In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “The band Van Halen might have been pretty hard core in their partying and excess, but there’s zero edge to Van Halen the album.”
Van Halen are one of those bands whose place in rock and roll seems so cemented and established so long ago, I can’t even imagine a time when they were cool or revolutionary. Love them or hate them, their effect on rock has been so huge, that all rock in my lifetime has been heavily influenced by the quartet in a way that means I have no context for where the ground breaking stops and their derivative latter years begin. The one way to be sure I was listening to young, hungry, and hopefully innovative Halen, was to listen to their self titled, 1978 debut.
Immediately, with Ruinnin’ With the Devil, I can hear the influence they had on the hair metal that would emerge half a decade so later. The volume might be a little louder and the vibe a little heavier, but the precision and polish of every note and beat is pop perfection. Then, it’s time for guitarist Eddie Van Halen to announce himself as the guitar god he would become known as. 100 seconds of shredding, finger tapping and guitar soloing… I wish I had been a teenager in 1978 so I could have had my mind blown by Eruption.
Which makes it the exact opposite of the totally inessential cover of You Really Got Me Going. The noodlings of Eddie and flamboyant ringleader-ness of singer David Lee Roth aren’t nearly enough to justify this song’s existence. Four songs in and the band releases the first legendary riff that would sustain this band for close to four decades with Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love. The vocals and overall song border on a little too simple, but Eddie’s guitar work more than makes up for that.
While his contribution is still strong, I’m the One is much more a showcase for Van Halen’s rhythm section. Alex Van Halen’s relentless, driving drums, combined with Michael Anthony’s thumping, rolling bass is behind everything good about this song. As opposed the Roth’s contribution, including a pointless doo-wop aside, which is just terrible.
As Van Halen rolls through songs like Atomic Punk, Feel Your Love Tonight and Little Dreamer, I have to remind myself that it was a different time back then. Because while the band gained rock stardom with this kind of stuff I 1978, I don’t think it would even be classified as soft rock in 2016. It’s way too perfect, and often even too pretty. The band Van Halen might have been pretty hard core in their partying and excess, but there’s zero edge to Van Halen the album.