Van 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 …
Opener 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.
My 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.