Though today is a gloomy and rainy day here in my NYC Metropolis, the power of music shines as radiant as the blazing sun as we raise a glass to the mighty Van Halen and their self-titled debut album which celebrates its fortieth anniversary today. Speaking frankly, “Van Halen I” as many are apt to refer to it is a “Milestone Among Milestones” and since all the hard scoop about it is already documented on its Official Wikipedia entry (linked below), I’ll be sticking to the more personal reflections on how this album hit me as a then very young music fan. Now, as I scroll back through the sands of time to my own first go-round about the album, I must admit that I couldn’t recall hearing it when it was first released in 1978 and think that it was probably closer towards the end of the Summer of 1979. I had already been enjoying the melodies of David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Renaissance and KISS with the four masked men being my own discovery some years earlier. My folks listened to the other stuff I mentioned, and I remain very happy about their musical offerings to me.
I first learned about the existence of Van Halen on the streets of Brooklyn and while that might sound tougher than it is, its just reflecting on the times when teens spent time together outside. There weren’t home video games like there are today and while Atari had its “Pong” and I think another game, no one I knew owned a console, so you did other stuff. One of the girls in my circle of the day pulled out this sleek looking record with the cool cover and awesome logo and asked if we had heard them yet. We hadn’t, and she let us hear the track that was playing on some radio stations which was “You Really Got Me” (the bands take on the classic by The Kinks) and I have to admit that I was hooked straightaway. We also got a good listen to the guitar skills of Edward Van Halen on the “Eruption” track and I remember friends who dabbled with guitar at the time looking dumbfounded. The stuff Eddie was doing during this solo seemed like from another dimension of sound. Let’s look at the full-on album tracks before continuing.
1. Runnin’ With The Devil
3. You Really Got Me
4. Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love
5. I’m The One
6. Jamie’s Cryin’
7. Atomic Punk
8. Feel Your Love Tonight
9. Little Dreamer
10. Ice Cream Man
11. On Fire
Dissecting this release from the beginning is probably the best at this point and with “Runnin’ With The Devil” and its resounding bass chords at the onset tested the quality of your speakers. Once I owned my own copy of the album, I would turn this release up to levels that would drive the family crazy. We had moved into our own house since I first learned of its existence and I made the basement of said domicile my Sanctum Sanctorum (that’s a Doctor Strange reference if you didn’t realize). Now instead of citing which songs are my favorites from the album, I think its easiest to line out what I didn’t really take to over the years. Though it might be the favorite of some, I wasn’t ever much the fan of the song “Little Dreamer” and I’m not sure why. When you compare it against the songs that blew me away like “On Fire”, “Feel Your Love Tonight”, “I’m The One” and yes even “Ice Cream Man” it makes sense to me that this was a little too slow after all that momentum. Overall I found this to be a perfect piece of music from beginning to end but there is always going to be one or two tracks that appeal to you less than another would. That’s just the way a record hits you. What were your favorite tracks? You can let me know later.
Truthfully, this was a fantastic way to introduce the world to the brothers Van Halen, Edward and Alexander along with bassist Michael Anthony and the ringmaster lead singer that was found in the great David Lee Roth. “Van Halen” was the spark in many musicians of the times interest in their respective weapon of choice. If you played guitar you wanted to be like Eddie, drums you wanted to be Alex and so on. Personally speaking, I think the singers that wanted to be like Dave were just interested in learning that over the top charismatic personality. I ended up learning drums not long after this point and did my best at learning as much of this album that was possible. To me it was much more rational to think of doing this than some of the acrobatics being done on the lead guitar by Eddie. Over the years I was happy to find some friends being able to accomplish some of it along with those who sounded like they were skinning a wild animal and should have instead donated their instrument to charity.
In 2015, Rhino Entertainment re-issued the first six Van Halen albums as remasters and of course the debut was among them since it was here that it all began. They were identical in content to the ones that had come out several years before but were now super affordable if you didn’t already own one. I would have loved to have found a special edition, expanded re-issue done in time for the anniversary but to my knowledge there isn’t one on the to do list. That said I wouldn’t count a future one from happening. As I close this one up I’d like to thank the mighty Van Halen for delivering such a piece of music to the world and as I listen to it one more time am amazed at how strongly it has stood up for the last forty years. Every note is still fresh and exciting and that is saying something for sure. Kudos to Eddie and Alex Van Halen, Michael Anthony and David Lee Roth for such a musically impacting release. Closing up I wonder what you readers think about this latest music milestone and how it affected you as a fan of music. Were you on point from the beginning or did you catch on a few years later like I did or even much later than you anticipated. Chime in down in the comments below as all topical submissions are welcome.