One of my fondest rock and roll memories took place in the spring of 1977. A friend rang and asked if I'd like to go to the Whisky A Go-Go to see this new and exciting band. He said they were a hard rockin' four-piece with a monster of a guitarist. As my friend himself was a monster of a guitarist (and still is with a busy musical career of his own), I figured it was something I should check out. As it turned out, I paid five bucks to see history in the making. In the midst of the punk and new wave revolution sweeping the Strip, a then unknown Van Halen was blowing minds all over Hollywood. The full-bodied rhythm section of drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony; the obnoxiously charismatic lead singer David Lee Roth; and the monstrous Eddie Van Halen reinventing the whole idea of rock guitar, his back often turned to the crowd so he could hide his unique two-handed technique – they were all giving the new wavers and their ilk a run for their money. Oblivious to the industry buzz, I caught Van Halen three times before their debut album dropped, thinking they were going to remain this cool local band that no one outside of So. Cal. would ever discover. But once the self-titled Van Halen was introduced to the world, the cat was out of the bag and on its way to global domination.
Just months before the release of Van Halen, Kiss' Gene Simmons had shown interest in the Pasadena quartet and bankrolled their first demo. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, veteran producer Ted Templeman, who had turned the dials for everyone from Montrose to the Doobie Brothers, swooped in and snagged a deal for the band with Warner Brothers. Templeman had no desire to change or manipulate the Van Halen sound; he merely wanted to capture it "live" in its most frenzied state. Over the course of just a few weeks with even fewer overdubs, the powder keg was uncorked and 11 songs came rolling out. In-your-face, take-no-prisoner thumpers like "Runnin' With The Devil," "I'm The One," "Atomic Punk" and "On Fire" roar with lethal authority, brimming over with the taut interplay between the Van Halen brothers and Anthony while Roth yelps and gyrates to keep up. Smart and savvy rockers like "Ain't Talkin' "Bout Love," "Feel Your Love Tonight" and "Little Dreamer"" reveal a more melodic side that aimed to widen their demographic. The explosive "Eruption," previously a warm-up exercise of Eddie's, simply belies every pre-conceived notion of guitar acrobatics since Hendrix played the national anthem at Woodstock.
Ironically, it was their spunky version of the Kinks’ "You Really Got Me," a late arrival to the Sunset Sound sessions, that became the album's first single. As their debut made its way to multi-platinum wonderment, I caught Van Halen's homecoming show at the Long Beach Arena, and later that summer, saw them on a bill that included Boston, Black Sabbath and Sammy Hagar. It was obvious they were on their way to becoming an international phenomenon. When I saw them on tour behind the gazillion-selling 1984, they were a completely different group. Over the course of six years, the classic incarnation of the Van Halen brothers, Anthony and Roth recorded five more albums with Templeman at the helm. Each is as distinctive and brilliant as the next. But it's always been the first one that catches the band in its most visceral state. As Diamond David Lee Roth, the band's most outspoken member before he parted for supposedly greener pastures in the 1985 so wryly put it: "I'm not sure what the brothers think, and I'm not sure I even really care. I think that probably the two biggest words up there on Howdy Doody Mountain now are, 'Uh-oh!'"
~ Shawn Perry