It’s 1978. Jimmy Carter is president, Leonid Brezhnev is the Russian premier and the Cold War is still raging. Disco is dominant, Saturday Night Fever is still raking in millions at the box office as Christmas fades, and the radio industry has a hard-on for Stevie Nicks bordering on priapism as Rumours continues to top the charts.
In late January, though, things begin to change. Warner Bros. producer Ted Templeman makes the decision to rush-release the single, “You Really Got Me” by a new band on the company’s label, Van Halen, after learning that the band Angel is preparing to release their own version of the song which catapulted The Kinks to international superstardom 14 years earlier. While Eddie Van Halen would recount being unhappy about the decision later—he’d have preferred an original be the band’s first release, probably “Jamie’s Cryin‘”, no one at Warner would complain. The song, with the blistering guitar ferocity and signature EVH hooks that would become the band’s calling card, was only the beginning. Mainstream radio stations started to ease off their Bee Gees crush and “You Really Got Me” was déjà vu all over again, climbing into the Billboard Top 100 and catapulting a bunch of hard rock twenty-somethings onto the world music stage.
Van Halen, the bands’s debut album, is only 35 minutes and change. 11 tracks, 2 of them covers, and a hodgepodge of genres that all somehow appealed to a ravenously hungry heavy metal audience. Enough testosterone to fuel a football stadium. Enough distortion to make the gang at Marshall blink. And…attitude? The album came shrink-wrapped, sure, but probably because the attitude dripped off it, as much as because that was industry standard.
Previously unexplored guitar techniques. Eddie’s now infamous ‘Brown Sound’. The pre-Spinal Tap version of turning it up to 11.
For four decades, the praise has poured in.
“Every bit as revolutionary as Are You Experienced?,” — rock journalist Steven Rosen.
“Eddie Van Halen’s jaw-dropping technique raised the bar for six-string pyrotechnics,”—Billboard Magazine
And, while Rolling Stone’s Charles Young expected the band to be, “…fat and self-indulgent and disgusting,” he did get it right when he said, “They’re likely to be a big deal,” in his May 4, 1978 review of the band’s debut album.
Is there an adjective that hasn’t been used to describe the album? Thunderous. Awe-inspiring. Predatory. Groundbreaking. You go online and put in just about any descriptive search term you can link to music with Van Halen debut album, and you’re gonna get results. Just like the band did after their whirlwind 21-day stint in the studio with Templeman, an outrageously short turnaround time for an album with this much impact.
So, no disrespect to the Brothers Gibb, but disco was dead (or at least on life support) two years later. Hard rock is still around and still kicking ass and so are all four original members of Van Halen. The album isn’t tired. Cover bands all over the world still play “Ain’t Talkin ‘Bout Love” and “You Really Got Me” and “Jamie’s Cryin‘” and “Runnin’ With the Devil.” And, if their lead axeman has the guts? You may even hear “Eruption“. But even now, 40 years later? You’re gonna have to see a band with one helluva guitarist, because that’s how far ahead of everyone else Eddie Van Halen was.
Go on, crank up Van Halen and sit in the closest thing you have to a Le Corbusier chair in front of your speakers like the Maxell guy and let this record blow your beer mug into your hand. Never a bad time to get blown away.
Be sure to check out our extensive Van Halen debut album page!
Are you ready to celebrate 40 years of VAN HALEN? Today kicks off a FULL WEEK OF CELEBRATION — we’ll be featuring awesome articles and tributes about the album that changed everything!