Warner Brothers (1978)
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die"
During the ’70s, Led Zeppelin and other bands of a similar ilk developed their styles from simple rock ‘n’ roll into grandiose epics. By 1975, the band had gone from blues covers to eight-minute tracks featuring orchestral strings and brass, along with complex Eastern musical themes. Understandably, it was tough to sell such grand stuff as mainstream singles. On the other hand, rock fans weren’t ready to phase down into folk. They still wanted big music, but it didn’t need songs to exceed five minutes.
Enter Van Halen. Actually, to be more specific, enter guitarist Eddie Van Halen. His fretboard fireworks allowed three-minute tracks to sound just as big as theireight-minute predecessors. Guitarists were plenty talented during the ‘70s, but they tended toward modesty, tempering the "meedlies" with slower, blues-based fare. Eddie was among the first to blow the roof off the joint. He was a pioneer of tap-style playing, or tapping strings with all eight fingers, with no strumming, allowing for bigger and faster hammer-ons and pull-offs, resulting in often absurd solos. The second track on the band’s debut album, “Eruption,” is still revered as one of the best guitar tracks of all time thanks to Eddie’s hot licks, being named the no. 2 (behind Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven”) best solo of all time by Guitar Magazine.
Eddie began a trend that caught on with heavy and hair metal in the ‘80s (see Randy Rhoads, Ozzy Osbourne's first guitarist) and blew up in power metal (see Dragonforce). In terms of influence, Eddie is a big deal. But he splits listeners about as much as any guitarist. Rockers go nuts for the theatrical solos but it drives fans of simpler fare nuts. Van Halen is a tad trashy, but the band never had any other intention.
Even if instrumentals like “Eruption” don’t catch listeners’ attention, there were enough classics on this album to drive it to diamond-sales status. It started with the cover of The Kink’s “You Really Got Me,” equipped with a heavier riff and extra bits of guitar indulgence than the original. Following were the hit singles “Runnin’ With The Devil,” “Jamie’s Cryin’” and “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love.” Vocalist David Lee Roth is similar to Zeppelin’s Robert Plant in his amount of vocal theatrics. Unfortunately, he is nowhere near as talented. From my own biased perspective, I think Roth is terrible. His high pitched squeals are, simply put, annoying. But hey, the majority of Van Halen fans have declared their preference for Roth over “Van Hagar,” so I'm a clear minority.
As I just revealed, feelings for Van Halen are generally black and white, whether it’s over the vocals or the guitar playing. No matter your thoughts on the band however, there’s no denying that Van Halen had a big influence on rock to come.
INTERESTING FACT: The Kinks' guitarist Dave Davies openly trashed Van Halen's cover of the band's single, saying that they wouldn't exist without it. On the other hand, his brother Ray Davies, guitarist/vocalist for The Kinks, referred to Van Halen's take as far superior to The Kinks'.
Note that "Ain't Talkin' 'bout Love" is by far my favorite Van Halen track, but this one demonstrates Eddie's fluorishes better.