van halenVan Halen are a band that I never paid any attention to.  Overlooked them completely, to be quite honest.  I knew Jump and part of me even liked it, but it was no more than a novelty really.  Big keyboards and guitars, flourescent lights, cocaine smiles and long hair.  That was my opinion on that stuff. Then over the last year or so I started reading about Van Halen over at Mike Ladano’s place and I thought “eh?”  Then a ‘heavy metal’ loving friend gave me a bunch of albums in an attempt to broaden my musical horizons.  An attempt to get me on-board the heavy metal and hard rock train.  Among those albums was Van Halen and Van Halen II.  Oh, okay then.

Fast forward a couple of months and, a few grumbles aside, I’ve fallen in love with the band.  I hadn’t really appreciated just how unusual Eddie Van Halen’s style was.  Especially given these guys came on the scene in the 70s!  He’s definitely not your typical 70s ‘hard rock’ guitarist; most of the others are clearly influenced by the blues, while he plays all sorts of hard rocking grooves that were more angular and out the box.  A real signature sound with added bells and whistles.  How he utilised the whammy bar, the finger tapping, and the harmonics within his playing. Not just to hang, but to shred. tap-tap-hammer-on-hammer-off-tap-tap-harmonic-whammy …

Aside from Eddie there’s Roth.  Man, he just swaggers all over this record.  Confident, charming, and outright audacious.  Lyrically he doesn’t tackle much, but his character looms equally as large as the shredder.  Anyhoo …
vh1Opener Runnin’ With The Devil is outright outlandish.  The riff is brilliant, and Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony give it a prehistoric swagger.  Roth’s opening line is “I live my life like there’s no tomorrow”.  Each time I hear that riff and the swagger I shake my head in disbelief – why hadn’t I explored Van Halen further?  I mean, this is awesome.  That whole guitar thing I mentioned earlier?  All over the short guitar Eruption.  A perfect intro for their take on The Kinks’ You Really Got Me.  Brilliant stuff and a real highlight.  Roth’s vocals are excellent too – smooth yet visceral.  The high energy and the fun is dropped a bit for the dark Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love.  Probably my favourite song this one.  As much as Eddie’s riffing is great and all, Roth’s performance has a gravity to it (“I’ve been to the edge and there I stood and looked down, you know I lost a lot of friends there baby, ain’t got time to mess around…”) that sticks.  I’m The One ends the side on a high note with that monstrous rhythm, Eddie’s noodling, Roth’s flair and a whole load of fun.  They even through in some barber shop quartet / Beach Boys shenanigans.  It’s one of the best sides of music in my collection.  Really pretty brilliant stuff. Mike described it as “non-stop smoke” and I tend to agree.

The second side doesn’t quite reach those heady heights, but it’s really pretty close thanks mainly to Jamie’s Cryin’, Feel Your Love Tonight and Little Dreamer – all of which are great songs.  Jamie’s Cryin’ is the one I love most on this side – the backing vocals as well as the guitar and vocal melody during the chorus are really excellent.  Sandwiched between that and Feel Your Love Tonight is Atomic Punk, which is a bit of a diversion.  Here the band let their punk tendencies loose a bit more.  It’s strange, cause I actually didn’t appreciate this one fully until today.  Listening again after a chat with Craig Hughes last night about this album it’s hit me that the relentlessness of this is really pretty ace. Plus, the way the guitar compliments (or is complimented by) the delivery of “Nobody rules these streets at night like me – the atomic punk” is just perfect.   Little Dreamer is a slow burner with a nice stomp, great vocal and really marvellous solo.  Things are rounded off in a bit of inconsistent manner with the last two numbers.  The first of which is a swell (and less than subtle) reading of an old John Brim number (Ice Cream Man), though I’m not so keen on the closer, the throwaway On Fire.

Seriously, though – this one surprised me.  Maybe it shouldn’t have, but it did.  Big time.  I mean, here’s an album released 37 years ago by a band I thought were all cocaine smiles and big hair and it sounds vibrant and urgent and all that good stuffs (what a sentence, eh?).  More importantly, it’s just damn good fun – full of strutting and big riffs.  I love it.
back coverMy copy is a Dutch reissue and it’s in really good condition.  The cover has a few battered corners, but the original inner is in there which includes some of the usual stuff – credits and some images and the likes.

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33 thoughts on ““I found the simple life ain’t so simple”: Van Halen – Van Halen (1978)

  1. Fucking great man, and thanks for the shout-out. You’re welcome to stop by here any time!

    As monumental as this album is, I think Fair Warning is better. I think you’d like it a lot.

    “Cocaine smiles” — yeah I have a feeling they did their fair share and then some. And then some more, and some more.

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    1. Thanks, Mike – both you and Mr Hubner have me convinced that I’m gonna dig Fair Warning. You can be sure it’s high on the list. Craig suggested ‘Woman and Children First’ is another that would be right up my street …

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    1. Yeah – it’s especially nice when you find that the band actually has a load of great albums (there’s so many classic albums in The Rolling Stones catalogue!)

      A few years ago it was ZZ Top I fell for in a big way – so Van Halen is this year’s ZZ Top!

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  2. I’m with Mike, Fair Warning is the dark horse in the Van Halen canon. It seemed to have gotten swept under the hair metal of the early 80s, but really it’s their heaviest and darkest record. Dare I say their best, even?

    But that first record, man what an introduction. I remember playing pool in my parent’s basement with my brother listening to this on cassette and having this strange twinge in me whenever “Eruption” came on, followed by their excellent cover of “You Really Got Me”. This was the one that made me a fan for sure.

    I think you’d be safe with buying their first four albums. They’re all stellar. Women and Children First has some pretty choice cuts. “Everybody Wants Some” and “In A Simple Rhyme” are quite excellent.

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah – that Fair Warning is next on the Van Halen list. As I said to Mike, both of you had wrote enough about that one to suggest that I’d dig it. So that’s getting bought! So too is Women And Children First. All the Dave stuff really! I’m going Van Halen mad!

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      1. Excellent!

        But be warned, once you start delving into solo Roth, you’re on your own. It’s dangerous territory. Eat ‘Em And Smile and Just Like Paradise are worth a listen just for the Steve Vai factor. After that, abort.

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      2. I really like the cover of Eat ‘Em And Smile. Been intrigued by that long before I knew who he was! I don’t think it will disappoint. And a Spanish language version, too? Wowzers!

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  3. Since there a ton of Halen Fan Boys out there it’s great to read a spin on it by someone who wasn’t necessasirly a huge fan! Great spin on it…..enjoyed the read very much!

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    1. Thanks, sir. Fair Warning is gonna be in my collection before the year is out! You betcha! I’ll also add that Roth album. Really can’t ignore it. Looks all sorts of awesome!

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  4. Great review J. I have to agree with Mike here, I have this album on cassette too and I will definitely say that “Ice Cream Man” is a far better closer than “On Fire.” The latter does well to close side one on the cassette but not as an album closer. It also helps that “Ice Cream Man” is my favourite song on the album. I hope you will continue to explore VH and I think you’ll like Van Halen II. As for me, in the next few weeks, I’ll finally be listening to the one Van Halen album I never listened to, “Diver Down.” The reason why I never listened to it is because several guys in my unit said it sucked. Now I get to hear for myself.

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  5. Thanks! I’ve really enjoyed Van Halen and Van Halen II; you can tell they’re having a great time. And yeah – I’m planning on listening to as much Van Halen as I can! Hopefully Diver Down is a winner! I’ll look forward to your thoughts on that one!

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  6. Yup, love the Van Halen. I think common wisdom has this one and 1984 as their best – both brilliant but they were never darker/heavier/gnarlier than on Women and Children First. That A Different Kind of Truth turned out nice the other year as well. As long as Dave is on it, it’s pretty much a winner. His solo stuff’s a bit patchier – still better than the Hagar VH years, mind – but Eat ‘Em and Smile is better than great.

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    1. That’s something I’m learning as I check out bits and pieces online – I’m definitely not fond of the Van Hagar stuff. Dave all the way! (and I’ll be snapping up that Eat ‘Em and Smile album for sure!).

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  7. Aw hells yes! I was gonna do a series on these guys but it’s already been written by Mike, so I’ll just crank it and give ‘er!

    And I’m gonna be THAT guy and include this hghly entertaining isolated vocal track of Running With The Devil. DLR!

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