Van Halen fans…. there’s a great new Van Halen book that is being released this month, and VHND has an exclusive interview with the author, Martin Popoff, a veteran music journalist who is the author of 78 books on hard rock, heavy metal, classic rock and record collecting.
Popoff has just released a Van Halen book that may never leave your side. Just make sure you have your headphones and plenty of Van Halen music along for the read!
Unchained: A Van Halen User Manual covers all eras of Van Halen and then some.
Fans who ordered it from Van Halen Store are just starting to receive their books, and we’re hearing nothing but praise. And we’re not surprised!
The Van Halen News Desk had the chance to talk to Popoff ahead of the book’s release to get the scoop behind his first-ever full-length book on Van Halen, and here’s what he had to say:
VHND: This book promises to cover all aspects of the band from the early days right through to the most recent ‘A Different Kind Of Truth’ album and tours that followed. How long did it take to where you felt you had enough information gathered for a complete book?
MP: When I got to 100,000 words! Seriously, you have a book at about 75,000 words, and anything over about 120,000, you’re almost into two books. You’re just making an expensive book that you can’t charge more for and it’s taking you weeks and weeks longer. I’m hesitant to think this book promises anything, but what I will promise is an entertaining read, different ways of looking at the catalogue, loads and loads of trivia, and the desire on the part of the reader, hopefully, probably, to go back to the catalogue and re-love it once again.
VHND: One item promised in this book according to your website that got my attention was: “sound effects and ear candy”. Can you elaborate on this? What can readers expect?
MP: That’s just one of the many, many chapters and “pull-boxes” throughout the book, of which there are, I don’t know, 30, 40, 50 different little subject categories? This was just a trawl through the catalogue looking for all the little sound effects trivia, and putting it in one concise chapter. I loved doing this looking at the catalogues of Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult, finding all those little doodads, which gets you scurrying back to that spot in the song. A lot of this people know, some of it people might’ve forgotten, some of it people might not know.
VHND: The cover of your book features a photo of David Lee Roth and the band’s former bassist Michael Anthony taken during the ‘1984’ tour. What led you to choosing that photo and were there others that you considered? If so, which one(s)?
MP: I just like that shot. It’s got two guys in it. For a book cover, it’s portrait as opposed to landscape, so you can’t fit too many people. Two is pretty much the maximum. As for Mikey, the guy just makes me happy. He’s the guy with the good vibes, I suppose, the most out of the band. Dave is sort of the same way, but there are bad vibes there as well people associate with Dave. I don’t know, it was just a nice happy colorful shot. I think Eddie is one of the coolest looking guys on the planet, so there were lots of choices for Eddie. I definitely had no other choice than to use him as the color shot on the back.
VHND: Speaking of covers, your book will include Van Halen’s album covers critiqued and ranked. As an artist yourself (see Popoff’s paintings here): is there a particular album cover that you feel is overlooked or under-appreciated? What is your all-time favorite Van Halen album cover?
MP: I’d say my all-time favorite is ‘1984’. It’s smart, cheeky, artistic, non- obvious colors. It’s got the magazine sort of tribute or send-up, and I love that it reminds me of Black Sabbath, ‘Heaven and Hell’. Interesting question. Overlooked? Under-appreciated? There’s no good reason to like the ‘Women and Children First’ album cover, but I kind of do. It’s classy, regal, again, non obvious colors. Weird picture. Small picture. Like I say throughout the book, you’ve got to appreciate that Van Halen weren’t going for particularly showy or pretty with their album covers, but given that they backed it up with the music, the covers couldn’t help but be iconic. Worst album covers of all time: AC/DC, Foreigner and Def Leppard, but when I talk to people about that, poll them etc., Van Halen comes up. As does Deep Purple.
VHND: Did you reach out to anyone in the band for the book?
MP: No, well, that’s not quite true. Actually, here’s the funny thing. I thought there was no chance to get Dave, and I think I might’ve made a half-hearted attempt to reach Mikey. But Eddie, I’m even just thrilled that when I email Janie (Eddie’s wife and manager), I get a prompt and courteous response, even though it’s always a no! So I think I did email her. But no, like I say, I have to remind myself that there are different kinds of rock books to write and this was one of those, fresh. I wasn’t focusing on needing to talk to those guys.
VHND: Did you face any legal issues from the band or their camp prior to completing the book?
MP: No, and I’ve done 80 books now, and that’s never happened. Well, there was that one issue with Motley Crue, but we won’t get into that. No, I think bands and movie stars and TV stars and sports people, everybody realizes people write books on them all the time. As well, my books come from a place of love and appreciation, and they do nothing but make people go play the albums again, or buy the albums again. Seriously, I always get chided, “You cost me so much money!” Because quite often, people go buy lots and lots of CDs that they didn’t have, to listen along with the book, by whatever band I just wrote about. That’s my favorite part of this whole thing. You’re essentially a DJ, turning people onto to music, but doing it through boring old words and print.
VHND: Fans love to contemplate the bands future. Do you think they’ll return with another album? Another tour? Will it be with Dave or Sammy? Maybe Michael Anthony too?
MP: I don’t know. I tell you, Van Halen, they’re the band I think about the most in terms of, I wonder what Alex is doing today? What did Eddie do yesterday and all last week and the six months before that? What the heck does Dave do all day? I’m just fascinated by those guys. I tell you, if the last thing we hear from the band is ‘A Different Kind of Truth’, they went out with their heads held higher than any band in history. Ferocious! But this has been the longest drought of news I think I can ever remember about Van Halen. But what is remarkable, with all the griping we do about our old heavy metal heroes, and how the weak link is always the singer now, in terms of these bands having to retire, it’s true that Sammy can still sing up a storm. And the other guys can all play, so why not? Let’s do one final round of Van Hagar.
VHND: What was the first Van Halen song that turned you onto the band and what do you recall about that moment?
MP: That’s an interesting question. I definitely bought the first album as a new release, and for some weird reason, even at 15 years old, I knew about it well ahead of time even though I grew up in a small town in western Canada. Partly this is because me and my buddies were already walking metal encyclopedias for two, three years running, but maybe KREM-FM out of Spokane was already playing a few songs; not sure. In any event, it would’ve been something off the debut album. And my impression? The album had some of the best, blistering metal I’d ever heard as of 1978, but then a lot of it wasn’t that impressive. So it was kind of patchy. So I revered half of it and the other half sounded kind of dated. Put it this way: it was clear that they had just swept away any other American band, but there was still something about the big British bands that had more gravitas. So, did they instantly become my favorite band? No, that would’ve still been Judas Priest at that juncture, maybe Rainbow and Scorpions as well. But they were right up there in the top six or seven. Even though it was a debut, they seemed wise beyond their years. Superstars already.
VHND: What was the first Van Halen concert you went to? What do you remember most about that show?
MP: You know, I didn’t see a heck of a lot of concerts growing up because I was never around the big cities. I think I saw David Lee Roth solo first in 1988 or so, and then I definitely saw Van Hagar a couple of times and the band with David Lee Roth, I want to say 2007? 2009? Something like that. All I remember is the funny thing is, the Dave show, I went to a little kiosk in a store that was all hooked up with Ticketmaster, bought a ticket, which I never do. I’ve been going to all my concerts free since 1994. And he bangs it up on the computer and he says, ‘Oh, you just bought the last ticket.’ I thought that was really funny, in a hockey arena that fits 18,000.
VHND: Finally, if you had to choose only one Van Halen song and only one Van Halen album what would they be and why?
MP: Crazy, because I love doing lists and do lists all the time, and this book is full of lists, but with this band, I truly struggle with picking my top album. Fact is, the first four are in a dead tie, with ‘1984’ not too far behind, and then after that, ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge’. No, seriously, I probably have to tuck in ‘A Different Kind of Truth’ in after the first four, and before ‘1984’. It might have to be something kind of non-obvious, something like “Little Guitars” or “Girl Gone Bad.” After that, “And the Cradle Will Rock…,” maybe something like “Romeo Delight,” “Mean Street.” Okay, I’ll stop, because I’m just going to dredge the usual suspects. I love this stuff. OK, dammit, I really like “Up for Breakfast” too. To me that’s the greatest band chemistry the band ever had, the greatest production. The song is a little under-written, but everything else makes up for it.
In Unchained: A Van Halen User Manual, Martin Popoff emcees, drink foisted high, a kaleidoscopic celebration of Eddie, Alex, Mikey, Diamond Dave, Sammy and even Gary and Wolfgang.
Indeed, in the spirit of the title, rock historian and music journalist Martin Popoff unchains himself from typical bookish flow, creating a guide to make full-bodied mastery of one’s Van Halen catalogue, sending the user and abuser scurrying back to the songs, headphones on, looking for sonic nuggets likely missed the first hundred times passed during too light a repast.
And so, over the course of these pages, look for meditations swirling around the following:
- Top 20 Alex moments
- Top keyboard songs
- Album covers critiqued and ranked
- Analysis through the words of the band members on each album
- Sammy very frankly on his relationship with the guys
- Lengthy analysis of the US Festival
- Van Halen songs in movies and TV
- Origins of the songs on A Different Kind of Truth
- Covers by Van Halen in the club days as well as after the band’s signing
- A history of tapping
- Alex’s kits over the years
- Full timeline birth to the present
- 20 connections to Montrose
- Top 20 covers of Van Halen
- History of Dave solo with Steve Vai and Billy Sheehan
- Top 20 rarities
- Sound effects and ear candy
- The Sam and Dave tour
- List of support acts
- Top tribute acts
- The Hall of Fame fiasco
- A look at the band’s gold and platinum certifications
- Four-fold appendices presenting fan comments and poll results of songs, album, Eddie solos and most contentiously, Sam vs. Dave
All of this is handled through a symphony of recurring pull-boxes spanning the otherwise sturdy chapter-per-album framework, peppered as well by both black-and-white and color images. To reiterate, the intention, once the manual’s been studied, is full mastery on the part of the listener of one’s personal Van Halen library. Time to love Van Halen all over again, and here’s the manual to get you there.
308 pages, Paperback, 6″ x 9”.
About the author:
Martin Popoff is the author of 78 books on hard rock, heavy metal, classic rock and record collecting. He was Editor in Chief of the now retired Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles, Canada’s foremost heavy metal publication in print for fourteen years, and has also contributed to Revolver, Guitar World, Goldmine, Record Collector, BraveWords, lollipop.com and hardradio.com. Martin has been a regular contractor to Banger Films, having worked on the award-winning documentary Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, the eleven-episode Metal Evolution, and the ten-episode Rock Icons, both for VH1 Classic. Martin currently resides in Toronto.
You can order the book at Van Halen Store.