There are very few bands and guitarists in the history of music who changed the face of rock and reinvented the guitar, making everyone who thought they knew the instrument re-evaluate their knowlegde. Well, exactly 28 years ago, on 10 February 1978 came out the greatest rock debut of all times. And to this day, no other guitar album has had more impact on music the same way. Sure there was Hendrix, Clapton, Page, Beck, and many other amazing players before Eddie Van Halen, but even these shredders acknowledged Eddie’s impact and unmatchable playing and songwriting. Not since Jimi Hendrix’ Are You Experienced? in 1967 were people, both guitarists and fans, so shocked at what they were hearing when “Eruption” hit the waves, displaying yet an unmatched energy, power and technique. Simply put, if there’s one album that put guitar-oriented music back in its deserved place in the late 70’s and made it stay there for decades on end, it’s the self-titled Van Halen debut.
“Eruption” is one of the most important musical statements ever made in the history of rock. Now known as the “brown sound”, Eddie Van Halen’s monster tone, his acrobatic hammer-ons, pull-offs, whammy-bar dives, and unique trademark two-handed tapping licks on this short instrumental suggest a true virtuoso in every sense of the word. Basically, with this song, Eddie changed everything in the blink of an eye. Even the most prolific guitar players refused to believe the nasty end part of the track was actually played on a guitar, cause it sounded too much like a frenetic keyboard solo. However, what truly makes “Eruption” so timeless is the compositional mindset it entails. Eddie actually wrote this piece way before 1978. There are 1975 bootlegs of Van Halen where Eddie plays a longer version of this piece. The one that ended up on the album is a more refined yet technically challenging version. The most interesting thing about the song, however, is that Eddie recorded it in just two takes. That’s not too big a surprise for Van Halen fans though, considering the fact that this band was one of the fastest recording acts in the world and hated going over the same tune more than a handful times.
The album produced two major hits when it was released. The opening song “Runnin’ with the Devil” starts out with eight simple bass notes played by Michael Anthony and quickly launches into a hard-rocking anthem that brims with then unheard riffs and burning leads. On “Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love”, Eddie’s opening chords are epic in scope and powerful in impact. Graced with a great chorus and an impeccable back-up harmony, this song probably features Eddie’s godliest solo on the album, aside from the untouchable “Eruption” that is. Van Halen’s cover of The Kinks, “You Really Got Me”, was actually the first single of the album and yielded a lot of fan interest in the band, despite its 2:37 minute running time. The band totally made this tune their own, while staying true to its integrity, they fueled it with their immense musicality and Eddie’s soaring lead work. Another cover song on the album was the bluesy John Brim cut “Little Dreamer”, instantly catchy with its chorus. The song is special for its acoustic intro though, being the first acoustic stuff Eddie put on tape.
The other songs on the album are Van Halen’s poppier hard rock numbers that got the crowds going in concerts, with the groovy bass and sweeping guitar on “Jamie’s Cryin’”, the ballady “Little Dreamer”, and the smoking double solo-inserted “I’m the One”. Eddie does some interesting scratching sounds on “Atomic Punk”, which has some excellent backing vocals from Mike Anthony and Alex Van Halen. Eddie is “On Fire” on the last song, and his soloing is supposed to show his respect to John McLaughlin, except that I can’t put the two guitarists in the same context.
Much like their other Ted Templeman produced classic albums, this disc took a very little time to record. As with their next set of following releases, the music was recorded almost completely live with minimal overdubs. Eddie and the band would only play a song two or three times and pick their favourites. The music was recorded in only six days, while Roth took about two weeks to finish his vocals. The original sound quality wasn’t really bad, but Warner Bros decided to remaster it anyway. To this day I still consider sound engineer Donn Landee one of the best in rock. Without Templeman and Landee, Van Halen albums would lack their sonic punch in my opinion. The duo did an amazing job capturing Van Halen’s live feel on the first six albums.
It would be hard to imagine a true rocker or metalhead not owning this record. VH1 is not my favourite, but it signalled the beginning of a new era and paved the way for thousands of other bands and guitarists who would rip their songs, image, stage presence, and Ed’s chops of course.