Van Halen: Van Halen II - Album Of The Week Club review

How do you follow an album that changed the world? For the most part it's rinse then repeat

Van Halen II
Van Halen - Van Halen II

You're No Good
Dance the Night Away
Somebody Get Me a Doctor
Bottoms Up!
Outta Love Again
Light Up the Sky
Spanish Fly
D.O.A
Women in Love...
Beautiful Girls

How do you follow a humdinger of a debut album? Many have dropped the ball, from Montrose to The Darkness. But Van Halen walked it, banging out their brilliant second album in just six days. It sounds like it, too: fresh, a little loose, fizzing with energy, its air of beer-fuelled spontaneity encapsulated in Roth’s fumbled lyric and giggles on Bottoms Up! 

Shrewdly, VH didn’t try to top the firepower of the debut, opting instead for a lighter, more playful vibe, running from the jammed intro to You’re No Good (such chutzpah!) to Roth’s farewell kiss on the closing Beautiful Girls. And in Dance The Night Away, they delivered the perfect pop-metal song.

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Background

Van Halen II is lighter on landmark moments than the band's epochal debut, but largely sticks to the first album’s template apart from Eddie’s solo acoustic, Spanish Fly

“They had so many facets to what they did," says producer Ted Templeman. "They were always trying to evolve. I liked jazz guys like Jaco Pastorius and I would turn them on to what I liked, and I played them jazz.

“Eddie Van Halen wanted to do something different all the time, he wanted to keep moving. He’s one of the most creative guys I’ve ever met in my life. Ed was always reaching for something else.”

Other albums released in March 1979

  • Roxy Music - Manifesto
  • Frank Zappa - Sheik Yerbouti
  • Manfred Mann's Earth Band - Angel Station
  • The Only Ones - Even Serpents Shine
  • Eddie and the Hot Rods - Thriller
  • Chrome - Half Machine Lip Moves
  • Bad Company - Desolation Angels
  • The Beach Boys - L.A.
  • Motorhead - Overkill
  • Ian Hunter - You're Never Alone with a Schizophrenic 
  • Supertramp - Breakfast in America
  • Triumph - Just a Game
  • Magazine - Secondhand Daylight
  • Badfinger - Airwaves
  • U.K. - Danger Money
  • The Tubes - Remote Control
  • Bachman–Turner Overdrive - Rock n' Roll Nights

What they said...

"Van Halen is the latest rock act to fall out of a family tree of deadbeats whose ancestry includes slave drummers on Roman galleys, Ginger Baker’s Air Force and the street crews of the New York City Department of Sanitation. But this blockbusting four-man band is not without some outside influences. Scattered throughout Van Halen’s second album are various Vanilla Fudge bumps and grinds, an Aerosmith-derived pseudo-bravado, a bit of Bad Company basement funk and even a few Humble Pie mini-raveups." (Rolling Stone

"If the classic ratio is slightly lighter than on the debut, there are no bad songs and the best moments here -- two bona fide party anthems in Dance the Night Away and Beautiful Girls, songs that embody everything the band was about -- are lighter, funnier than anything on the debut, showcases for both Diamond Dave's knowing shuck and jive and Eddie's phenomenal gift, so natural it seems to just flow out of him. At this point, it's hard not to marvel at these two frontmen, and hard not to be sucked into the vortex of some of the grandest hard rock ever made." (AllMusic)

"Never let it be said that popular styles don't evolve - in the wake of Kiss and Boston, this is heavy metal that's pure, fast, and clean. No mythopoeia, no bombast, and even the guitar features are defined as just that. So how come formalists don't love the shit out of these guys? Not because they're into dominating women, I'm sure." (Robert Christgau)

What you said...

Shayne Ashby: Love it. I think it's my fave VH album (although any of the first four can take its place depending on the day). Of course Roth and Eddie get all the limelight but my favourite thing on this album is Alex's drumming on Outta Love Again... just brilliant. Great live vibe too and the whole band is just musically at the top of their game. One of the best rock albums of all time.

Joe Cogan: This doesn't even come close to their first album, but then again, almost nothing does. An enjoyable record that brings back memories of many parties back in the day, and the two radio hits from the record (Dance The Night Away and Beautiful Girls) are as close to perfect pop songs as anyone ever wrote.

Matt Roy: I really liked this album when it came out. Great songwriting. I particularly like Somebody Get Me a Doctor, Bottoms Up!, and D.O.A. This album was the soundtrack of many keg parties in my youth. I think it is a great album!

Philip Qvist: Right, let's not judge this album against their debut, because, like most albums, it will fall short. Judged on its own merits this is a great album in its own right; good songs that get straight to the point.

Recording your so called difficult second album, when your debut was such an iconic masterpiece, must have been a daunting task - but in my opinion, with VH II, the band pulled it off. It deserves to be heard more.

Jeff Tweeter: This was the album that introduced me to Van Halen. Right around the time, I had gotten an acoustic guitar from my parents. This was early 1980 - I was 12. I really wanted to be a guitar player when I grew up, and hearing Spanish Fly for the first time changed my life. Shortly after this, I heard the first album and - words cannot describe. It was a done deal! For many years I considered VH II as kinda sides 3 & 4 of the debut.

Scott Spalding: To me, this is where they became THEE MIGHTY VAN HALEN. The first album is an absolute rock masterpiece, but it could have been a one-off thing. We've seen it many times over the years. This one solidified them as being kick-ass no prisoners party hearty balls-out hard rock stars! In other words, (The Mighty) Van Halen for once and forever-more!

David Alejandro Cepeda Benavides: It's a good record, lighter than the previous one... but certainly they set the bar too high with their debut record, which is, for me - and I think for the majority of people - their best album. Still Dance The Night Away is one of my favourite songs from Van Halen. Somebody Get Me A Doctor and Beautiful Girls are the other songs that I really enjoy.

Matias Paniagua: Instant classic, not a floppy song IMO, just like on their debut album. With this one they demonstrated they weren't a one hit record band. Man, Roth's era was spectacular, can't understand how some prefer Hagar's, but well it's all about tastes.

Brett Deighton: Eddie Trunk often says the first four VH albums are untouchable. Hard to argue listening to this again. It’s not perfect, but even those imperfections and occasional rawness sound awesome. A truly classic album.

Mark Veitch: Out of the original six albums I put this in the bottom half. That doesn’t mean it was a bad album, its still great, but for me, VH1, Fair Warning and WACF are the top three and this, Diver Down and 1984 are the bottom three (in no particular order, but Diver Down was the weakest of the bunch for me). Difficult to differentiate though when you are talking about degrees of greatness

Jon Schubert: I was in the 7th grade when I was introduced to Van Halen thanks to my school bus driver Jim. He had his own 8-track player with car speakers mounted in the bus. Yeah he was a cool dude, but what made it even better was that he had both VH I and VH II, and he played them non-stop. 

Being the young guitarist wannabe, the guitar tone and production of VH I made it the better listen, but VH II had some memorable songs, tasty guitar, and seemed to be a less raw, warmer sounding follow up. My biggest complaint of the album is the opening track You're No Good. This is for me, my least favourite VH cover and just not a great album opener. 

Dance the Night Away is just a great rock song with a few EVH guitar harmonics and just a fun and happy vibe. Side one wraps up with three great VH rippers... Somebody Get Me a Doctor, the always fun Bottom's Up and Outta Love Again, one of those VH rockers that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. 

Side two kicks off with Light Up The Sky, another mid-tempo rocker that picks up where Outta Love left off. Eddie bookends Eruption with the acoustic and flamenco inspired Spanish Fly, showing that his two handed tapping technique isn't limited to a Marshall amplifier. 

Next up, my fave track form VH II, D.O.A.. A solid and catchy riff with some memorable and very DLR style lyrics. Who doesn't like the line about the dirty faced kid in a garbage can? Next up, Women In Love with the classic EVH guitar intro and some killer harmony vocals by Mike. Beautiful Girls wraps it all up in a very "California Sun" by way of Van Halen track. I think lyrically, musically, and attitude wise, this song best represented Van Halen moving into 1980. I often wonder what this album would sound like if it had the VH I production qualities... would I like it better? Worse? Either way, it's a great follow up to VH I and fits in nicely with the first four VH releases, as I feel that DD was the beginning of a downturn for VH

Mike Knoop: Incredibly fun album. D.O.A. and Outta Love Again were my gateway drug to harder rock and metal. You're No Good proved they owned any cover they did. Beautiful Girls showed their sense of humour - What, even Diamond Dave could get shot down? 

Shower thought: Did Van Halen inspire harsh vs. clean vocals? Michael Anthony's clean high harmonies are a perfect counterpoint to David Lee Roth's unhinged screams.

Graham Tarry: Got this when it originally came out, and remember being disappointed after the genius that was their first album. In particular the last two tracks let it down badly. The rest though is wonderful prime Van Halen

Roland Bearne: Listening to this again evokes one emotion in me: pure joy. How to be tight but loose, heavy but full of pop pep and fun. This sounds fresh as a daisy and defines "all killer, no filler". With Eddie's incredibly guitar skills, Roth's charisma, Mike Anthony's high harmonies and shrieked punctuation all locked in by Alex's snap-tight sticksmanship... wonderful. I agree, the first four VH albums are untouchable, peerless. Arguably the best follow up in the Hard Rock canon.

John Davidson: VH II is pure Californian party rock. You can hear the surf, smell the sunscreen and can't help but smile as Diamond Dave and the gang canter through the 30 minutes worth of music they laid down between trips to the beach or the bar or both.

Having single-handedly reinvented guitar wank with Eruption on the first album there isn't anything quite so self indulgent or technically impressive on VHII. And while there is more consistency in the songs there's nothing quite up there that competes with the near perfection of Running With The Devil or Ain't Talkin' Bout Love.

Outta Love starts like it will really rock out but trips up over its own time signature and never gets the groove going. Only D.O.A. comes close to recapturing the best of their previous work.

That said there are no stinkers and the frothy vibe is sustained across all the songs. A solid 8/10.

Afterthought...

I must have been a right miserable git when I was 16 because this album did nothing for me when it was released. But in my defence I was 16 and lived in a mining town in Scotland so Black Sabbath, Rush and Rainbow were a better fit for my surroundings!

Shane Reho: When taken on its own, this is a damn good album that embodies everything great about Van Halen. All the members are in peak form (even if DLR was in a cast on the inner sleeve), and the songs tend to reflect that. 

However, this album doesn't sound very much different than the first one. While not being a bad thing, it makes this feel like more of the same, which is something that wouldn't be a regularity in future VH releases. All in all, while it doesn't achieve much that the first album didn't, it's certainly an enjoyable listen. Track picks: Somebody Get Me a Doctor, Women in Love.

Juanjo Ordás: It's really hard to choose between the Van Halen original albums with David Lee Roth as vocalist (Diver Down aside) but Van Halen II will always shine brighter than others just because of his message. 

But what message am I talking about? That they were a band for everybody. Maybe it's not as gritty as Fair Warning or as formidable as their first, but Van Halen II has a trojan horse, a secret weapon if you like, and its name is Dance The Night Away, a song your mother (or even your grandma!) would dance to. Poppie? Maybe. Irresistible? For sure. We are talking about the song that would bring together boys and girls in the same arena listening to the same band. This is no macho, this is not girly, just a song easy to sing (and easier to find somebody to sing it to), with the band at its best. Roth swings with charisma and Eddie squeezes his guitar so we can enjoy licks and riffs that are pure ear candy. 

Dance The Night Away is more than just a pretty good and catchy song, is a statement on its own. Of course, we are talking about the mighty Van Halen so there's more to Van Halen II than just a song. Somebody Get Me A Doctor has one of the greatest riffs in hard rock history and Light Up The Sky has as much power as drama. It's impossible to complain about such piece of work.

Lisa Lodsun Vanden Heuvel: This album brings back some great memories. It may not be their best work but I still enjoy it. Me and my roommates used to dance around the house to Beautiful Girls!

Carl Black: You can have good ideas or bad ideas. I've never heard this album before, but I do like most of the VH I've heard in the past ,so this was a great choice. First two tracks were very subdued. A very strange choice of opening. That was a bad idea. The album gets going and Eddie's guitar work is the star of the show. His riffs and solos drive the album forward. That was a good idea. I've always had a problem with VH drum sound. Very echoey and the high hat is so up on the mix. Who thinks that's a good idea? 

The worst thing about this album is the David Lee Roth, wired squeek/eeekkkk after every line in some songs. Who thought that was a good idea? I don't really get the charisma that Dave has in spades through this album. Very good but a bit samey, with some very bad ideas. Eeekkkkkkk.

Hugh Lynch: I have never heard a VH album other than the first one with Hagar: I do, however, own the first two DLR solo records. Fans of VH are not going to like me saying this, perhaps, but this sounds like an inferior version of one of those two records. I find this somewhat dull: certainly, I lost interest around track four. Not the album, me and my taste.

Brian Carr: And the first repeated artist in our group is Van Halen. Man, what a great choice. So many comparisons between this and the debut in the comments. While the debut was groundbreaking, the dreaded American radio burnout once again wreaks havoc on this music junkie. 

The radio songs from the first album are excellent, but I just don’t get excited hearing them anymore. Conversely, I feel like I never hear these tracks on the radio, so they remain exceptionally fresh to my ears. Women In Love might be the greatest VH song to never be played on the radio - the brilliant guitar intro and those exquisite background vocals - it’s always resonated with me.

Light Up the Sky and D.O.A. are other underrated tunes. Doctor, Bottoms Up and Beautiful Girls are party tracks loaded with hooks as well as killer guitar work and Dance the Night Away is ear candy that should be overplayed, but isn’t.

Listening on headphones this week, I could tell how this was churned out so quickly. Half the tracks (or more) have one guitar part only; many don’t have a rhythm track behind the solo. But when Ed was allowed, holy crap! The chorus of Dance with the ringing harmonics in the right ear - pure magic. Van Halen II has long been a favourite of mine, and that has not changed one bit.

Final Score: 7.81 ⁄10 (169 votes cast, with a total score of 1321)

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