[Today: One of rock’s greatest debut albums…]
Van Halen’s debut opens appropriately enough with what sounds like a train bearing rapidly down the tracks. Eddie Van Halen comes in with some truly electric guitar licks, and David Lee Roth follows with a handful of “Yeah-eah-eah-ahs”, and there you have it: the classic components of a hard rock album in the first 20 seconds of VH’s first album.
‘Runnin’ With The Devil’ gets the party started, but track two, ‘Eruption’ is a statement of pure artistic intent. Eddie Van Halen shreds his way up and down this instrumental powderkeg, packing riff upon riff before leading into an epic reading of the Kinks’ classic ‘You Really Got Me’. If the first 20 seconds of Van Halen is eye-opening, the first three tracks are positively earth-shattering. Toss in ‘Jamie’s Cryin’ ‘Atomic Punk’ ‘Little Dreamer’ and ‘Ice Cream Man’ and you’ve got an album that’s better than many Greatest Hits.
It’s rare for any band to perfectly realize its sound on its debut album – especially a sound this audacious and forward-looking. Eddie Van Halen’s pseudo-classical guitar lines and intense speed made a neat template for aspiring metal bands, but his sheer skill on the instrument ensured that VH was always a step or two ahead of the pretenders. Diamond Dave is one of the most charismatic and loony frontmen to step in front of a mic, and the whole package was ready made for MTV’s brand of rock. Multiplatinum hysteria ensued…
In May of 1978, just three months after this album dropped, DLR told Sylvie Simmons that “The whole Van Halen concept is that we’re very straight ahead. No studio wizardry, no magic of multiple overdubbing or stuff like that. We just wanted to do a real solid, pure product without being too simplistic – that same old boring blues riff. Recording the album actually took two weeks. All of that stuff on the record is live. It’s all first take or second take stuff. I sang while the band played.”
Listen: Runnin’ With The Devil
Listen II: Eruption
Listen III: You Really Got Me