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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Van Halen, Van Halen (1978)


Null:
I don’t think Van Halen has a “perfect” album, but this one comes pretty close.
Van Halen always had their instant radio classics that every kid born within our age borders is familiar with, for better for worse. The sound of Van Halen in the 1980s (my coming of age years) always incited a little bit of excitement. They sounded like teenage sex, cigarettes, and stealing from dad’s liquor cabinet. Their songs always made me want to be bad.

I inadvertently acquired their entire 80s catalog on cassette tapes sometime around 1988. Some kid walked up to my locker between classes and pulled out a bag of cassette tapes from under his jacket. He said, “You look like a rocker. I’ll sell these to you for $2.00 each.” I took a look at the bag of about 20 rock cassettes. I don’t remember what was in the bag other than every Van Halen tape. I told him I would buy all the Van Halen the following day. The next day I gave him 12 bucks and I had the first 6 Van Halen cassette tapes. They were in great shape too.

All the albums had good songs, but Diver Down really sucked. Unfortunately, David Lee Roth did his creepy pedophilic monologues throughout the bulk of the records. Nevertheless, most of the music was good. The debut album and 1984 were the best.

The first album has those slightly sinister guitar riffs that hant the ears on songs like “Runnin’ with the Devil,” “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love,” and “Jaimie’s Cryin.’” All great tunes. “Eruption” still kicks ass. The high octane singing on the track, “On Fire,” is still impressive. Most of the music is just rockin’ fun. However, if I never had to listen to the torturous “Ice Cream Man” again I could die with a smile on my face.

Spooner D:
Van Halen’s first record is very good. It cemented their place in rock ‘n’ roll history, then it was all downhill from there.

PaulySure:
Van Halen’s first LP is a fine album—probably their second best. The “Eruption” solo is mediocre and frankly overrated (everyone in high school was playing it on their guitar). And then the other single was a Kinks’ cover that didn’t need to happen. So why aren’t we talking about 1984? That’s an album!

Kloghole:
During my formative youth, my introduction to Van Halen happened on a visit to my cousins’ house. They lived between Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago, which granted them access to a wide variety of music. I think Diver Down was just released, and I got a quick preview. Another cousin treated me to some Kiss and “Big Balls” by AC/DC. In between his chortling, I recall my cousin trying to point out the obvious—the song was not about dances but really about somebody’s balls. I was laughing inside while I was soaking it all in. 

Unlike my cousins, I lived in a town with access to one radio station, and its lineup included the following genres: easy listening, polka, top 40 (when school was letting out, it played shit like “Morning Train”), and country. I had no real access to punk, metal, or hard rock, except for some bands that may show up on late night TV (we got two channels, three if it was cloudy). 

I am not sure when I picked up Van Halen’s self-titled album. My guess is that I picked it up after 1984 came out. I do remember it was a fixture in my dorm room, but I cannot recall it being in regular rotation on my bus route. To keep the savages in their seats, the bus driver installed a tape player and let us select the music. I am sure he was not thrilled by Quiet Riot’s “Love’s a Bitch,” and I was not particularly fond of it either. “Love’s a bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, baby.” Repeat ad nauseum. 

Van Halen’s self-titled album was one of those that you heard blaring through the dorm rooms at all hours of the day. It had enough punch in “Running with the Devil” and “Eruption” to fuel the binge drinking undergrads. I think it was also one of those tapes that people played the first side, rewound it while they got another beer or mixed a drink, and played it over again. 

I, however, liked the David Lee Roth influenced tracks and direction of the band. Once they split, I gave them both a listen, but only have CDs of Roth’s post-1984 work. Although I started out listening to the more radio friendly rock, I moved away from the commercial, and Roth’s stuff was definitely not commercially successful, aside from the airplay he got for his solo effort after leaving the band. I liked the goofy “Ice Cream Man” on the self-titled and “Big Bad Bill” from Diver Down. I played the hell out of his solo EP and enjoyed his “Tobacco Road” and “Sensible Shoes.” I am certain Van Halen fans were horrified, but Roth’s songs were out there just enough to tickle my strange sense of humor. 

Although the self-titled was a solid album, my favorite is probably still Women and Children First. “Take Your Whiskey Home” was the soundtrack to my life back then, and the last two songs had a sentimental ring to them that resonated with my pathetic love life. We probably listened to the self-titled more when we had social gatherings, just to bend to the will of the majority. Fortunately, it was an album that I did not mind hearing, unlike other popular music from the time (I allowed Thriller just once for curiosity’s sake). 

Overall, I would give Van Halen’s self-titled album two sweet sticky balls. It is a pretty solid album, especially as a debut and holds up pretty well. It would be one of those albums you could sing along to in the car if you were getting too sleepy. For that, it was at least useful at some point. 

“Give me a bottle of anything and a glazed donut … … to go!”

Sweet Dreams Motherfuckers.

Sugar Pie Honey Bun:
I miss Sammy Hagar.

Gusty Bellows:
I don’t know. They were always a radio band to me. I never had their albums.

SoDak:
Van Halen brings back a lot of memories. Van Halen was everywhere in the late 1970s and throughout the 80s—even before the complete saturation associated with 1984. They were played on the radio, at the roller skating rink, and at state fairs. I used to play basketball with the neighor, who was at least six years older than me. We would always listen to cassette tapes on a small boom box, during a game of horse or shooting hoops. When the first Van Halen record was released in 1978, he brought the tape over, excited to share what he called “the best new band on the planet.” For weeks, we played basketball, taking turns, between shots, flipping the tape between sides A and B. I fondly remember those days, intently listening to new music, internalizing each song, even if I did not care for some of them. I am sure that this experience is the reason why I have a soft spot for this record.

Side A still rocks. “Runnin’ with the Devil” is a bit plotting, but makes me think of hot summer days and being free. “Eruption” is enjoyable. “You Really Got Me” is a fine cover. I really like “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love.” The song always seemed dangerous and a bit creepy. I know that my young mind did not fully comprehend what David Lee Roth was singing about—guess I was a bit innocent at the time. Of course, this song marks the first, or at least the precursor, in a series of tunes when Van Halen includes a mellow/slow part while Roth mostly talks over the music. I like how it is handled here, but find it tiring and exaggerated on later songs—not to mention that in those songs Roth generally sounds sleazy, as if he is trying to talk someone into having sex with him. “I’m the One” is forgettable to me.

In my opinion, side B is uneven a best. I like listening to “Jamie’s Cryin.” “Atomic Punk” sounds reimescient of other hard rock songs of the period. “Feel Your Love Tonight” is okay; the chorus is catchy. “Little Dreamer” does not hold my attention. I cannot stand the song “Ice Cream Man.” It still makes me shutter. For the most part, I like “On Fire” and find Roth’s squeals amusing.  

For me, I would like to take the first four songs from side A and the first song on side B, select a few songs from other records, such as “Unchained,” “Everybody Wants Some,” “Dance the Night Away,” and (possibly) “Jump,” to make one solid Van Hallen from start to finish.

In regard to a few other memories related to Van Halen. I bought Diver Down on vinyl in 1982. I was so disappointed that I wasted my money on such a steaming pile of shit. But, I did listen to it over and over, since I was rarely able to buy records. Figured, I had to give it a try. I must admit, I do like the cover “Dancing in the Street.” A friend had a David Lee Roth poster in which his butt hair was visible due to his assless chaps. The image still haunts me.




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