The good folks at Ultimate Classic Rock have put together an excellent roundtable discussion on Van Halen’s debut album.
We’ll put the beginning of their article right here, so you can get started, and then be sure to read the rest at UCR! —VHND
From Ultimate Classic Rock:
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Van Halen’s debut, we asked our writers to tackle five burning questions about this genre-redefining album. Is it their best album? What’s the best song on it — and, heaven forbid, if you had to take one track off from it, what would it be? Here’s what they said.
Is Van Halen Van Halen’s Best Album?
Nick DeRiso: Objectively, this is their best album. I don’t think, pound for pound, there’s any denying that. For most of its length, Van Halen plays like a greatest-hits album, just one great song followed by another followed by another – and so many of them are radio staples. But that doesn’t mean it’s my favorite. On a windows-down summer day, I’m going Diver Down, every time.
Michael Gallucci: Yeah, it’s their best album. From the very first song, it pretty much launched the direction hard rock headed for the next 10 years. It was a game changer as far as rock music goes. Few albums can take control of an entire genre and shake things up in ways that will be felt for years to come. Van Halen is one of those albums.
Annie Zaleski: Yes. Not only is it a marvel of sequencing — is there a better rock album opener than “Runnin’ With the Devil”? — but the album is unselfconscious and ferociously original. You can hear the nods to classic bands, styles and eras throughout, but these aren’t blatant ripoffs, and the energy is decidedly forward-thinking. They weren’t interested in being lumbering dinosaurs, but a killer party band soundtracking your debauched night out. The songwriting is strong and streamlined, and the confidence and charisma everyone exudes elevates the music. Van Halen is one of those records that’s completely its own thing.
Matthew Wilkening: For the world at large? Absolutely. Every nice thing everybody here or anywhere else says about Van Halen is 100 percent true. It completely redefined rock music’s vocabulary, setting a template the band and most of their peers would be working from for years. But truly great bands don’t peak with their first album. AC/DC didn’t, Led Zeppelin didn’t, the Beatles didn’t and neither did Van Halen. So once you’ve fully immersed yourself in their music, the correct answer is Fair Warning. It’s both their most consistent and most diverse batch of songs, and it’s fascinating to see them ditch their usual party vibe and explore more serious and sometimes even downright unsettling moods.
Matt Wardlaw: I’m not sure that it’s their best, but it’s an astounding piece of work. It’s hard to pick a favorite from that initial David Lee Roth era of Van Halen albums — Eddie Van Halen was blazing new trails at that time with every song and every riff. But, like so many people, I can remember hearing the album for the first time and right from the moment that “Runnin’ With the Devil” came on, I was blown away. The whole album is full of so many moments that you’re just scratching your head going, “How did they do that?” 40 years later, Van Halen is still just as impressive as the first time that I heard it.
Jed Gottlieb: It’s impossible to say with any certainty what the best Roth Van Halen album is. Sometimes I think even A Different Kind of Truth is their best (although I never think Diver Down is). If I’m at a party or BBQ or on a road trip and someone pops this album on, I often think it’s the best, and by that I mean the best album ever!
Michael Christopher: It’s hard to say it isn’t. Hardcore fans are obviously going to point to Fair Warning. Casual listeners will say 1984. Honestly, though, you can’t debate the debut. From the opening roar of “Runnin’ With the Devil” through the blistering salvo of closer “On Fire,” it never lets up. Name a bad track. You can’t – it doesn’t exist.
And now, for the answers to these questions…
2) What is the best song on the album?
3) If you had to cut one song from the album what would it be?
4) Who did “You Really Got Me” better — the Kinks or Van Halen?
5) Was Van Halen the official start of the ‘80s for rock music?
…be sure to read the rest at Ultimate Classic Rock!