Monday, February 6, 2012

"Van Halen" by Van Halen (1978)

View the Premise & Ground Rules for Revisiting Vinyl.

My Overall Rating of the Tracks Separately: REQUIRED LISTENING (4/4 stars) 
Seriously, if you haven't heard every song on this record, you owe it to yourself to check them out.

When I reviewed "Van Halen II," it was with heavy twinges of disappointment.  Truth is, it's not a bad record, it's just soooooo NOT "Van Halen."  As mentioned above, I consider this required listening and most of the songs are still in heavy rotation on classic rock radio, so I'm going to do something a little different this time around - in no particular order, I'm going to talk about things I noticed on this listen that I hadn't picked up on before.

Jamie's Cryin'
This has always been one of my all-time favorite VH songs.  Yet, it somehow took me years before I realized those cool drum and guitar hooks in Ton Loc's Wild Thing were sampled from it.  Go figure.

Heavy LyricsThere are some really heavy lyrics on this LP, especially from a band known for their good-time, partyboy lyrics.  Here are a couple of examples: "If you want it, got to bleed for it" - Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love and "I am the ruler of these nether worlds" - Atomic Punk.

Favorite MomentsThe songs are spectacular, but there are certain moments within certain songs on "Van Halen" that are glorious and give me chills whenever I hear them - the instrumental building intro to Runnin' with the Devil, the super-phaser solo in Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love, the a cappella harmony breakdown on Feel Your Love Tonight, that moment in Ice Cream Man when it kicks into electric and the drum fill builds.  Yeah.

Just like Jimi Hendrix wasn't the first to use a wah pedal, Eddie Van Halen was by no means the first to fingertap a fretboard.  However, just like Voodoo Chile (Slight Return), Eruption changed electric guitar playing forever.  And even as the sustain is dying out on Eddie's coming-out party, the power chords of the next track rip in.  It kicks like a mule in a great way - so much so that I hadn't noticed until today the next song after Eruption is a cover of one of the seminal distortion (and thus hard rock) songs ever (You Really Got Me, originally by The Kinks).  After instantly establishing himself as a guitar god, Eddie doffs his cap to how he got there.

Driving Music"Van Halen" is one of the all-time great driving records.  If you're in a car, you can't help but put the hammer down.  If you're not, you can't help but dance around and wish you were driving.  Even the mid-tempo tracks are propulsive.  The uptempo tracks are a speeding ticket waiting to happen.

And that green electric flame spewing out of Michael Anthony's bass on the cover is just cool.

So, (in case you couldn't tell already) is it an album?  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.

Up next, Bruce Springsteen's follow-up to one of the most ubiquitous albums of the eighties with "Tunnel of Love."

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