photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
for all the (deserved) attention and recognition that EDDIE VAN HALEN gets for his blazingly REVOLUTIONARY technical achievements on his instrument (as evidenced in "ERUPTION"), what often gets lost in the process is how damn CATCHY the debut VAN HALEN (WARNER BROS, 1978) record actually is. the whole album is one banger after another with CLASSIC singles like "RUNNIN' WITH THE DEVIL," "AIN'T TALKIN' 'BOUT LOVE" and "JAMIE'S CRYIN'" as well as lesser known deep cuts like "I'M THE ONE," "LITTLE DREAMER," and "ATOMIC PUNK." even the cover songs are ICONIC, i.e. THE KINKS' "YOU REALLY GOT ME" and JOHN CHARLES BRIM's "ICE CREAM MAN." this is one hell of a debut and it makes sense that other groups throughout the next decade chased its immense allure and formula to ever diminishing returns throughout the GLAM METAL era.
and i feel strongly that despite the band's moniker and EDDIE's status as a guitar god of the first order, the success of the actual group is the result of a unique chemistry made up of four musicians who each contribute to a whole that is far beyond the sum of its parts. there is definitely some interesting alchemy at play here the arguably only other TRANSFORMATIVE acts like THE BEATLES, KRAFTWERK, THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE, DAVID BOWIE or (much later) APHEX TWIN had tasted such rarified air.
take bassist MICHAEL ANTHONY who is debatably the weakest musician in the band whose bass-lines are rudimentary at best, his backing vocals which hit the high notes in a three-part harmony with EDDIE and singer DAVID LEE ROTH are as instrumental to the VAN HALEN sound as anything guitar-related. drummer ALEX VAN HALEN (EDDIE's brother) is as much of a prodigy on the drums as EDDIE on guitar and the duo very much is the LEGENDARY core of VAN HALEN and one of the great rhythm sections in ROCK AND ROLL history. its no wonder that later brothers like VINNIE and DARRELL ABBOT of PANTERA looked towards the VAN HALEN BROTHERS as standard-bearers decades on. the aforementioned ROTH is one of the great frontman of all-time, whose limited vocal range did not deter his ambitions for world domination through sheer CHARISMA and CHUTZPAH to match. the fact that his persona proved so successful is almost PUNK ROCK and DIY in retrospect since the dude is absolutely SELF-MADE. people forget but in their formative years, the band played literally anywhere and everywhere in the greater LOS ANGELES area and had a repertoire of nearly every music genre, which only cemented their on-stage chemistry and technical dexterity alike.
and then there is EDDIE. its one thing to be a VIRTUOSO player with a seemingly limitless knowledge of theory and technique, but entirely another to have the creative capacity and gift to write MEMORABLE songs. EDDIE was both. his crossover adoption of technique associated with CLASSICAL MUSIC (i.e. two-handed tapping on violin) established him as an innovator who expanded the technical vocabulary of what was possible on guitar in a ROCK AND ROLL context, but what made it relevant was how that new texture was utilized as a new emotional palette in song-form. i feel such is key in understanding his brilliance. when i hear a VAN HALEN solo it never feels excessive or overbearing, unlike many of his VIRTUOSO peers and later acolytes. his solos feel solely based in the song at hand and are often expanding on a theme and/or emotion therein. for me that innate ability to intuit such complicated musical terrain and have it musically come of not just cohesive, but emotionally satisfying is what makes him so singularly special.
if you are not familiar with the debut VAN HALEN record, definitely check it out. regardless of your affinity for what came after it, this record is a ROCK AND ROLL goldmine and well worth investigation.