The rock world was saddened when it learned of the passing of guitar legend Eddie Van Halen on October 6, 2020. Eddie formed the band Van Halen back in 1974 along with his drumming brother Alex, bassist Michael Anthony and blonde haired singer David Lee Roth. Their self titled debut came out in early 1978 to mixed reviews but while the album only peaked at #19 in the US, it has kept selling over the years and has now topped over 10 million units sold in the US alone.
At any given time, any of the first four songs can be heard on FM rock radio. “Runnin’ with the Devil” introduced listeners to Diamond Dave’s howl while he sang of a hard living life as a loner. “Eruption” is a nearly two minute guitar instrumental that had teenagers in awe of the heroics of Eddie. The track usually leads into their first single, a cover of The Kinks “You Really Got Me”. “Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love” has a harder edge sound, more metal with a shouted chorus before a quieter guitar part during the mid song breakdown.
The second half of the album turns in the single “Jamie’s Cryin’” whose intro would later be used by Tone Loc for his 80s rap classic “Wild Thing”. At it’s core, “Jamie’s Cryin'” is a great pop track as is “Feel Your Love Tonight” where Roth turns in a fine vocal performance while singing about trying to get the girl. Two thirds of the way through “I’m the One” the band pauses for a little “shoobedowa” interlude. The album starts to fade over the last three tracks including a cover of blues track “Ice Cream Man” and “On Fire” bringing the album to a decidedly mixed close.
Van Halen’s debut is now rightly considered a hard rock classic with several inescapable tracks. The songs that were originally demoed with the help Gene Simmons’ money tips its hat to the past with a few covers while showing later bands like Motley Crue the way forward. What comes through is the band’s joy of playing with a mix of hard rock, pop and metal that is hard to deny.