Only a few debut albums have such an impact that they transcend generations. Their influence is timeless, for whatever reason it may be. With their first album, released in February 1978, Van Halen single-handedly influenced a generation of glam metal bands, as well as changing the way the electric guitar was viewed in a band.
Comprised of elastic frontman David Lee Roth, virtuoso guitarist Eddie Van Halen, solid bassist Michael Anthony and legendary drummer Alex Van Halen, the band changed rock and roll with this abum. Opening with the stomping “Running With The Devil”, Van Halen showed their sound to the world. The staccato bassline runs through the song, with the simple guitar riff adding to the accessible effect. Roth’s vocals go from mid range right up to high falsetto, and truly did influence singers such as Vince Neil (Motley Crue) and Bret Michaels (Poison). Alex Van Halen’s steady drums set the foundations with the bassline, and let this song really flow.
Next up is “Eruption”, Eddie Van Halen’s legendary guitar solo track. Simply put, his playing here completely changed the way that the electric guitar was viewed and used in bands. His use of pinched harmonics and the tapping technique have been often imitated by many a guitar player, however very few have come close to bettering him. The sheer speed of his picking during the mid section of the solo is mind-blowing, and his influence is there to see throughout the last 30 years.
Following this virtuoso performance is the band’s cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”. Already a legendary song, Van Halen added an extra element, with their signature crunching guitar sound adding more “oomph” to the song. Eddie’s use of guitar figures to add more to the song in the gaps of the riff and vocals is simply genius and makes such a simple song seem more complex. The band absolutely nail the vocal harmonies spot on, and it really gives the original a run for its money.
Up next is “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”, a song possessed of one of the most original guitar riffs of all time. Eddie’s use of pinched harmonics to accent certain notes in the riff is musically perfect, and brings a totally different sound to the electric guitar. As previously mentioned, he revolutionised how the guitar was played and viewed in a band, with this riff being a key example. Roth’s vocals are somewhat restrained here, with the lyrics taking the forefront. His writing is very much underrated and it shines through here. One of the best songs on the album, and in the band’s entire back catalogue.
Next is: “I’m The One”, with its quick swinging guitar riff that set the blueprint for all the glam metal bands. Alex Van Halen’s natural swing drumming style complements his brother’s guitar playing perfectly; the groove and effect created is awe inspiring and brings a smile right to the listeners face. The way the melody follows the riff in the chorus is fantastic, as the notes are slightly off key. This sound is not often used by bands. Van Halen took a risk here, and it paid off. There’s also another rip-roaring Eddie guitar solo, which melts faces left, right and centre. This truly is a great band.
Following this is: “Jamie’s Cryin'”. This song has a deep groove to it, and a fantastic layered dual guitar line in the intro. The slowed down tempo is a wonderful contrast with the previous song. The band’s variety is something that is not often discussed, yet it really should be. Different tempos and dynamics are all through this album. As well as this sheer skill on show, this should be commended.
Next up is: “Atomic Punk”, with a real scratchy guitar intro, which sounds like it could have been written by KoRn or Slipknot. The song then delves into a bluesy swinging up-tempo riff which attacks the listener. Eddie’s view of the riff was genre changing; he brought it to the fore and defined the guitarist as a virtuoso member of any band.
Up next is: “Feel Your Love Tonight”, which has a real classic rock vibe, similar to early Whitesnake. The rhythm in the staccato guitar picking at the start sets the tempo, which the drums gladly pick up and run with. Alex Van Halen truly plays the perfect drum part for the song, in the way that he isn’t afraid to do something slightly out of the ordinary, as shown on this song. As with the rest of the album, Michael Anthony keeps things solid in the bass department. The man is the hallmark of a classic rock bass player; you know he’s there but don’t consciously realise it because the music is that tight. Take him out, there’ll be a lot of gaps in the music.
Following on is “Little Dreamer”, which is funk personified. The 70s influence on this song is great, and the variety of the band shines through again. The wonderful thing is this: Van Halen can combine so many influences, yet their sound is intrinsically their own. Very few bands can do this, and the vocal harmonies during the chorus are just melodically fantastic.
Next is: “Ice Cream Man”, a cover of the John Brim classic, which is simply the best song on the album. Beginning with just Roth and an acoustic guitar, the bluesy song soon delves into all out rock and roll, which seriously swings. The lyrics are incredible and Roth’s delivery rivals the original. If you want to hear a rock band cover a blues song properly, listen to this. In truly is incredible, and the band are clearly in their element.
Closing the album is “On Fire”, an apt title for the closing track to an album this good. This track is very upbeat, and the bass guitar takes a real audible role. The main riff however, is simply astounding. Eddie Van Halen continues to surprise at every turn, and is certainly, completely unquestionably one of the greatest guitar players of all time. The whole band here really come together for a commercial sounding incredible rock and roll song. What a brilliant album closer.
In closing, this album is probably one of the purest rock albums ever made. With it’s obvious variety of influences, the sound created is so unique, yet classic. Adding to that one of the greatest rhythm sections of all time combining with one of the best and most original guitarists and one of music’s classic voices, you’re on to a winner. What a debut. What an album. What a band.
FOR FANS OF: Motley Crue, Def Leppard, Whitesnake