The Van Halen debut.. Where does one start when discussing one of the genre-defining debut albums of the 70’s, if of all time!
Written by: gdmonline
ARTIST: Van Halen
ALBUM: Van Halen
LABEL: Warner Bros
SERIAL: BSK 3075
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
LINEUP: David Lee Roth – vocals * Eddie Van Halen – guitar * Michael Anthony – bass * Alex Van Halen – drums
TRACK LISTING: 01 Runnin’ With The Devil * 02 Eruption * 03 You Really Got Me * 04 Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love * 05 I’m The One * 06 Jamie’s Cryin’ * 07 Atomic Punk * 08 Feel Your Love Tonight * 09 Little Dreamer * 10 Ice Cream Man * 11 On Fire
WEBLINKS: Site Link
How ironic. To further add completeness to all the Van Halen albums reviewed on this site, we have to go all the way back to this magnificent 1978 debut. It is the only jewel not yet reviewed, and we feel a bit silly not having covered it earlier. All the writing staff (myself included) have spoken and navigated all around this album in other articles, but none of us committed pen to paper – until now.
Where does one start when discussing one of the genre-defining debut albums of the 70’s, if of all time! Do I need to go into great detail outlining the Van Halen history prior to this 1978 success? Probably not, but we will, if only briefly. From Pasadena, Los Angeles, VH started life off as the band Mammoth back in 1974. The band eventually changed names and had a demo produced by Gene Simmons which suggested that Casablanca Records were in the hunt. Not so.
The quartet signed with Warner Bros and went into the studio during the fall of 1977. WB’s in house producer Ted Templeman, created a production which was notable for the split stereo approach, placing Eddie’s rhythm guitar into the left side of the mix, with solos placed in the right alongside Mike Anthony’s bass, though some do bleed into the left-space as well.
It seemed unusual at the time and was continued on further albums, not just here. Released in February 1978, the album would achieve gold status three months later (May 78), and eventually go platinum five months later (Oct 78). The album would go on to sell over 10 million units, and their first tour would be as support for Journey.. an interesting combination, and a tour I would have loved to have seen and been part of. Onto the record.
‘Running With The Devil’ opens the album cautiously. Diamond Dave and Eddie prowl across the soundscape with a slower tempo, but things get heated by solo time. ‘Eruption’ was the instrumental solo that created a whole new generation of guitarists across the world, the tapping and divebombing techniques would make its way into the arsenal of budding rock guitarists right up until this day, and would redefine the role of lead guitar forever.
The Kinks cover ‘You Really Got Me’ is without doubt the best version of this song outside of the original, even if it is markedly different. I wonder what the Davies brothers thought of it all when they heard it? lol! The Diamond Dave squeals, grunts and groans is the other highlight of the song!
‘Ain’t Talkin’ About Love’ is an anthem that only a guy like David Lee Roth can pull off. It sounded great back in 1978 and still does today. The solo’s are spread between the left and right mix, the middle section slows to a near halt before the energized chorus and gang vocals take us out to the finish.
The party flavour that this band is so famous for is exemplified by the fun-a-minute romp of ‘I’m The One’. Mike Anthony drives this track with his fluid bass lines giving EVH the room to do his solo stuff. The commercial near AOR of ‘Jamie’s Cryin’ is the most melodic effort here, the rich harmony vocals of Mike Anthony in particular makes this track a popular choice for repeat play on my CD player.
Then again, I love the unrestrained power of ‘Atomic Punk’ just as much, Eddie gets to stretch out a little more here, the scratch and rasp intro plus the guitar solos are off the scale! Turned up loud, the mix sounds a bit unbalanced to my ears, but at least you can hear Mike Anthony’s bass lines with the utmost clarity in the right channel. Let’s not forget Diamond Dave’s awesome vocal, which borders on demonic!
Cooling down somewhat after that previous monster effort is ‘Feel Your Love Tonight’. This is another party anthem where boy meets girl, they ride around in the backseat of the car with the radio switched on to the local rock station. You know the deal.. lol! VH venture into a little bluesy swagger with ‘Little Dreamer’, that is until Eddie tips it upside down with some sonic six-string antics.
Ice creams are always a great proposition, and when Diamond Dave convinces you that he’s the ‘Ice Cream Man’ of your dreams you better run for the hills! This is a fantastic fun track, and a great live belter for the band with DD’s sing-a-long banter ideal for a great rapport with the audience. The Elvis like outtro by Dave is a hoot!
To finish up this monumental recording, is the hard rockin’ attack of ‘On Fire’. Everything is bought together for a climactic end, with the warped chorus and backing vocals sounding like some of those early Uriah Heep albums.
Though this album was released four decades ago it still stands the test of time. It is an often played album in my household, and it still holds a special place in my life, in much the same way as a set of photographs from a certain time and place can record one’s life at that instant in time.
When I look back at the bands we’ve reviewed in the 1978 articles category, many of them pale into insignificance and sound truly and utterly dated now when compared to Van Halen’s debut – perhaps with the exception of Boston‘s ‘Don’t Look Back’, Journey‘s ‘Infinity’ along with the Toto and The Cars debuts.
As time would show, this album has since joined the top echelon of debut efforts within the hard rock industry, selling millions and being rated right up there as one of the defining moments of the genre. That, I am sure, is not even up for question.
Running With The Devil
Ain’t Talking About Love
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[DaveT] Revolutionary, a game changer, one of the best debuts ever along with Boston’s in my book. Eddie is no longer with us now. The first two songs alone are a desert island album to these ears. Rock and especially Metal would never be the same after this landmark.
[Gdazegod] Runnin’ With The Devil.. Killer! Atomic Punk and Eruption. A sonic assault. Way ahead of their time.
[bpdp3] I love the bridge of ‘Jamie’s Cryin’ (‘she wants to send him a letter….‘) where Ed is playing these deceptively simple, playful chords that are really quite brilliant. He was just a master craftsman.
Likewise the riff he plays during ‘feel your love tonight’…. just like Dave’s trying to convince the girl, Ed’s riff is just snaking it’s way around you and pulling you into that song. Very sneaky! And yes, brilliant!!
[George The Jack] The atomic punk… IMO one of the most influential riffs ever and way ahead of its time. That’s the closest thing to heavy metal they ever been. However in all honestly every single track on this album is pure magic – I’m the one, On Fire, Ice cream man, the dynamics of Little Dreamer… you name it!
The rawness, the immediacy, the in-your-face-mix where you can spot every single instrument with precision in the spectrum are unparalleled and truly second to none here! A deserted island disc for me and one that never fades or loses its shine. It will always sound current and fresh no matter how many years decades or even centuries will pass.
[bpdp3] wow George the Jack, That’s IT! This album DOES always sound current and fresh. I feel like I’m the same age I was when I first heard it EVERY TIME I hear it!
[RichardB] Agree with all the above! Sounds just as fresh and exciting now as it did way back then. Along with Boston and Montrose’s debuts – a genre defining album! Lost count of the amount of times I’ve played this over the years and still love it! Agree with you George the Jack – a desert island disc for sure.
[Jeffrey343] This is one of the early albums that got me into rock music long ago, so it is obviously of great importance to me. And I clearly remember when I first heard it – riding around with three friends right after one of them got his drivers license and had a cassette deck in his car. I have a handful of classic albums that get played a couple of dozen times each year, and this is one of them. Which is impressive considering how much music I own.