It’s Day 2 of VHND’s “Fair Warning Week” celebrating 30 years of Fair Warning. So grab a cold one.
First, here’s what Smashing Pumkins founder, Billy Corgan, said about the album (from the April 1996 edition of Guitar World):
If you’ve ever seen the “Unchained” video, you’ve seen a band at its public epiphany. Beautiful and free, Van Halen ruled the world with a wink and a smirk. The rockers dressed like them and the girls all wanted to fuck them–the ultimate forms of teen tribute. When people found out that I played guitar, the question I heard most often was, “Can you play ‘Eruption’?” Such was the suburban world, circa 1981.
I used to stay at this guy’s house where my high school metal band practiced, and I remember getting up early one morning and playing along to Fair Warning. It struck me, then as now, as a mean, dark album. The worst-selling of all the Van Halen albums, Fair Warning openly displays the conflict between the party- ‘Halen front and the real hard life. This was a tired and taxed band, and if the lyrics and guitar riffs have anything to say, it is that they were living a freaky nightmare world of freaks, bleaks, decadents and hollowed souls. This is Van Halen blues as they lived it.
The album opens with an insane, virtuoso Eddie riff, daring you to try and play along. From there he drops us down and dirty into the ‘Halen “Mean Street.” The riffs are menacing, the lyrics nihilistic, and the grooves taut and funky. “Dirty Movies” flashes a prom queen turned porno queen, then segues into the standard Van Halen breakdown with David Lee Roth encouraging her to “take it off, take it all off.” Check out the third song, the double-timed “Sinners Swing!” A woman chases our humble ‘Halen narrator. Does he want her, or does she want him? The shadows are never clear on this album. And Eddie is at his guitar meanest, sounding as if every track was recorded late at night, cigarette in headstock and head down. Ed riffing into the cool California night.
“Unchained” is quintessential Van Halen. Taut voltage riffs slither into melodic lead drops, and yet another famous D.L.R. kickdown: “Give us a break, Dave.” “One break–coming up!”
Fair Warning is consistently bluesy and unrepentant, with great titles like “Push Comes to Shove” and the classic “So This is Love?” The guitar playing is vintage brown, all dirt and molasses. The album even ends oddly, the synth-creep “Sunday Afternoon in the Park” giving way to “One Foot Out the Door,” with Eddie soloing madly over out-of-control synths as Dave is chased by demons and someone’s mean old man.
Fair Warning opens a small window into the true night-world of Van Halen, moving at great speed.”
We love the imagery that Billy creates when he says, “Eddie is at his guitar meanest, sounding as if every track was recorded late at night, cigarette in headstock and head down. Ed riffing into the cool California night.”
Okay, now go with us and try this…
Imagine you are back in 1981. It’s after midnight on a beautiful starry Los Angeles night. You are producer Ted Templeman, sitting behind the control booth of Sunset Sound recording studio with engineer Donn Landee. You’ve spent the last several days and nights recording the band Van Halen performing an amazing collection of songs that will comprise their fourth album. You’ve just finished up for the night as David, Alex, and Michael rowdily leave the studio together, laughing at something Dave said, then mumbling something about trying to make it somewhere for ‘last call.’
After the door slams shut behind them, Eddie stands alone on the other side of the glass, guitar still strapped around him. Even though he’s been playing for at least eight hours straight, he begs you and Donn to stay with him a bit longer because he’s got some new ideas that he can’t stop thinking about for the next guitar solo. You know that if you stay, you won’t get home until at least four or five in the morning — again! But you also know that Ed’s got a one-track mind, and he’s been so on fire, it’s scary! So, you’re almost afraid to stop recording him now.
You take another sip of whiskey and look over at Donn. He’s probably tired, but you can sense he feels the magic too, so he ain’t about to go anywhere. You both exchange a slight smile and turn towards Eddie. You nod to the guitarist and hit the record button. Ed immediately starts shredding – on the spot, he creates a ferocious solo on his red Frankenstrat, and you simply cannot believe what you’re hearing.
Now, click the play button on the video below, close your eyes, and imagine you are in that control booth, behind that console, listening with amazement as the awe-inspiring Eddie Van Halen majestically riffs into the cool California night…