Van Halen – “Van Halen” (1978)

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 no time to mess around.
— “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”

I think Van Halen was my first favorite band. (♠) When 1984 came out they were about the biggest rock band on the planet and I was a 12-year-old living in Columbia, South Carolina who was addicted to a new thing called MTV. I had the Van Halen painter’s hat and I wore it all over town. I had Van Halen buttons. I saved Van Halen pictures from Hit Parader. They were the first band who’s back catalog I not only explored, but actually purchased – within a year I had all six Van Halen albums on vinyl or cassette.

But it was tricky. Because I fell in love with synthesizer Van Halen… and that was only 1984. I wasn’t fully capable of appreciating blues-rock Van Halen. But even then there were songs that stuck out. “Runnin’ With the Devil,” “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”, and the insane instrumental guitar solo that is “Eruption”, these were the parts of the band’s 1978 debut that I couldn’t get enough of. Those and, of course, “You Really Got Me”, a song I didn’t realize was a cover until a year later when I bought a Kinks greatest hits tape specifically so I could could listen to “Lola” on repeat. Remember kids, there was no internet then, and I had no way to understand what the credit to Ray Davies meant on Van Halen.

I haven’t owned a copy of Van Halen in a very, very long time – best guess is 20+ years. And holy shit, this is a great record. As in truly great. Side A ranks up there with the best sides of rock (or any other) music all-time. Sure, I remembered the combustable combo of Eddie’s guitar and David Lee Roth’s lyrical style that sort of loosely flows around the song structures. But even on this, their first record, Alex’s drums are phenomenal (see “Atomic Punk”), and Michael Anthony’s harmonizing is both average and perfect at the same time – it’s the ideal accompaniment to Roth’s vocals. And what other rock band in 1978 could throw a “bop badda, shooby do wah” into a song and make it not sound ironic? (♥)

I know two things after giving Van Halen a couple of spins this week. (1) I will be playing this a LOT more, and (2) I’ll be buying the four other David Lee Roth era Van Halen records as I come across them.

(♠) I certainly my have written this about another band as well… but at this moment, I think it’s true.

(♥) In fact it sounds amazing.

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