By Dan Haggerty
Running With The Devil
Eddie and Alex Van Halen started their music career humbly as kids in the 60’s. Eddie played the drums and Alex played the guitar. That rather odd sounding arrangement came to an end when, according to Eddie, Alex would sneak onto his drums so one day he just gave up and told Alex “OK, I’ll go play your guitar”. That would be a decision that would work out well to say the least.
They would form a group called Mammoth with a dude named Mark Stone on bass and Eddie as the singer as well. They did do auditions for the role of singer but were not happy with the tryouts. This included a failed audition by one David Lee Roth. They did end up going back to Roth since he had a sound system they could use. This would end up being the line up until 1974 when the band found out another band had their name. At the same time they replaced Stone with a bass player/singer named Mike Anthony. With the now classic line up in place and a name change to the brothers name, things started to roll for the young band from Pasadena.
Thus began a campaign of performing live at any show they could and ruthlessly promoting themselves on foot and by flyers. From clubs to parties, high schools to the Sunset Strip, the band worked hard to get momentum. After scoring a demo tape at the (now gone) Cherokee Ranch Studios they became a staple on that Sunset Strip they would make famous. They didn’t know it, but they were laying the groundwork for what was going to be ground zero for the hair metal revolution to come, something the band ironically never was (despite the wishes of video producers or Dave’s image).
In 1977 Paul Stanley saw Van Halen play and promptly brought in KISS mate Gene Simmons to check the band out. Well, he brought Simmons in to see them and another band (now defunct) who ironically had George Lynch playing guitar (what a small world). Gene liked the band instantly and after the show and got them plane tickets to New York to sign to his company and record a demo. From there things proceeded to fall apart, ironically. Eddie disliked the recording demo they did for Simmons due to the equipment. Simmons wanted to change the band name to “Daddy Shortlegs” (seriously, what the fuck), and the final blow came when KISS’ manager told Simmons that Van Halen “… had no chance of making it”.
So, in one of the stupidest business moves in music history Simmons let the band go.
And of course, today, he takes credit for discovering them.
But the good news is that the band was signed to Warner the same year after one of their managers saw them play. In fact, they got them signed and scheduled into the Sunset Sound Recorders studio in mid September after seeing them play live once. It was onm to a demo then into the studio proper. Here, Eddie found the equipment he wanted and even got the recording he wanted.
And the rest is, as they say, history. From here we pick up the story through the albums…
And with the sound of a passing freight train and a bass heart beat Van Halen greats the listener with a new state of the art hard rock sound that would put the idea of Aerosmith into a new generation of punters. A vital blast of sound that is arguably the greatest debut of all time (going into over time against Boston and Guns N’ Roses) that unhinges the concept of arena rock band, packing a singer with more swagger than legal, a guitar player breaking rules left and right, the bass player up from like a vital tour de force, and those drum shots firing like shot gun blasts. Sabbath scared a generation, Deep Purple got those kids to pick up the guitar, Aerosmith partied with them, Priest took your friends off to forbidden lands, then Van Halen shows up to drink your beer and nail your sister.
The band was inspired by Montrose’s self titled debut and went about making an album like that, going so far to even get the same producer (Ted Templeman) and keeping the recording low budget with limited takes. What you get is an honest and real rock album that features a band going for it, letting it all hanging out, and hitting a homerun while doing so. More energy and experience then a band this new should show, more power and edge for a band runnig raw through the studio. This thing was a revolution on vinyl and that revolution was going to be broadcast.
The tracks are like mini-statements on the form. Opener “Running With The Devil” basically improves and updates the Sabbath riff-show to California showmanship (and for now it is a good thing). “Jamie’s Crying” manages to be party rocker without feeling like party rock. “Atomic Punk” redefines the form and blazes with said atomic power, Eddie pointing to the 80’s and putting the industry on notice. Speaking of the axe madman himself, “Eruption” is without a doubt the most famous guitar solo of all time, Eddie making the art of tapping mainstream while institutionalizing his love of soloing left, right, and center without the rhythm in sight (or even the band). Toss in the Kinks’ cover “You Really Got Me” (predicting a trend that won’t go away until 1984), and the blues party swagger of “Ice Cream Man” (born from Eddie getting sick of Roth “playing with the guitar wrong” so he taught him a scale) and this is one for the history books.
From here an institution was born that would go on two rampages in two different eras (marked by two different singers), starting here by reigniting a rock and roll scene waiting for the next big thing to replace punk, for better and worse heralding the Sunset Strip that will become the cornerstone of the 80’s.
The year was 1979 and metal was fading with the decade. Right? Wrong! We take a look at Motorhead’s Overkill, AC/DC’s Highway To Hell, Led Zeppelin’s In Through The Out Door, Judas Priest’s Unleashed In The East, and Van Halen II!
A continuation of what we got on the debut, perhaps a little more predictable since this basically follows that same rules all the way to the hit cover tune. But really, when you have a style this new and hot, why would you deviate? Van Halen as an idea and music force is now realized and proven to be no one off even if this is noticeably different from the debut mostly due to the sound from a DIY production job and the band rocking out a little more.
You get more bass again in the thumping “Bottoms Up!” while “Somebody Get Me A Doctor” combines the band’s strut with Eddies riffs to rumble the joint. “Beautiful Girls” and “Dance the Nigh Away” are you radio staples still being played somewhere in America. “DOA” just kicks ass.
In an era of uncertainty, there is an energy and hopefulness to Van Halen that is infectious and that intangible “it’ that will make them megastars. From Eddie’s guitar swinging that is the first band in years to make kids want to go out and pick up the axe, to Roth hamming it up on stage all the way to endless posters emblazoned on school lockers, you can feel the history unfolding with this band.
This is a continuation of the debut, but yet it isn’t that album. Less impact but in many ways more in command. Good times indeed.