Van Halen released their second album on this day in 1979! And it kept the party rolling…
|Release Date:||March 23, 1979|
|Recorded:||December 1978 – January 1979 at Sunset Sound Recorders, Hollywood, CA|
|Preceded By:||Van Halen|
|Succeeded By:||Women and Children First|
1. You’re No Good
2. Dance The Night Away
3. Somebody Get Me A Doctor
4. Bottoms Up!
5. Outta Love Again
6. Light Up The Sky
7. Spanish Fly
9. Women In Love…
10. Beautiful Girls
This concise follow-up to Van Halen’s self-titled debut appeared just 13 months after their first album. Recorded in three weeks and released on March 23rd, 1979, the band’s second album is a hard rock tour de force spotlighting the band’s stellar musicianship and the up-front wizardry of guitar genius Eddie Van Halen and lead vocalist David Lee Roth.
The production plan for Van Halen’s second album was simple: If at first you succeed wildly, retrace your steps and try, try again. The band returned to Studio 1 at Sunset Sound Recorders on December 10, 1978, within a week of completing its first world tour. Eddie was stressed out trying to bring the band down from full party mode. “I was trying to wake the guys up,” he said, “saying `Hey guys, we’ve got to chill out a little bit, because we’ve got another record to do'”
Within a week the album was nearly finished–despite the success of the first record, their label allegedly gave them a smaller recording budget the second time around. Many of the tracks used were first takes. Though Eddie publicly mentioned his desire to bring electronic synthesizers into the mix, no such drastic changes were made. If anything, the songs were more focused, pointed rockers–probably because the more dynamic songs had been cherry-picked into service for Van Halen.
Van Halen II kept the party rolling at full steam. At Sunset Sound they recorded with an old Putnam 610 console, a not at all state-of-the-art mixing desk that dated to the 1950s. Everyone from Frank Sinatra to the Doors to Walt Disney’s animated movies had recorded using that same equipment–a good representative survey of Van Halen’s forefathers and influences.
There were fewer dizzying peaks than the debut, but the debauchery was more up front. The record was more fun, showing that the band wasn’t just some lethal-precision hit squad from Southern California. They laughed at themselves during a bebop bit in “Bottoms Up!” and offered a timeless pop single in “Dance The Night Away“.
Though Roth’s aerial spread-eagle jump on the back cover was supposed to look like just another day at the dude ranch, it was a staged stunt for the photo shoot. On the third try, the singer landed sideways and broke a bone in his foot. The last panel in that Bazooka Joe comic could be found inside the sleeve–a photo of Roth with his bare foot bandaged, holding a cane while entertaining a bevy of nurses.
Released on March 23, 1979, Van Halen II went gold the following month, and platinum the month after that. It peaked at number 6 on the strength of “Beautiful Girls” and the Top 20 success of “Dance The Night Away“.
The record kicked off with a cover of Clint Ballard Jr.’s “You’re No Good,” also the lead track on a number 1 1974 album by California soft rocker Linda Ronstadt. Now the boys of noise were repurposing her broken heart for their own needs. Stepping lightly with a volume-swell guitar intro, the track kicked in like a comeuppance to all the feel-good mellow fellows of the West Coast music establishment.
Alex identified “Light Up the Sky” as the band’s true musical direction at the time, or at least his personal preference–a swerving metallic number with a tender underbelly, stop-start rhythms, and a flashy guitar solo. He dismissed “You’re No Good” as “somebody else’s idea of a hit single”–presumably Templeman, who remained a record company man at heart, always looking to deliver chart action from the bands he produced.
Eddie’s guitar ran thick through the mix, deftly spinning pirouettes around the thrust of the songs. He still declined to double his rhythm tracks. To thicken his “brown” guitar sound, he preferred to turn up the volume, overdrive the circuits, and let the amplifiers crackle with natural warmth. The beautiful bell-like intro to “Women in Love” would stand as one of his proudest moments.
For “Spanish Fly,” another of Eddie’s high points, he played on an ordinary Ovation nylon-string guitar. An acoustic flamenco-style answer to the electricity of “Eruption,” the one-minute solo still relied self-referentially on tapping. While guitarists were still reeling from his finger-tapping innovations on the first album, now Eddie was admonishing his acolytes with tapped harmonics, opening another vocabulary for lead guitar.
The band returned to the demo sessions for the first album, bringing back club-pleasers like “Somebody Get Me a Doctor” and “D.O.A.“. Likewise, “Outta Love Again” was one of the oldest Van Halen songs, dating to before Mike had joined the band. “Beautiful Girls” had also appeared on the Templeman demos under the name “Bring On the Girls”–the album version made the band’s horny teenage approach to courtship a little nicer.
More than on the first album, producer Templeman’s mellow Doobie Brothers chops shone through. Yet according to Roth, “When Van Halen II was recorded and ready to go, everybody at Warners thought it was a failure.” Van Halen were succeeding underneath the radar of their own corporate masters.
Van Halen II: Twice The Pleasure, Twice The Fun
The VHND review
After dropping the equivalent of a musical A-bomb and blowing the collective minds of rock fans everywhere with its debut, Van Halen returned to the studio in December, 1978 to plot its next move.
From it’s deceivingly subtle cover to the instantly familiar vocal breakdown in “Bottoms Up!” Dave, Eddie, Al and Mike did more than just record “Van Halen,” part two. Building on the well-honed tools earned through playing long nights at the local cantina they solidified the sound that would be forever associated with the name “Van Halen.”
Looking back now, Van Halen II has always been something special, a glimpse at a seemingly limitless ocean of potential from the guys you always wanted to be. The band’s attitude (the beer-drenched enthusiasm of four guys having the best time of their lives) came through the music loud and clear and it was hard for a listener not to be affected or inspired by it. It was pure musical bombast, yet “II” is often overlooked among the band’s achievements. It features some of the band’s best-loved songs but it’s rarely placed among fan’s top three picks.
Any way you cut it, VH II was a special record that will always hold a soft spot in the heart of fans everywhere.
Chances are this was the tape you made sure you had for a trip to the beach. This was the record that always made it onto the turntable at Friday night beer parties. This was the compact disc that got replaced every time your friends helped themselves to your collection. And if any Van Halen record cover was used to roll joints on, chances are that this, appropriately, was the one. This was the music that provided the soundtrack to more sunsets than any other Van Halen release.
Ed’s monster riffs in “D.O.A.” and “Somebody Get Me a Doctor” help solidify the band’s hard edge. Other songs like “Dance The Night Away” and “Beautiful Girls” helped Van Halen achieve a warm embrace from radio without having to pander to the radio format, proving Van Halen was equal parts melody and muscle.
Pictures inside the album taken by veteran rock photographer Neil Zlozower show each band member striking a rock star pose while Roth’s over-the-top antics inspire a generation of singer’s to dream about life behind the mic. And hey, the nurses aren’t bad either.
While laying waste to droves of fans and converting skeptics along the way with its incendiary live performances, Van Halen’s first world tour supporting Black Sabbath and other rock notables also helped forge the quartet into a fine hard rock machine for Van Halen II.
One could make the argument that this album solidified the band’s musical chops as well as its swagger. This is one of the few Van Halen releases that fully utilized the talents of Anthony, before he took a quieter backseat to Maestro Eddie. Showcasing his backing vocals on songs like “Dance The Night Away” and “You’re No Good,” Mike also was able to stretch out and showcase his jazz bass chops on “Outta Love Again” and “Somebody Get Me a Doctor.”
Within its first two records Van Halen captured what some fans consider the band’s most distinctive sound: The raw, raucous, high energy wall of noise that always sounded as if it was one decibel away from hitting critical mass.
Look no further than “Light Up the Sky” for proof. The song still serves as a template for the Van Halen sound. Fueled by a dense, tight performance by the band, David Lee Roth takes center stage with tales from a life lived at 100 miles per hour. The band’s trademark vocals punctuate a bridge before taking the song to it’s end. That’s not before a brilliant Van Halen solo and drum break featuring DLR’s raspy falsetto. They key here — all four players take an active roll in powering the song through your stereo right between your eyes. For fans, it was pure dynamite.
“Spanish Fly” helps re-emphasize Eddie’s importance to other musicians hypnotized by his distinctive sound. Roth’s larger than life presence creates a hero for young male fans while simultaneously creating a lusty object for females fans to desire.
Maybe the most infections of all the band’s songs, “Dance The Night Away” serves as one of the band’s best singles. There’s no better test of a single than watching someone who’s just heard it for the first time singing along with the chorus before the song’s even through.
To us, VH II was an instant classic, a mix of all the things we liked about Van Halen in the first place; unforgettable melodies packing a killer punch. A mix of songs that made the band girlfriend-friendly while packing enough sonic boom to impress the fellas.
But then, there’s always been that type of appeal with Van Halen. They’ve always offered something for everyone.
This album (Warner Bros. 3312 [31:14]) was recorded in six days and released on 03/23/79. It reached #6 on the U.S. charts (04/14/79) and #23 on the U.K. charts (04/14/79). It was certified gold on 04/03/79, platinum on 05/08/79, triple platinum on 10/22/84, and quadruple platinum on 07/05/90. The album was remastered and rereleased on 09/19/00. 5.7 million copies have been sold in the U.S. as of 2004. (It hasn’t again been recertified by the RIAA since that year, so the exact U.S. sales is unknown).
The album was recorded about a week after the first world tour ended. The band felt that the tour made them better prepared for recording than they would ever be after a rest.
The Sheraton Inn of Madison, WI, is thanked in the album’s liner notes. During Van Halen’s first tour, they destroyed the seventh floor of the hotel, throwing televisions out the windows and having fire extinguisher fights in the hallways. They blamed the incident on their tour-mates, Journey.
David Lee Roth broke his foot during a photo shoot for the back cover. He did three 12-foot leaps, landing incorrectly on the third jump, subsequently breaking his right foot. When the inner sleeve photos were shot at a later date, the foot was still bandaged and is clearly evident on the final sleeve included with the album. The third jump was the best and it was used for the shot.
Mysteriously, Alex Van Halen is absent from the songwriting credits on side two of the cassette version of this album, probably due to a printing error.
Michael Anthony used a small bass amp for his parts on the album, and for the guitar overdubs, Eddie used only one cabinet and head as opposed to his usual wall of amplifiers.
Thank god that the band decided to professionally film a bit of their concert one night during their 1979 tour, because if they hadn’t, we would have no pro-shot footage from the seventies! Three songs were filmed after the album was released, and later televised on a Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert broadcast: “Dance The Night Away“, “You’re No Good“, and “Bottoms Up!“. (Click these links to watch the videos). While this precious footage circulates on youtube in subpar quality, the band has yet to officially release it to home video, for some reason.
Credits: Most of this Van Halen II album page (and the song pages linked to from here) were written by the staff of VHND. Additionally, much of the information came from the book “Everybody Wants Some: The Van Halen Saga“, by Ian Christie, and also the Van Halen Encyclopedia, by CJ Chilvers. The Van Halen News Desk has recently acquired the VHE and we will be adding huge sections of the VHE to the VHND.
VH2 Photoshop artwork by Dean Ackerman