Listen To This Eddie is a weekly column that examines the important people and events in the classic rock canon and how they continue to impact the world of popular music.
In 1977, after years and years toiling in obscurity in rough and tumble bars on the Sunset Strip, massive backyard parties around the San Fernando Valley, and a go-nowhere demo session with Kiss’s Gene Simmons, Van Halen finally secured a deal with a major label to release their first album. With three weeks of studio time and a $54,000 budget, guitar savant Eddie Van Halen, his bombastic drummer brother Alex, bassist Michael Anthony, and their over-the-top frontman David Lee Roth cooked up one of the most jaw-dropping debut albums in history.
Fueled by copious amounts of alcohol, the promise of carnal delight, a whole lot of angst, and some of the wildest guitar solos anyone had ever heard before, Van Halen captured the imaginations of pissed off teens from coast to coast when it dropped on February 10, 1978. At a time when rock was either taking itself too seriously with dense, intricately orchestrated prog-projects or not seriously enough, like so many flash-in-the-pan punk outfits, Van Halen showed up like saviors, ready and eager to get the party started. You can almost smell the quarter-filled cups of stale beer and cigarette butt-filled ashtrays as you pore through its 11 tracks.
On the occasion of Van Halen’s 40th anniversary, I thought I might run through the 40 different reasons why it remains one of the greatest albums ever made.
1. The logo. How many high school-aged kids defiled the covers of their notebooks or the insides of their textbooks with that iconic “VH?” Gotta be in the millions right?
2. The cover, which is vastly superior to their icy, initial choice. You can’t put the lead singer in the background with his eyes closed, c’mon!
3. Eddie’s “Frankenstrat” guitar, which he built himself with his own bare hands, because Eddie Van Halen is unf*ckwitable.
4. The haunted wail of car horns that opens “Runnin’ With The Devil,” which was a mishmash of Alex’s Opel, Eddie’s Volvo, a Mercedes Benz and a Volkswagen.
5. When Roth says, “G*ddamnit baby, you know I ain’t lyin’ / I’m only gonna tell you one tiiiiiiiime.”
6. Every single one of Roth’s vocal ad-libs on this song. “A lot of that comes from old blues records,” he explained in his autobiography Crazy From The Heat. “You go, ‘Bopedy bop blah, baby, all night long.'”
7. The first 43-seconds of Eddie’s mind-melting instrumental showcase “Eruption.”
8. The three seconds of silence in the middle of “Eruption” when you think the song is over.
9. The last 54-seconds of “Eruption,” which introduced the blazing-fast finger-tapping technique to a wide audience for the first time, and defined the sound of metal guitar for the next decade.