Van Halen

Van Halen

Van Halen’s 1978 debut was earth-shattering. From the slow-mo car horns that open “Runnin’ with the Devil” to the bass-burst fade-out that closes “On Fire,” Van Halen—affectionately known as Van Halen I—changed the hard rock and heavy metal landscapes forever. Eddie Van Halen single-handedly rewrote the lead guitar playbook with “Eruption,” his fret-tapping, neck-snapping solo instrumental that has haunted Guitar Center employees for decades, while David Lee Roth’s vaudevillian-acrobat showmanship set a new template for rock ’n’ roll vocalists everywhere. And bassist Michael Anthony and drummer Alex Van Halen formed a high-powered rhythm section for the ages, made all the more impressive by Anthony’s pitch-perfect backing vocals. Plus, Van Halen kicked out the party jams. “Runnin’ with the Devil” had nothing to do with the satanic posturing that would engulf heavy metal a few years later. With lyrics inspired by the Ohio Players’ “Runnin’ From the Devil,” Van Halen’s opening track is a celebration of the open road and the indulgences that come with it. The song is soon followed by “Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love,” which was initially conceived as a punk parody, and echoes the album’s party-hearty philosophy: We’re here for a good time, not a long time. Featuring some of Eddie’s most famous guitar-playing, “Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love” is often credited with jump-starting the hair metal movement. Nowhere was that changing of the hard-rock guard more apparent than on Van Halen’s 1978 tour, in which the group opened for Black Sabbath: While the Sabs were sluggish and uninspired, the members of Van Halen were like a Fourth of July fireworks display, full of sound, color, and youthful energy. Elsewhere on Van Halen, the frenzied guitar workout “I’m the One” features a barbershop a capella break that perfectly captures Van Halen’s sense of humor and varied talents. The teenage breakup tune “Jamie’s Cryin’,” meanwhile, didn’t hit the chart after it was released as a third single, but enjoyed a second life when rapper Tone Loc sampled it for his 1988 hit “Wild Thing.” And one of the heaviest tracks on the album, “Atomic Punk,” shows off Eddie’s dizzying chops while Diamond Dave spins a yarn about a nuked-out night crawler cruising the streets for illicit kicks (that song is followed by “Feel Your Love Tonight,” the first of many California feel-good hits Van Halen would deliver over the next few years). Much to Eddie’s consternation, the band’s cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” was chosen as the first single. While it got the desired attention, it remains a puzzling choice, given the quality of the band’s original tunes. And it’s not the only cover here: “Ice Cream Man” starts off as a relatively faithful rendition of Chicago bluesman John Brim’s 1953 acoustic ditty before Eddie Van Halen-izes it by turning the last 90 seconds into an extended guitar solo. Then there’s “Little Dreamer,” one of the album’s overlooked gems. With its strutting groove and spacious arrangement, the song feels almost ominous—until Anthony slides in with those angelic doo-wop harmonies. In many ways, he’s the unsung hero of the album—and of Van Halen—lending his sweet pipes to so many of the band’s best tunes.

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