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Album Of The Week Club: Van Halen - Van Halen

Van Halen's debut album changed the face of rock music when it was released in 1978, and, for better or worse, ushered in the era of the shredder

“When I heard the sound of Eddie’s guitar, just the pure sound he made, it was magical,” says Testament’s Alex Skolnick. “I never knew a guitar could sound like that. It just kind of reached out and grabbed me like nothing else had before.”

Sckolnick wasn’t alone. For a generation of guitarists, Eddie Van Halen was the man who changed the way in which musicians approached the instrument. But there was more to Van Halen than mere speed. Drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony provided a solid grounding for Eddie’s gymnastics, and out front they had one of the great frontman in the whooping, wise-cracking Dave Lee Roth. If ever a man was born to hog the limelight, it was Diamond Dave.

Listen to Van Halen

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Here’s what we learned about Van Halen

Background

You could argue that hard rock really needed a boost in 1978. Soft rock acts like The Doobie Brothers, Eagles and Fleetwood Mac were on the rise and selling records by the skip-load, while stadium fillers like Deep Purple, Black Oak Arkansas and Grand Funk Railroad had hit the skids. Disco dominated the airwaves, the NWOBHM bands hadn’t yet gained any traction, and punk was exploding worldwide, which was great if you embraced it, not so much if you didn’t. But in Southern California, something bright and shiny and was stirring.

Other albums released in January 1978: Angel - White Hot. Warren Zevron - Excitable Boy. Gerry Rafferty - City To City. Journey - Infinity. Starz - Attention Shoppers. Ted Nugent - Double Live Gonzo. Ronnie Montrose - Open Fire.

Guest Celebrity Review

WTF was that? Did you hear that? Holy shit. Hey, have you heard this guy Van Halen play? I defy anyone to deny they didn’t say something of the sort when they heard Eruption for the first time. Make no mistake, Eddie Van Halen is the most influential guitarist in modern rock history. No one had heard guitar played like that before.

The overall sound was, and remains, timeless. At the time, it was simply breathtaking. I’m The One, with the Eddie bounce, the genius use of the A chord and palmed riff in Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love… this record has, and still has, it all: hunger, desire, testosterone, and a Marshall stack with a genius standing in front of it. And those songs! From Running With The Devil to the bluesy intro of Ice Cream Man and the almost poppy Jamie’s Cryin’ and Little Dreamer. You just can’t beat a first record with all of the above ingredients. And the guitar sound on their cover of The Kinks’ You Really Got Me – oh, my god! Perfection! (Pat Cash, 1987 Wimbledon Men’s Champion)

What they said

Mark my words: in three years, Van Halen is going to be fat and self-indulgent and disgusting, and they’ll follow Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin right into the toilet. In the meantime, they are likely to be a big deal… Van Halen’s secret is not doing anything that’s original while having the hormones to do it better than all those bands who have become fat and self-indulgent and disgusting - Rolling Stone

These songs were never vehicles for Van Halen’s playing; they were true blue, bone-crunching rockers, not just great riffs but full-fledged anthems, like Jamie’s Cryin’, Atomic Punk, and Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love, songs that changed rock & roll and still are monolithic slabs of rock to this day. They still sound vital, surprising, and ultimately fun – and really revolutionary, because no other band rocked like this before Van Halen, and it’s still a giddy thrill to hear them discover a new way to rock on this stellar, seminal debut - AllMusic

Van Halen didn’t record their first album to be “important”, even if that’s what the record proved to be. They recorded it to be a joyride, to get them girls, to get rich. They recorded it for the same reason Elvis recorded Mystery Train, the Stones recorded Come On, the Kinks recorded You Really Got Me. They recorded it because the music was bursting out of them and because they could. That’s why, 40 years later, it still sounds perfect. Because, like the greatest rock music, it sounds unfiltered - The Quietus

For some reason Warners wants us to know that this is the biggest bar band in the San Fernando Valley. This doesn’t mean much–all new bands are bar bands, unless they’re Boston. The term becomes honorific when the music belongs in a bar. This music belongs on an aircraft carrier - Robert Christgau

Let me tell you about dinosaurs. No, ‘dinosaurs’ may be too harsh a term, even if Van Halen-style rockers do find their evolutionary fulfillment in a quick extinction. Van Halen. Big rock. Remember the names. Extinct is forever - Creem

What You Said

Jeff Tweeter: This album changed a lot of people’s lives. Most of them guitar players. It also sort of set a slightly modded template of how hard rock was to be delivered and devoured in the coming decade. A lot of good and bad came from that.

James Utvandraren: Eddie usually gets all the accolades on this album, and perhaps rightfully so. God knows I soaked up every note, every riff, every bend and every whammy bar dive, and let it shape the way I held other guitar players to a certain standard from then on. But, in all honesty, the stars aligned on this album. It is a sum of many great parts, other than just Eddie’s; all creating the perfect storm.

Richard Cardenas: This record was so ahead of its time I think it’s still relevant. From the production values to the music that was mined for it, it transcends time. Will always be one of my favorites. Not single song is a dud for me.

Chris Mitakos: No wonder why Van Halen’s debut album is mentioned almost everywhere as one of the best debuts of all time. From opener Runnin’ with the Devil to On Fire it “reinvents” Hard Rock at its most glorious. And 40 years after the release of that monument, the fire still burns… brighter that ever.

Neil Wilson: Van Halen the album still stacks up as one of the greatest debut albums of all time, and set the blue print for many that followed!

Maxwell Martello: One thing I was surprised at is that David Lee Roth plays the acoustic intro of Icecream Man. A fine blues player! The idea of a traditional blues intro followed by an electric smasher always reminded me of Zeppelin’s rendition of Sonny Boy Williamson’s Bring it on Home from Led Zeppelin II.

Ken Dunckley: Van Halen’s debut has as much impact as Meet the Beatles, Thriller, Are You Experienced or Nevermind. It literally forms a touchstone that establishes a before-and-after reality, both musically and culturally.

Ignacio Nicholson: Don’t get me wrong, there’s some great playing on this album, and while most bands struggle to be taken seriously, Van Halen sounds like pure unapologetic fun. Does it still sound fresh today? Not to me, but I think I get why it did back then.

Final Score: 9.2110 (272 votes cast, with a total score of 2506)

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Rock School kids recreate Van Halen's Runnin' With The Devil