US band VAN HALEN quickly established themselves as a household name in the music business, with a string of successful albums in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Their debut album is one of the highest selling rock albums of all time, going platinum multiple times and still selling well 40 years after it was released. So how does this album stand the test of time?
It is interesting following the albums chosen in the Classic Rock Album of the week Facebook group, and this is the fifth one chosen to appear there. For me, visiting and revisiting those albums as a reviewer is something of an education, listening and describing the classic albums presented there in the same manner as I approach new albums sent to me.
I’ve never been a big fan of Van Halen myself, but I have heard most of their albums at least once. It didn’t take me long to understand just why this one became popular back in the day when giving it a close inspection in retrospect, as Van Halen’s debut album kind of heralds what was going to dominate the popular music realm throughout the 1980’s.
First and foremost this is the album that gave room for the guitarist to be more dominant and more experimental as a dominant force in a band. For guitarists and ardent fans of guitar heroes alike, this album must have been quite the revelation at the end of the 70’s. Kind of filling the slot that had been vacant since Jimi Hendrix called it a day.
And while 50’s, 60’s and 70’s rock and hard rock all are given solid nods throughout, as well as the good, old blues, Van Halen takes matters on to new levels here and there too. Combining catchy chorus sections and distinct melodies with more grit and guitar power on the masterful “Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love”, for me the first of the true standout cuts on this production. And on a similar note, with effective guitar effects thrown in for good measure as well, on the just as excellent “Jamie’s Cryin'”.
But the most striking cut for me on this whole album is “Atomic Punk”, despite some silly guitar effects. As an experiment listen to, say, half a dozen of your favorite Iron Maiden tracks, and then put this one on straight afterwards. There are certain similarities, to put it that way.
The only slight letdown throughout are David Lee Roth’s vocals actually. A fine singer, serving up one of the blueprints for 80’s hard rock and metal singers to follow – cue concluding cut “On Fire” for the latter – but his vocal effects can be more than a bit annoying at times. The second half of the band’s take on Kinks “You Really Got Me” exemplifying that to me. Some of the songs have faded a bit with age as well, with “Eruption” as the prime contender. A creation that was, I presume, groundbreaking back in the day, but that for me comes across as pointless and silly as an actual song today.
Just how good this album will be deemed to be depends on many factors. People of a certain age that fondly recalls the album when it was released will praise it’s qualities, as will many guitarists and ardent guitar fans. Personally I find it to be a highly influential one, there are details here that was replicated in part or in full in most aspects of hard rock and heavy metal in the early 80s’ in particular and into the 90’s as far as hair metal is concerned. As a full album experience not a shining, perfect diamond in my view, but certainly a gemstone with many fine and some perfect features. And if you like hard rock and old school heavy metal, this is an album that deserves being heard at least once, if not for anything else than to discover it’s influence on the music you treasure.
My rating: 78/100
Runnin’ With the Devil // Eruption // You Really Got Me // Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love // I’m the One // Jamie’s Cryin’ // Atomic Punk // Feel Your Love Tonight // Little Dreamer // Ice Cream Man // On Fire