I found the simple life ain’t so simple.
Van Halen’s debut has been hailed by some critics as a greatest hits compilation, which is an impressive compliment given it was their initial release. This is likely one of the best debut albums ever released. It would be remiss of me not to mention the titan of Rock and pioneering guitarist of the band, Eddie Van Halen, sadly passed away this month. Find an excellent obituary by the New York Times here. Needless to say I listened to the majority of the Van Halen catalogue, before and after Diamond Dave. I believe earnestly that this is album is their finest and while I have heard albums which are technically superior and closer to my core comfort zone musically this month, Van Halen’s debut takes the biscuit for most fun.
These songs were never vehicles for Van Halen’s playing; they were true blue, bone-crunching rockers, not just great riffs but full-fledged anthems, like Jamie’s Cryin’, Atomic Punk, and Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love, songs that changed rock & roll and still are monolithic slabs of rock to this day. They still sound vital, surprising, and ultimately fun – and really revolutionary, because no other band rocked like this before Van Halen, and it’s still a giddy thrill to hear them discover a new way to rock on this stellar, seminal debut – AllMusic
The opening number of the album, Running With the Devil, sees all four musicians (Eddie and Alex Van Halen, Michael Anthony and Dave Lee Roth) on exquisite form. The central riff is infernally catchy and Dave’s vocals are stellar, as usual. It is a little known fact that Eddie Van Halen received patents for three guitar devices he designed. Below is a photograph of a patent design he sent off in 1985 to facilitate hands free playing of the guitar.
You Really Got Me is a spectacular cover of the 1964 hit by the Kinks. The bass line in this track is spectacular and highly memorable. The transition from the previous track, Eruption, is also something to be lauded most highly. They’ve given a unique fresh take on a classic track and I am absolutely thrilled by it.
Jamie’s Crying is my favourite track on the album. Dave Lee Roth is such a star to me. I’ve been a fan of his solo works for years and often play Eat ‘Em and Smile on vinyl. This is the band at their apex, that riff is exceptional. The bridge is delightful and the denoument’s guitar work is a wonderful variation on the central motif of this track.
Little Dreamer is the final standout for me on this album. It is characterised by another immensely catchy central riff. Van Halen’s guitar work is exemplary. The persistent bass is almost hypnotic. The guitar solo is so wonderfully emotive. This is another insistent catchy piece of rock and roll to which one could dance at any moment.
My five takeaways from Van Halen’s debut are as follows:
- The album is a true blue piece of USA pop history and perfectly describes where US rock was in 1978
- Eddie Van Halen’s guitar work, especially at the start of track 2, is novel, impeccable and deeply impressive
- This is a truly original piece of pop
- The songs are simple, to the point and effective
- Perhaps this is a version of point one, but I want to reiterate this is a piece of rock history
I hope you enjoy this wonderful piece of pop which has brought me so much joy this month.