Eddie Trunk writes about his introduction to Van Halen:
I’ve had some arguments with friends over the years when they ask, “Will there ever be another Led Zeppelin?” Because my answer is yes, and they’re called Van Halen.
To me, the music of Van Halen is that essential and timeless. Listen to any of the David Lee Roth Era Van Halen recordings today and they sound as fresh and groundbreaking as they did when they first came out in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Just like the Led Zeppelin albums, those Van Halen records never sound dated.
Back in 1978, when the first, self-titled Van Halen album came out, I was in high school and still very much a card carrying member of the Kiss Army. For me at that time, any other band was a threat to my heroes Gene, Paul, Peter, and Ace, and I would argue constantly with Zeppelin fans that Kiss was a better band. (I usually lost that one). At Madison High School in New Jersey, I was lucky enough to have the “cool” teacher for history. Mr. Chemerka – or Mr. C as we call him – new music and loved how fanatical I was about it even then. One day, during my freshman year, Mr. C told me he found the band that would eclipse Kiss in my book, a band with better guitar playing, performances, and songs. He was talking about Van Halen. I had to explore this band right away, so I ordered the first album through one of those record clubs advertised in TV Guide.
When it arrived and I dropped the needle on it for the first time, the opening sounds of “Runnin’ With The Devil” made me nervous. I knew that this was a whole new level of rock and roll – something beyond Kiss – and I had never heard anything like it before. At the time, no one had! And Eddie Van Halen’s playing – his finger-tapping technique on the neck of the guitar – was totally groundbreaking. The entire band sounded massive! Van Halen were heavier and meaner than a lot of what I was listening to it that point. I couldn’t believe it.
I quickly got a hold of myself and realized that this Van Halen was a threat to Kiss’s throne. Even though I knew Van Halen was great, I still had to fight for my favorite band. I could never be a traitor to the makeup monsters on my wall. So I argued with Mr. C every day, and he continued to torment me as the Van Halen got bigger and bigger. But one day I noticed on the back of Van Halen’s album cover that the first person named on their “thank you” list was GENE SIMMONS! I was shocked. Gene knew Van Halen! I confronted Mr. C and, after doing some digging, I found out that it was Gene who discovered Van Halen. He also produced and financed their demo. As if anointed by the gods, with my loyalty no longer in question, I was then fully willing to embrace VH – and, man, did they ever deliver!
The bands next three albums – Van Halen II, Women And Children First, and Fair Warning – are still incredible. Eddie’s innovative guitar playing is at the core of every song, but the rest of the band is equally amazing. With his blues influence, David Lee Roth’s raspy-to-wailing vocals are always exactly the perfect accompaniment to the music. Bassist Michael Anthony is not only a great player, but his high vocal harmonies also add a whole other layer to Roth’s style. Additionally, Alex Van Halen is a totally powerful drummer in his own right. The band involved within a hard rock context, continually turning out their in-your-face sound and timeless songs.
I often went to see VH back in the day, but to be honest, I was never in love with their live shows. The band always sounded sloppy, and David Lee Roth was sometimes more of a circus clown than a singer. He’d drive me nuts when he’d do nothing but stand with his arms out just soaking in applause. Or when he’d do karate moves and gymnastics while waving around a sword with scarves dangling from it for five full minutes. I think, “Hell, I could be hearing two more songs!” But I realize that many would disagree with me, as Van Halen was considered one of the best live acts at the time.
When 1984 – also the name of their album released that year – rolled around, I was working as a clerk in my local record store. I still remember rushing to the turntable and cranking the stereo the day Van Halen’s new single “Jump” arrived. I was shocked at what came out of the speakers. KEYBOARDS! A huge synth-sound and a poppy melody? On a Van Halen song? The only guitar I could hear was in the solo. While this crossed the line of what was appropriate in hard rock for me, I was again in the minority, because “Jump” became a major hit, as did the whole album when it came out.
Whenever I’m not sure what to play on the radio, I always grab one of the first few Van Halen CDs and crank up the cut like “Romeo Delight “, “In A Simple Rhyme“, “Somebody Get Me A Doctor “, “Atomic Punk“, or “Hear About It Later.” It’s hard not to be in the mood for classic Van Halen. They have something for everybody: the hooks and looks for the chicks, and the guitar hero for the guys. But above and beyond everything, they had amazing songs. When you consider that they were a four-piece band, with only one guitar, it’s mind-blowing how massive their sound was. I truly feel that like Led Zeppelin, who are still a mainstay on the radio and in pop culture 40 years after their debut, Van Halen will hold a place in the hearts of rock fans for decades to come. They will rightfully be regarded as one of the most innovative hard rock bands ever.
-This is an excerpt from Eddie Trunk’s first book, Eddie Trunk’s Essential Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. Eddie Trunk is an American music historian, radio personality, talk show host, and author, best known as the host of several hard rock and heavy metal-themed radio and television shows, including That Metal Show.
Eddie Trunk loves the Sammy Hagar Era of Van Halen as well. His thoughts on that era are HERE.