35 Years Ago: Van Halen’s Debut Album Released
Hard rock hadnât really hatched a band like Van Halen before 1978. There were groups with guitar heroes. There were metal bands that covered â60s classics with new-style flash. And there were corny frontmen with overeager libidos. But they were never tossed together into one simmering pot made up of part dinosaur stomp, part lightning-fast guitar acrobatics and part Hollywood arrogance before Van Halenâs self-titled debut album was unleashed.
âVan Halen,â which celebrates its 35 anniversary today, ushered in a new wave of hard rock. The elements that classified the music throughout the â70s were still there: wafer-thin lyrical content, a preoccupation with sex and a standing philosophy that steamrolling over everything will get you out of any tough spot. Van Halen just delivered more of it. From Eddie Van Halenâs mind-warping guitar skills to David Lee Rothâs dirty-old-uncle act, rock music needed Van Halen. It just didnât know how much at the time.
Between punk and disco, rock was barely holding on in 1978. Then came âRunninâ With the Devil,â âVan Halenââs opening track, which sounded like what Tokyo probably heard right before Godzilla attacked for the first time. Its impact wasnât immediately apparent, but now the song takes on changing-of-the-guard significance. From there, side one marches from one side of the city to the other, annihilating everything in its path: the Hendrixian âEruption,â the blustery cover of the Kinksâ âYou Really Got Meâ and âAinât Talkinâ âBout Love,â which set the template for every great Van Halen song.
âVan Halenâ isnât perfect. Side two sags in the middle, especially Rothâs innuendo-laden take of an old blues cut, âIce Cream Man,â the first of many groan-worthy moments by the campy singer. But the album inspired a generation of longhaired kids to pick up guitars and helped define â80s metal. The album peaked at No. 19, their only record to not reach the Top 10. (It eventually went diamond by selling ten million copies, as did â1984.â) But it remains their best album and their most focused. After this, it would prove somewhat difficult to control the guitar heroics, the showboating and the corny frontman with the overeager libido.
Listen to Van Halen’s ‘Runnin’ With the Devil’