Film & music editor, Michael Hann, (From The Quietus & The Guardian) professes his passion for Van Halen, whom he describes as “the most important and influential rock band apart from the Beatles.” Hann really gets how Van Halen totally reinvented hard rock and how David Lee Roth helped make them much more interesting than the other rock bands at the time.
From The Quietus:
Why Van Halen Are The Band The Velvets Could Only Dream Of Being
By Michael Hann, August 31, 2017
The Beatles are the only rock band who can surpass Van Halen’s influence, argues Michael Hann as he sets out the stall for the legacy and greatness of David Lee Roth and his flowing-locked pals.
There’s one thing pretty much everyone knows about Van Halen, which is that their contract rider for gigs contained the following stipulation: “There will be no brown M&Ms anywhere in the backstage area or immediate vicinity, upon pain of forfeiture of the show with full compensation.” The popular notion was that this was proof of Van Halen’s rock star pettiness, their selfishness, their capricious remove from the realities of normal life.
The reality, as David Lee Roth explained in his magnificently gonzo memoir Crazy From The Heat, was somewhat different. The M&M clause was hidden deep within the band’s technical requirements, as test of a promoter’s attention to detail. “So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl … well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something, like, literally life-threatening.”
Nevertheless, this is the kind of thing Van Halen get remembered for. For M&Ms. For groupies. For big hair. For acrimonious splits, in which charter members – Roth, bassist Michael Anthony – are dispensed with and banished. For being the embodiment of a particular strain of California rock: shallow, self-obsessed, narcissistic, substance-free, sun-kissed and empty. That, to a certain kind of music fan, is the Van Halen legacy, and there’s a degree of truth in that assessment.
There’s another way to look at it, though. The other week in tQ, David Bennun assessed Michael Jackson’s Bad and decided: “The most influential artists of the last 40 years – and perhaps ever, depending on how one attempts to quantify it – are Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston.” He’s right: if you remember that “most influential” does not actually mean “most likely to spawn copycat groups who release three acclaimed indie singles” and really should mean “most likely to affect the sound of the music the greatest number of people listen to”, then it’s pretty much unarguable.
Except for one thing.
Van Halen should be on the list, too.
I’m not writing this apologetically, or ironically, or to provoke. I love Van Halen. I fucking love Van Halen. I hate their legacy, which consists of inspiring around 75% of the worst groups in the history of music. I have, literally, no interest in anything they recorded after Roth was replaced by Sammy Hagar. I have, literally, less than no interest in anything they recorded after Hagar was replaced by Gary Cherone. But given a desert island choice between any of the first six Van Halen albums (except Diver Down*) and a comparable run from pretty much any other group, I’d take Van Halen. I’d take Van Halen’s first six over the Beatles’ first six, the Stones’ first six, or the first six of any serious-minded band with a revolutionary approach to music and a small coterie of joyless fans who’ve never absently sung along to a big pop hit playing over a supermarket sound system.
I’d go further than saying Van Halen are one of the three most influential artists of the last 40 years. I’d say they’re the most influential rock band of the last 40 years. I’d say they’re the second most influential rock band of all time, after the Beatles. I’d say they deserve to be hailed as among popular music’s greatest pioneers. They are the equals of Kraftwerk, pioneers of a genre all their own that then permeated through music. And their wings logo was really, really fucking cool.
If you look through pretty much any US album chart of the second half of the 80s, after 1984 had finally ensured they were just as big a pop group as a rock band, you’ll see the influence of Van Halen all over the place. (It’s worth me stipulating that “the influence of Van Halen” does not mean “this record sounds exactly like Van Halen” but “this is a record that would probably not have been made without Van Halen’s existence. And if it did, it would have sounded markedly different.”)
So, at random, the Billboard top 100 for 2 July 1988. (Really, I did pick this week at random, the first one I chose, Having found such an illustrative one, I’m not going to risk my theory by picking another.)
No 1 – OU812 by Van Halen themselves (Hagar era. Haven’t listened. Not going to).
No 3 – Hysteria by Def Leppard (the group who had the clearest vision of the possibilities opened up by Van Halen’s unashamed crossing of pop music and hard rock).
No 5 – Open Up And Say … Ahh! by Poison (the Poundland Van Halen).
No 8 – Appetite For Destruction by Guns N’Roses (no, they don’t sound like Van Halen. But they came out of the hair/glam/whatever metal world Van Halen’s imitators created).
No 10 – Savage Amusement by Scorpions (the ancient German metal band had dropped all the spacey noodling when the late 70s metal wave hit. In the 80s they added a distinctly Halenish spit and polish).
No 28 – Pride by White Lion (the Poundstretcher Van Halen)
No 31 – Ram It Down by Judas Priest (one of the Judas Priest albums Judas Priest fans don’t much like. Because it’s slathered in synthetic effects and sounds designed to fit alongside mainstream pop-metal. Which was invented by Van Halen. But we’ll return to Judas Priest later. They’re relevant.)
No 32 – Lita by Lita Ford (the female Van Halen).
No 45 – Surfing With The Alien by Joe Satriani (space-age pop metal guitar virtuoso. Tenner says he listened to ‘Eruption’ every night a decade earlier).
For the list, and the rest of the article, continue reading at The Quietus.