight into their hearts. He replaces the sensitive finger touches on the guitar fret with brutal hammer blows, filters out the bluesy playing style and replaces it with a unique and innovative playing that redefines the electric guitar and combines tapping, quick fingering and harmonics. Now add to that the energetic appearance, the virtuosity and the sheer charisma, and you will understand why "Van Helen" saved Rock, just like that, literally.
Do not get us wrong, the revolution created by the band's debut album is not only attributed to Eddie Van Halen, absolutely not! But it just would not have happened without him.
So how do you create such a revolution? To understand this we have to go back in time, to 1972, Southern California, where the band originally called "Genesis" was formed, by brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen. The Dutch-born brothers were the sons of jazz musician Jan van Helen who played clarinet, saxophone and piano. They started learning classical piano at the age of 6. When they started playing rock and roll, Alex played guitar and Eddie on drums. But as soon as Alex heard his younger brother pick up the guitar and play more naturally, he forced him to change instruments and became a drummer himself. In 1974 they hired an amplification system from David Lee Roth and he was soon invited to join them as the band's lead singer. Roth accurately answered the definition of a "rock star." He was unusually charismatic, his appearance, attire, movements, manners were just what the band needed to become a successful. He may not have had a great voice, but his screams blended perfectly with the band's energetic sound. Bassist Michael Anthony was later recruited, to replace the band's original bassist. They immediately recognized his talent as bassist and lead singer of the band "Snake" and invited him to join them.
After the lineup was completed, the band began plowing the stages. They began to gain appreciation and audiences in the Los Angeles pub scene, when Gene Simmons from "Kiss" discovered them in 1976 and decided to produce a demo tape for them. Simmons passed the tape with a recommendation to "Kiss" record company, but they foolishly replied that the band had no chance of succeeding. Eventually in 1977 Warner decided to sign them on a recording contract.
In mid-1977, Ted Templeman of "Warner Bros. Records" was present at one of the band's performances in Hollywood. He was so impressed and within a week they had already signed a recording contract. Not only that, but Templeman also became the producer of their debut album, which was recorded in just three weeks, back in the fall of 1977. Templeton who really liked the way the band sounded Live, made sure the production would convey in the best way how the band sounded on stage. Indeed, the production was minimalist with a minimum of overdubs and effects.
The album opens up with "Running with the Devil", to the sound of passing cars. The idea to record the horns was by Gene Simmons' and they were already included in the demo tape he produced for the band. These were the car horns of the band members. They disassembled them, put them in a box and connected them to a battery powered by an external foot switch. After recording, they slowed down the sound to produce the "Doppler effect" so that the horn would sound like a passing car. The lyrics of this song were influenced by the song "Runnin' from the devil" by the funk band "Ohio Players". It apparently talks about the difficulties of a young band on stage and in ways caused "Van Halen" much trouble associating them with the cult of Satan. It has often been voted as one of the greatest Heavy Rock songs in history.
The second track "Eruption", is in our opinion the best to represents the hysterical revolution that this album has created. This short instrumental track that was the b-side of the opening song, made Eddie Van Halen and the band legends. This piece, which appears as an intro to the song "You Really Got Me", got a life of its own and bought Eddie a place at the guitarists' Olympus. It demonstrates Eddie's perfect playing technique and the sound that was then considered so innovative and unique. Not many know, but this piece is based on the intro to the song "Let Me Swim" by "Cactus" and it was not supposed to go on the album at all. It was a piece that Eddie had been playing in live shows since 1976. Eddie did not think it was good enough for the album but he rehearsed it in the studio and the recording device kept working. Templeton who heard the result insisted that it will be a be part of the album, although Eddie claims he made a mistake there that every time he heard the piece he would get upset that it had not been corrected. This mighty track, which introduced Eddie Van Halen's two-handed tapping technique to the world, became a cult piece in performances when Eddie manages to perform it even more impressively.
We have a small confession. we just can not listen to "You Really Got Me" without the introduction of "Eruption". For us, this is one song, special and unified, and it is no wonder that it's clip connects the two tracks. It's a song originally written and performed by the "Kinks", back in 1964. It is considered one of the first songs to feature a rough guitar riff, with Dave Davies achieving that sound by piercing the membrane of his amp, creating a buzz sound. It was the first single the band released. Eddie Van Halen did not like it because he thought the first single should be an original track, but the record company's bet was great, since the "Van Halen" version even surpassed the original, which was perfect in itself. Amazingly this song was the Kinks' first hit, and fourteen years later it also became Van Helen's first hit. It's a bouncy song with a perfect riff, and to this day whenever David Lee Roth releases this "wow" at 0:06 to the song, our body starts to twitch in involuntary movements.
The lyrics to the song "Ain't Talkin' 'bout Love" were written by David Lee Roth about "casual sex", that David was suspected of, as part of his "rock star" character. The music was written by Eddie and it is amazing that he thought it was not good enough and did not even introduce it to the band, until after a year. He wrote it with the aim of sounding like a parody of the Punk style that was spreading around the world at the time. Whoever makes the effort will hear in this song a recording of an electric sitar on which Eddie plays. Eddie's guitar riff in this song was sampled by "Apollo 440" in their song "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Dub".
The first side of the vinyl ends up with the fast-paced "I'm the One" with David Lee Roth's amazing vocals and Alex's edgy "Double-Kick" drumming. It is interesting to note that the band "4 Non Blondes" performed a cover version of this song in 1994 and the band's drummer had to learn the "double-kick" technique a few days before the recording.
Although the other side of the album does not reach the level of the first perfect side, there are still some memorable anthems like "Jamie's Cryin'" written about a girl who regrets a one-night stand with a guy and wants a more serious relationship. The riff of the song is sampled in the song "Wild Thing" by Tone Loc. And there's the amazing "Atomic Punk", with the palm muted strings at the opening, "Ice Cream Man" which is a cover of John Brim's 1953 song and of course the surprising "Little Dreamer" with the blues scents, Michael's beating bass and the two harmonic vocals that accompany David Lee Roth.
"Van Halen" became one of the most successful debut albums of all time, whose impact on the Hard rock and Heavy Metal scene was substantial. It became a big hit around the world, when just five months after its release it had already sold a million copies in the US only. The album continued to sell like crazy until it entered the prestigious "Diamond Albums", with sales over 10 million copies.
And if that's not enough, this album is included in the "Rolling Stone" Magazine's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, as well as that magazine's 100 Greatest debut Albums of All Time. The instrumental track "Eruption" is at the top of every possible greatest solos list and among other the second place at the list of the greatest solos of all time by "Guitar World" magazine.