I will always consider myself lucky for being teenage when the first Van Halen album was released. I had heard about it before it came out. Someone told me about a song called “Runnin’ With The Devil” and that it was really cool. It was probably getting some airplay and I had not heard it yet. I was in California at a skate contest I think it was and heard a song with that lyric over the PA system. It had to be them. It was. I bought the album the first chance I got.
I was stuck right in the middle of high school. It was a gulag. One of the only things that kept me going was the music I was listening to. Van Halen was in the mix. I remember the night before Van Halen II was released, the played the album in it’s entirety on WPGC FM in Washington DC, where I lived. I listened. We all listened. I taped it by putting my very bad tape recorder up to the radio and sat very still. It sounded horrible but I played it a few times before I bought the album.
I forget what year it was but I made my annual trip to the arena to see Ted Nugent. It was the best show you saw that year, every year. His band was lethal, and Nugent had amazing tone with that hollow body Gibson. What a show, what songs, what a man. On the third voyage to the Nuge there was a great change. There was an opening band that actually stayed in the memory. Usually the opener was a blur but this time it was a band called Van Halen. I remember they hit the stage and went into “Runnin’ With The Devil” after Diamond Dave made his drum riser leap. He acted like his band was the headliner and there was no other band on that night.
I remember very well when Eddie performed “Eruption” and the whole place was in disbelief. At the end of it, he looked down at his hands and shook his head like he didn’t know what came over him. It was amazing. The set was a monster.
Nugent came on a while later and a few songs in, people were chanting “Van-Ha-Len!” over and over and waving newly bought VH t-shirts until the Nuge came to the front of the stage and yelled, “Fuck Van Halen!!!” He then retreated to his cabinets and played the rest of the show looking down at his wedge monitors. Move over Ted!
In 1983 when I encountered Diamond Dave at an art Gallery in Los Angeles, I told him this story and he shot back the date, location and how many people were at the show. To this day, I can’t think of a better interview to read than one where David Lee Roth is full on, which means any interview of his you can find will do. He’s the mouth that scored. You wonder how he keeps it all stored in there. He’s the most quotable man in the business.
To this day, perhaps some of my most played records that I own are the Van Halen albums with Dave. They still work. To transmit on a critical level for just a moment here, let me say this; Van Halen’s perfect synthesis of bone crunching riffs and almost Beach Boys backing vocals is one of the most irresistible and potent concoctions I have ever heard in music. Perfect for radio without selling out or being wimpy. How the hell can you do that?! Something for the guys, something for the ladies. Adding to that, the presentation was second to none. That was a show. Diamond Dave really needed an arena to realize his vision and when he got one, he wasted no time. Van Halen was like the Circus coming to town, like the biggest block party you’ve ever seen and you’re on the invite list.
The proof of the band’s rock solid place in history can be found in all the bands that came immediately after VH broke. All the Eddie clones, Warner Bros. attempt to make another Dave/VH with the ill-fated Bullet Boys, how guitarists changed their approach solos. Every frontman in any hard rock band has a little bit of David Lee in him no matter what they say. Some of the stories around the band are the stuff of legend and are known the world over. Brown M&M’s – ‘nuff said.
The records themselves have lost absolutely no speed after twenty-plus years. Actually, now that I think about it, seeing where music is these days, perhaps those records have picked up a little speed! Hail the Mighty (With Dave) Van Halen!