Guitar Legend Eddie Van Halen Gone Too Soon at 65, RIP Eddie, #EVH

*Photo taken by your heartbroken blogger of the inside album sleeve from ‘Fair Warning’

I am simply gutted by the news that I heard today. Eddie Van Halen, guitar legend and band leader has died after a long battle with throat cancer at the tender age of 65. I was just sitting down to read a chapter in Ted Templeman’s autobiography about Van Halen recording Diver Down when I saw on Twitter we’d lost Eddie. Eyes full of tears I couldn’t possibly read that story at this moment so I put the book down. I love Van Halen and I always have. Van Halen was the ultimate party, good-time band and Eddie Van Halen was like a God to many of us… a Guitar God. For those of us who came of age in the late ’70s/early 80s, Eddie Van Halen is our Jimi Hendrix. My heart goes out to his whole family and all of his fans out there. I was literally thinking this weekend, I wish Eddie would put out some music.

My love of Van Halen – the band and the guitar player – dates as far back as my love of rock and roll. His playing is a part of the rock n roll DNA for me. I think their debut, Van Halen, was like the second or third album I ever purchased (Album Lookback: Van Halen – The Smirking Menace of Their Debut at 40). It was the first time I bought a band’s debut album when it was actually debuting. I’ve been on the bandwagon ever since. Everybody loved David Lee Roth’s class clown act but the real reason we liked that album was the guitar. We’d never heard sounds like that before. I think every guy in my junior high school owned that first Van Halen record… and anybody who didn’t, well you didn’t want to know them anyhow. I listened to that album continuously. I was drawn in by “You Really Got Me” but let’s be honest, it was “Runnin’ With the Devil” that caused me to finally buy the album. The song that made the Eddie Van Halen legend was track 2, simply and appropriately titled “Eruption.” It is perhaps the greatest guitar solo ever recorded. The sound was otherworldly. Nobody played that fast. We had all heard the rumors that when Eddie played he didn’t face the crowd, he was hiding his technique (which turned out to be true, he didn’t want anybody to see his revolutionary method of “finger-tapping” up the neck of the guitar which literally changed how the instrument was played). The power and menace of his playing is palpable. Van Halen is the perfect guitar record.

I have so many memories… I didn’t buy their second album (until later) but I had Woman And Children First on cassette. I’d blast that album in the car. I never realized Eddie was playing keyboards on “And the Cradle Will Rock…” until years later. I’m not sure any of us knew that Eddie played keyboards until “Jump” came out. Van Halen was the perfect blend of Eddie’s guitar (and keyboard) sound and Roth’s sense of humor… “His folks aren’t overjoyed” has always been a favorite lyric. Oddly enough, when my girlfriend and I would go to the drive-in with beer and pizza, I’d always take a boom box and Woman And Children First was the cassette I always played. Fond memories of that…”In a Simple Rhyme” is an under appreciated gem. Years later, the Rock Chick and I would love cranking up “Everybody Wants Some” and just reveling in the “awesomeness.”

Fair Warning was for me, simply a masterpiece. Eddie’s guitar playing was perhaps at it’s most muscular and menacing. The tour in support of that album was the first time I saw Van Halen in concert. I think after that the only tour I missed was the one for OU812 because I was in exile in Arkansas. I can still close my eyes and see the band playing “Mean Street.” We had great seats off to the side of the stage. Roth was standing an elevated platform on the opposite side of the stage. He went into the rap at the end… “Now a gun is real easy, in this desperate part of town…” and when he gets to the end and says “Lord, Strike that poor boy DOWN,” Roth fell to the floor like he’d been hit. Suddenly a spotlight flashes on and Eddie Van Halen is standing on the platform on my side of the stage. His playing was incendiary. That guitar solo is etched in my mind like it was last night. What he did to that guitar that night may be illegal.

Diver Down is an album I have always associated with summer. It came out the year I went to college and it was the soundtrack to my post-high school summer. It was rightly on my ultimate summer LPs list (Memorial Day Kicks Off Summer: Go-To Summer LPs (Beach Boys Need Not Apply)). 1984 is the album they’re probably most remembered for and it was an absolute classic. “Jump” their foray into keyboards was a wildly popular track but I always preferred the other keyboard track “I’ll Wait.” Only Eddie Van Halen could conquer both guitar and keyboards. That was the first tour that I saw Van Halen twice, once in Wichita and once in Kansas City. While they’d reached new levels of popularity, alas tensions with in the band – that began when Roth objected to Eddie marrying actress Valerie Bertintelli – erupted into open conflict and Roth and VH split.

Van Halen continued on with Sammy Hagar on lead vocals – commonly referred to as Van Hagar. I still dug them, In Defense of Van Hagar, No Really… Complete With a B&V Van Hagar Playlist. I think they were fundamentally a different band, obviously, but still a great guitar sound. Eventually relations with Hagar soured as well and eventually Van Halen went silent. Now it appears the mighty guitar of Eddie Van Halen has been silenced forever. I saw them in 2012 on the reunion tour with Roth… Roth had mostly lost it but Eddie’s guitar was still razor sharp and worth the price of admission.

There will be debates about where he ranks in the pantheon of guitar greats. He’s top 2 or 3 to me. I never saw Hendrix but I did see Van Halen so I’m biased. Eddie absolutely changed the way lead guitar was played. Every rock and roll guitarist who came after him was influenced by Eddie Van Halen. There would have been no Randy Rhoads without him. Every guitar player in the 80s should be sending royalty checks to Eddie. Make no mistake the world has lost one of the greatest guitarists to ever play the instrument. Van Halen and Eddie’s guitar were and will always be a big part of my love of rock and roll. He brought great joy, excitement and beautiful noise into my life. So many beautiful notes… from “Spanish Fly” to “Cathedral” to the intro for “Little Guitars.” I am deeply saddened tonight, as I’m sure most rock fans are. The Rock n’ Roll flag will be at half mast here at B&V for quite a while… A part of my youth has died… As my friend Doug texted me, “Bummer… this feels really close.” I think we all feel that way.

It’s a dark ride folks, enjoy it while it lasts. RIP Eddie Van Halen, the greatest.

Rock N Reunions We’d Love To See But, Alas, Will Never Happen

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*Images taken from the internet and likely copyrighted

The dreaded Holidays are upon us. With Thanksgiving on the books, we can now officially shift our focus to Christmas. Actually once Halloween hit, the stores shifted their focus to Christmas so I guess we’re behind schedule? Ah, unchecked materialism’s high holy season. The Holidays seem interminable. I have long ago confessed my feelings about the Holiday season, Confessions of an Ex-Grinch: My Christmas Epiphany. I will say, meeting the Rock Chick aka Mrs. Claus has helped turn my Xmas attitude to a more positive place. I will also admit, I’m a huge fan of Thanksgiving. I show up, drink a bunch of wine, eat a bunch of turkey and sit drowsily in front of football games on television. I give thanks knowing not everybody can celebrate like that these days. Other than St. Patrick’s Day, where I go out and drink in the streets with the rabble, you can’t beat Thanksgiving.

The Holidays can be seen, through a gimlet eye, as a mini-family reunion of sorts. On Thanksgiving, we always head over to my parents’ house. I see my brother, an in-law or two, and my aunt and uncle. They’re all great people. It’s a nice, small, controlled group. We all had enough practice veering the conversation away from politics in the Bush era that there aren’t any screaming fits accompanied by thrown plates anymore. And in our defense, that only happened once and it wasn’t in the presence of my Sainted Mother, thank God. Invariably, this small gathering of relatives and occasional stragglers turns the conversation to reunions.

For as long as I can remember, my dad’s family has been having family reunions every August. I’ve never understood the need to get everybody together on an annual basis, but hey, it’s what they do. And then they talk about the reunion for the rest of the fucking year. It’s inescapable. When I was a kid, like 12, every year I was drug out to a little farm house on the outskirts of a small town in Southeastern Kansas that was filled with people. I was a shy kid and going to this reunion was like watching someone give a cat a bath…unpleasant doesn’t cover it. My parents procreated right out of the chute – I was born 9 months after the honeymoon. Nobody else had kids with that kind of alacrity. The family reunions consisted of adults – from their 30’s to their 90s – and children who were infants to kids maybe 5 or 6. And then there was me… I was right in the middle. Not adult enough to get drunk with these semi-strangers, not young enough to play with the kiddos. My brother, the old soul that he is, would sit with the 90 year olds and talk about the heat. For me, it was 12 hours of wandering around a large farmyard, or across the street to a strip-pit (created by coal mining) that was basically a small lake that we weren’t allowed to swim in. The strip-pit’s water glimmered in front of us like the window of a closed ice cream shop. Cool and wonderful in the August heat but you couldn’t get in. I had nothing to do out there.

This has naturally colored my opinion of reunions of any kind in a very negative way. It wasn’t until I discovered that many rock bands have reunions that I realized there could be positive reunions. I’ve never even attended a High School reunion. And believe me, there have been plenty of opportunities, I graduated a long time ago. I grew up in Kansas City, but on the Kansas side, then moved to the Missouri side as an “adult”… It’s like I moved to Paris. I never see any of those people, but I know they’re out there just over the state line. I went by my 10 year reunion only to meet a friend. I thought we’d slip away from the maddening crowd and get a beer only to find out my friend had gone sober on me which was bracing because the guy could really party back in the day. I ended up sitting in a hotel room surrounded – and I mean surrounded – by sleeping children. It’s not that I was upset about it, but when I was that young, children frightened me. I still demure when someone wants me to hold a baby… I fear I’ll break it. I figure I’ve stayed in touch with anybody I wanted to from high school and I don’t need to hit the reunion circuit to compare myself and how I’ve done with everybody else still standing.

The only reunions I’m down for involve rock and roll bands. I was so immersed in music as a teenager and young adult, it felt that these guys (and gals) I was reading about in liner notes and Rolling Stone were like friends of mine. I was emotionally invested in these bands and many of their members. I certainly feel that way about the Stones. I recently saw that the feuding Robinson brothers have reunited the Black Crowes for a tour next summer. I greet that as good news. Motley Crue caused a ruckus when they announced they’re taking back the “no more tours” contract they all signed to much fanfare and are going on tour next year. I say bravo! We need kick ass hard rock in our lives. Many people long for bands to reunite, get back together, record and tour… Wasn’t it Billy Joel who once sang, “Oh baby you got nothing to play on your stereo, “Why don’t the Beatles get back together.””

I have people all the time who say, usually in a bar, “I wish XYZ band would get back together. I never got to see them.” I personally prefer these old bands record a little something new… if the chemistry is there, fuck radio, record an LP. Motley Crue had three or four good, new tracks on ‘The Dirt’ soundtrack. Hell, yes! However, even though I enjoy a band reunion as much as the next rock n roll fan, and certainly much more than a family or high school reunion, I’m pragmatic about it. There are just some bands who are never gonna get back together. While I’d love to see anybody on this list reunite even just to tour, I fear it’s just not gonna happen. I’m here with a wake-up call for you rock n roll dreamers. If any of these bands are on your Rock Reunion Wish List, alas, I’m afraid you’re not gonna see them. I limited this list to bands who have all or at least a majority of their key members still alive… I don’t have the Beatles on here as its only Paul and Ringo now. As much as I love Ringo (Peace and Love), without John Lennon or George Harrison, it ain’t much of a reunion. If a band has all original members on this side of the dirt, one has to wonder why won’t they try and make it work again? Whether it’s egos, money or chemistry gone sour, these bands just aren’t going to stage that reunion.

  1. Led Zeppelin – Even Pete Townshend said recently, “Robert (Plant) would make a lot of people happy if he’d just agree to a reunion tour.” While true, I think Plant has refused to reunite with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones for a Zeppelin tour because he fears the massive expectations that come with it. I loved the 2012 Celebration Day concert/album…they’ve still got the fire. Jason Bonham, John’s son filled in admirably. Plant won’t even record with Alison Krauss because they had such wild success he can’t face those expectations. He’s never coming around on this.
  2. Pink Floyd – After years of slagging David Gilmour, Nick Mason and the late Rick Wright, Roger Waters has pursued a reunion with these guys like a teenage boy pursing a cheerleader on prom night. Gilmour has wisely refused save for a 1 off concert years ago. With Wright gone it’s likely too late. But lets face it – there’s no way Gilmour is going to forgive the hateful shit Waters has said over the years.
  3. Van Halen – Roth can’t sing anymore. Not that he ever really could. The last time I saw these guys Roth looked like he’d had a lobotomy. Dr Rock once described their live album as sounding like a “pet store burning down.” Eddie and Alex Van Halen have become the Howard Hugheses of rock n roll… who knows wtf those guys are doing. Eddie has even bagged on Michael Anthony, the only nice guy in the band. Hell, I don’t think the the VH brothers would even entertain working with Sammy again. Sad, indeed, sad.
  4. The Faces – Rod’s management has him focused on money, money, money. It’s a shame he Ronnie Wood, Kenny Jones and while still alive Ian McLagan couldn’t have worked it out. Even with Ian gone, I’d have rather heard a Faces record than this symphonic crap Rod just put out. It’s just too late. Ronnie Lane has been gone a long time too… maybe that’s why Rod refused… but my gut feel is his management was demanding the lion’s share of the money. Sigh.
  5. No Doubt – I saw these guys in concert with the Rock Chick and fell in love with this band. Great bass, drums and guitar… alas Gwen Stefani is more focused on building her own brand and cosmetic surgery to actually commit to her original band.
  6. R.E.M. – After recording two great, late period albums these guys called it quits with more of an exhausted sigh than a bang. They seem content to just release archival stuff,  and revisiting old albums and the accompanying bonus material. They all still get along and Bill Berry is still knocking around out there. It’s baffling but these guys seem done.
  7. Rush – The same story for R.E.M. could be told for Rush. The Prog-Rock giants did their last tour and that was it. I read that Neil Peart doesn’t even have a drum kit in his house anymore. Geddy has written a book and is doing a book tour… Alex Lifeson is likely loaded somewhere in Canada. They were great the last time I saw them but as the kids say, “they done.”
  8. Simon & Garfunkel – I’m not a huge fan of these guys, I actually prefer Simon on his own. But these guys were old friends… I hate too see this kind of animosity near the end.
  9. The White Stripes – Sure, I love Jack White on his own and with the Raconteurs (LP Review: The Raconteurs’ (Jack White) ‘Help Us Stranger’) but I miss that primal White Stripes’ sound, driven by Meg White’s drum… Come home Meg, all is forgiven. She’s the Greta Garbo of rock, she wants to be alone.
  10. CSNY – I don’t think anybody will talk to Crosby, let alone work with him. He’s even admitted what an asshole he is. When Young left his wife for Darryl Hannah, Crosby was vocally critical. Hint: Don’t bag on your friends squeeze if you ever wanna see them again… trust me on this one, I learned the hard way.
  11. Oasis – Despite Liam’s begging Noel will never work with him again. Liam actually questioned the paternity of Noel’s daughter. I have loved Liam’s two solo records but he’s a terribly unpleasant man… don’t ever air guitar in the front row at his show, he’s brutal.
  12. Jeff Beck & Rod Stewart – For odd reasons Rod turned his back on the Faces but has always been receptive to working with Beck. Jeff even showed up and played a 5 or 6 set encore at Rod’s last Hollywood Bowl show. I’d love to hear these guys tear into some blues, with or without Ronnie Wood on bass. Jeff Beck is just too much of a stubborn asshole to make something substantial happen.
  13. Fleetwood Mac and Lindsey Buckingham – Stevie Nicks is now the spiritual leader of this band. It would appear that her distaste for Buckingham has spelled his doom with this band. He also recently had surgery that may have damaged his vocal chords… I hope not. He’ll never work with Fleetwood Mac as long as Stevie is alive.
  14. Guns N Roses – I was delighted Axl finally reconciled with Slash and Duff. I get that Steven addled Adler doesn’t have the chops anymore but I’d sure like to see Izzy Stradlin back in this band. He was one of the key cogs in the songwriting and if they ever want to do a new album, they need him. From what I hear, the evil money is the reason they won’t let Izzy come back. They offered him a salary vs a full cut not the ‘Not In Our Lifetime’ tour.
  15. Red Hot Chili Peppers & John Frusciante – Come back John, we need you. They wouldn’t even have to fire Josh, they could morph into a 5 piece. I think Josh is a better rhythm player anyway and then Frusciante wouldn’t have to do so much heavy lifting. Never going to happen though. Frusciante, rock and roll’s Vincent Van Gogh is clearly never coming back and it appears the Peppers have moved on albeit in a less rocking direction.

Those are my top 15 bands I’d love to see reunite who, alas, will never get back together? Who are yours? Let me know in the comments section.

Cheers!

In Defense of Van Hagar, No Really… Complete With a B&V Van Hagar Playlist

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*Image of happier times taken from the internet and likely copyrighted (*not pictured, the hideous Alex Van Halen, for reasons that are obvious)

Early in our marriage, my wife and I got into the habit of going down to the basement, cranking up tunes and having what we called a drunken, rock and roll, dance party. Well she danced, I more lurched. She would usually DJ, but I always got some input. It was during one of those festive evenings, after I’d just dropped the needle on a Van Halen tune, sung by Sammy Hagar,  that the Rock Chick put her hand up in the universal “stop” gesture. It was then that she unburdened herself of a deep, dark secret she’d been keeping since we’d met… something I had never suspected. “I hate Van Hagar,” was all she said as she shook her head “no” to the tune I’d selected. We’d been randomly listening to Van Halen, both the Roth version and the Hagar version for years. I’d never suspected she didn’t like the Sammy incarnation of the band. I mean, no one likes the Gary Cherone version, but Sammy? It seems she liked Van Halen, she liked Sammy Hagar, just not together.

I’m not naive, I realize there is a divide between the Roth camp and the Hagar camp. It’s just that there was never any question for me when it came to Van Halen, the Roth albums are the best, period. I think when Roth left and Hagar came into the fold, the band fundamentally changed. It’s not fair to compare the early VH albums to the latter, Van Hagar (if you will) albums – they were, in my mind, different bands like Rage Against the Machine versus Audioslave. Same musicians, different singer, completely different bands. I was always disappointed that Eddie didn’t change the name of the band once Roth took off (or was fired, depending on who you listen to) but Ed’s name is on the side of the truck, I get it. It was Eddie’s world we all just lived in it.

People tend to view music in chronological decades. The sixties brought us the Beatles and the Stones, the seventies brought us Led Zeppelin and Bruce Springsteen etc. I’ve never looked it at it that way. The music of the early 70s was a lot different than the music of the latter half of that decade. I came of age, musically anyway, in the late-70s. Van Halen was one of the foremost rock bands that came out of that era. It’s hard to understate how huge they were as an influence. Before VH most of us in the late 70s were listening to what our older siblings listened to. VH was ours! When they appeared with their seminal first album, (Album Lookback: Van Halen – The Smirking Menace of Their Debut at 40) it was like nothing we’d ever heard. Eddie’s guitar sound, the way he played up the neck, hammering strings with his finger tips was all revolutionary stuff. But as important as all that was, David Lee Roth was equally as critical to the success. Roth had a swagger and menace combined with a crazy sense of humor, a mix I haven’t seen since. Roth was, to put it simply, just fucking cool. He was in his 20s but his lyrics were like that of a high school kid, “have you seen junior’s grades?” Roth was the guy we all wanted to be.

I suppose such a lightning-hot band couldn’t hold together for long. The personalities were bound to implode the group. After the success of Fair Warning they were supposed to take a much needed break, but somehow ended up recording Diver Down and immediately touring. I’m sure nerves were frayed and everybody was tired. After that there was a lot of conflict about Eddie wanting to play keyboards. Roth kept saying, “you’re a guitar god, nobody wants to hear you play keyboards.” I blame Michael Jackson for a lot of that. Once Eddie showed up on a purely pop song, “Beat It” and his guitar solo fueled it to number 1, globally, I think Eddie thought that it didn’t matter who was singing or what type of song it was, as long as that magic guitar solo played. I think that is what ultimately made Eddie decide he could live without Roth. And of course Roth had to go out and do an EP, Crazy From the Heat. I’m sure that didn’t help.

In retrospect, it was going to be impossible for anybody to fill the shoes of David Lee Roth. Hell, even in 2012, Roth couldn’t fill his own shoes when he got back together with the rest of Van Halen for the reunion album, A Different Kind of Truth. As my buddy, the accountant said years ago, “Roth did jujitsu on stage, Hagar does calisthenics.” They certainly lost that great sense of humor when Roth left as well. Roth was the party, Sammy was the guy who brings the tequila to the party. While Roth was no Steve Perry, Sammy was a shouter. And Roth’s lyrics, while not Elvis Costello or Tom Waits-like, are preferred to Hagar’s lyrics which are, and I’ll be the first to admit it, borderline stupid. For example, a line I’ve never gotten over, “Only time will tell if we stand the test of time.” Think about that line for a while. It’s like saying “only Fred will tell us if we stand the test of Fred.” Well, it’s Fred’s fucking test, of course he’s going to be the one who tells us if we “stand the test.” But I digress… I mention all this just to say, again, Hagar fundamentally changed the DNA of the band. No one was going to live up to the original VH so to compare them is unfair.

I will say Hagar brought a camaraderie to the band they hadn’t seen since the early days. At least through 5150 and OU812 it seemed like everybody in the band was enjoying making music again. I remember a friend of mine telling me that OU812 was the new Fair Warning… well, it was certainly a grim record (without the menace), but you can’t compare the two. However, if you put the original band aside, these guys made some solid, if not really good harder rock. I think the whole Monster’s of Rock tour thing was Sammy’s idea. Sammy always pushed Eddie to think outside the box like Zeppelin did (Sammy loved Zeppelin and wanted to push in that bluesy direction). The results really never materialized other than “Finish What You Started,” which started as an acoustic/Zeppelin III thing Sammy wanted to do.

I went back and listened to the four albums Sammy and the brothers Van Halen did – with Michael Anthony on bass and harmony vocals, let’s not forget him, he’s a key ingredient – and those records aren’t bad. In fact, those records are pretty damn good. There may not be a Fair Warning or Women And Children First but there’s some fine rock and roll. They even put out a few decent tracks on greatest hits records. I went ahead and put together a play list of Van Halen tracks, but only from the Van Hagar albums. I feel these are the “best of Van Hagar” if you will… I’ll let the music do the talking. The Rock Chick has a blistering VH playlist but the Sammy tunes are missing… she also has an AC/DC tunes with virtually no Bon Scott. What can I say, she likes what she likes. Purists… what are you gonna do? I think this playlist will show you, this was not a bad band, it was just different from the original. Listen with fresh ears!

  1. “Best of Both Worlds” – My favorite track from 5150.
  2. “Don’t Tell Me What Love Can Do” – Yes, Hagar shouts random stuff about shooting, heroin, and shooting heroin but this song RAWKS. They were clearly in a bad place on Balance.
  3. “Top of the World” – From F.U.C.K.
  4. “Poundcake” – Love the riff on this one.
  5. “Up For Breakfast” – Great riff with Sammy’s kinda ridiculous lyrics about having sex when you wake up.
  6. “Judgement Day” – A great deep track from F.U.C.K.
  7. “Dreams” – I mostly avoided the keyboard stuff, but I loved the video with the Blue Angels flying around.
  8. “Feels So Good” – The most positive song VH ever did.
  9. “Right Now” – You couldn’t escape this song.
  10. “Black and Blue” – The first single and my favorite track from OU812.
  11. “Can’t Stop Loving You” – A bit poppy for my taste, but catchy as hell.
  12. “5150” – The title track… It’s police code for “insane or unstable persons who might be a danger to themselves or others.” Great riff and Sammy’s lyrics rise to the occasion.
  13. “Humans Being” – A track from the movie, ‘Twister.’ It’s mostly Sammy shouting about something I can’t understand but man, this rocks.
  14. “Mine All Mine” – One of Hagar’s finest lyrics… For once he’s not singing about chicks and getting loaded.
  15. “Summer Nights” – The first track Sammy wrote with VH.
  16. “Why Can’t This Be Love” – “Only time will tell if we…” oh, fuck it.
  17. “Man On A Mission” – Another hard rocker.
  18. “Finish What Ya Started” – Began as an acoustic number…
  19. “Runaround” – Another hit from F.U.C.K.
  20. “A Apolitical Blues” – A Little Feat blues cover? On a VH album? This was a bonus track but I love it and it’s a perfect way to end the list… they’d never have done this without Hagar.

Happy Labor Day Weekend Folks… I’ll be making the annual transition from vodka to bourbon over the weekend. Stay safe and don’t drink and drive. I don’t want any of you to end up “face down in Cabo…”

 

 

Album Lookback: Van Halen – The Smirking Menace of Their Debut at 40

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I’ve been traveling a lot lately. It’s hard to keep up with what’s going on in the world, especially considering how much is actually going on. All of that aside, I saw last month that on February 10th, Van Halen’s self-titled, debut album turned 40 years old. I was thirteen when that album came out and while that seems like a lifetime ago, I didn’t think it had been forty years, or an actual lifetime. As Dylan sang, “Time is a jet plane, moving way too fast.” I saw several of the rock websites and magazines give mention or even full articles to the anniversary, but I couldn’t help but think back to my own experience with this landmark album.

As I’ve often mentioned in the pages of B&V, the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls was the first album I ever purchased with my own money. It was money my Sainted Grandmother had given me for Xmas. She didn’t want to be the one to buy me Some Girls because the back cover was an old-time add for woman’s bras. Grandma was concerned those images might corrupt my young mind… oh, little did she know, that cat was out of the bag. My actual first album ever, which was a gift that Christmas, was Steve Martin’s Wild And Crazy Guy. Comedy albums used to be, as we say, a big fucking deal. Everybody had a copy of that album and would perform the bits in school to make the girls laugh, but that’s another post.

What I don’t often talk about, are the albums I bought after Some Girls. I had been a bit of late bloomer when it came to music. If my brother hadn’t insisted that my mother turn the radio to the rock station in KC, KY/102, while I was in the car, I never would have heard “Shattered” and gotten on this whole rock n roll train. Well, I probably would have, but it would have taken a lot longer. After hearing the Stones that fall, I started tuning into KY/102 regularly. Previously I had only turned on the radio to listen to sports. My God, I was missing out. After hearing the Stones, the world of rock and roll was rapidly opening up to me. Well, as much as it could in the midwest.

While I bought Some Girls over Christmas break of ’79 (again, I was late to the party), buying more albums came slower. To purchase an album you had to have almost $10, a major investment in those times. The second album I ever purchased, was the classic debut album, Van Halen. It had been almost the constant soundtrack of my early rock and roll experience, how could it not be my second ever album? Hearing that band, at that time, you had to own Van Halen’s debut or you had absolutely no street “cred.” We were young, experimenting with beer and other things, and girls were taking up more and more of our mental capacity… Van Halen captured all of that energy in one album.

I can still remember the spring of ’79, eager to show off my new stereo, after riding our bikes around the neighborhood one weekend (pretending we were a motorcycle gang), where there may have been some herbal remedies invoked and drinking a stolen 40 ounce beer between four of us, we made our way back to my room. I unveiled my turntable/radio/cassette unit and two big speakers to my friends. I had just made a major investment on this new album and played Van Halen’s debut three or four times. I decided to show off my depth of music and put my only other album, Some Girls on the stereo. I can still remember my friend (who to protect the guilty, I’ll call) Paul saying, “Dude, put the fucking Van Halen back on.” That’s how huge that record was for us. We listened to it constantly.

1978 was a weird time. The energy and fury of punk was slowly evolving into “new wave” best represented by the music of say, the Cars. Disco was still a poisonous and potent force, especially with my mother, sadly. The legendary rock stars of old had gotten slow… The Stones had sort of captured and absorbed the punk thing on Some Girls. Punk seemed to wake Pete Townshend out of his torpor and he at least came up with a response on “Who Are You?” Springsteen took a huge stylistic left turn from Born to Run and turned up the anger and the guitars (or perhaps the angry guitars?) and put out Darkness On The Edge of Town. Less successful at dealing with punk were Led Zeppelin who just added synths (although that might have been because Jimmy Page was in a heroin cocoon) or Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham with his experiments on Tusk. 

Hard rock was somewhat lost. Kiss was really big at the time, even with some of my comrades. I never got that. I didn’t like Kiss… Aerosmith were at their peak, but they never had the commercial reach of some of the older bands. Judas Priest and the new British metal were doing great things, but you didn’t hear a lot of that out in KC, or at least I didn’t get into that until much later in high school. We were too young to even realize the gravity that rock and roll, hard rock or heavy metal was in such peril. Enter Van Halen.

Their debut wasn’t without controversy. Many critics panned it and the band, especially for their lyrics. They thanked Gene Simmons on the album cover (he’d recorded some demos for them) and the biggest, most nefarious rumor, to my friends and I, was that Van Halen was actually Kiss without their make up. I remember a group of my friends staring at the inside sleeve picture of Michael Anthony, Van Halen’s bass player and harmony vocalist, and thinking, “Hmm, that might be Gene Simmons with his hair dyed.” I laugh now at what a big deal that was to we, the rock purists, a group I had only newly joined.

But my God, the music on this album. It was like nothing we’d ever heard before. It’s always hard to understand the magnitude of something that is so vastly influential that it colors everything that comes after it. The riffs that Eddie Van Halen played had no precedence in the Ritchie Blackmore, Jimmy Page, blues-based riffs we’d all heard before. Aerosmith, while good, didn’t really break any new ground. They were heavier, perhaps. You could draw a line from Chicago Blues to the Stones/the Yardbirds to The Jeff Beck Group to Led Zeppelin to Aerosmith. You couldn’t draw a line from anything to Van Halen. It was like Eddie was a space alien who had landed with his guitar to teach the world to shred. Nobody played like him. It wasn’t until I saw video of him playing up the neck of the guitar that I realized how he was doing some of this stuff. In the early days of Van Halen, Eddie played with his back to the crowd so other guitarists couldn’t rip him off. The song “Eruption” was the most amazing thing we’d ever heard. It was more influenced by classical music than anything I’d heard in the blues rock dominated scene of the time. There would have been no Randy Rhodes without Eddie Van Halen.

Looking at the inner sleeve of the record, and the pictures that had been taken at The Whiskey after a gig, these guys looked like the coolest people on earth. David Lee Roth, the lead singer, was THE MAN! Clearly these guys had discovered what Jeff Beck said when he recruited Rod Stewart to be his front man. The dudes come to see the guitarist, the chicks come for the big, blonde, good looking guy on vocals. There was a menace to the music of Van Halen, but Roth gave it a smirking wink. On the track, “I’m the One,” a great rocker, there’s a barbershop quartet breakdown right in the middle. Out of nowhere. Only someone as cocksure as Roth could have pulled that off. “Bop Bop Shoobie Doo Wah…”? What? Roth and Eddie’s yin/yang thing was magic. Every front man who came after him in the 80s, and many of them sucked, were emulating Roth… Don’t blame him for the pale imitations. Roth was, and in some respects remains, the ultimate teenage boy, full of lusty innuendos and drug references.

The first track I ever heard on the radio was their definitive take on “You Really Got Me,” a Kinks cover. I had to be told by a friend that it was a Kink’s cover. In Van Halen’s hands, they made it their own. The song that drove me to my piggy bank and then to the mall was the epic “Runnin’ With the Devil,” a song that still scares my mother. Although once Valerie Bertinelli married Eddie, she said, “Well, he must be a nice boy after all…” Jesus, mom. “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” was another epic, menacing rocker. I read somewhere that to record that track, Roth had been fasting from pot and booze and bad food. When he just couldn’t get the vocal right, he called for a cheeseburger, coke and a joint. After consuming all three, he stepped in and nailed the vocal in 1 take.

“Jamie’s Crying” was as close to this album came to a ballad. It takes the viewpoint of a young girl besieged by horny men after only one thing… “Atomic Punk” is a riff that still is so epic and so original that 40 years in, I’m still not over it. It makes me stand up every time I hear it. The most Roth song here is the only other cover, “Ice Cream Man.” Roth is at his comic best on this one. He starts off with “Dedicate one to the ladies…” In his day he was both cool and funny.

I listen to this album and even at the ripe age of forty it still sounds fresh and original. I wish these guys could have held it together after the wild success of 1984. At this point I’d settle for another reunion album, although this time, I’d like to hear Michael Anthony on bass and harmony vocals. I think that, like Pink Floyd, this is a band we’ll never hear from again. But I urge everyone who is a fan of rock’n’roll and hard rock to purchase this album. It’s essential to any collection.

Cheers!