REVIEW: Van Halen – Zero (1976)

VAN HALEN (Not Van Hagar!) Part 1: The Early Years

Time for the newest series of reviews at mikeladano.com!  I hinted at this one a while ago.  It’s time to take an in-depth look at all the classic VAN HALEN albums, with David Lee Roth.  We’ll go from the very beginning to 1984.  But don’t fear – I’ve already reviewed most of the Van Hagar discography.  See below for a list of other Van Halen reviews.

VAN HALEN – 3 (Collectors’ tin 1998)
VAN HALEN – 5150 (1986 Warner Bros.)
VAN HALEN – A Different Kind of Truth (2012)
VAN HALEN – Balance (1995 Warner – Japanese version included)
VAN HALEN – “Best of Both Worlds” (1986 Warner 7″ single)
VAN HALEN – The Best of Both Worlds (2005 Warner)
VAN HALEN – “Can’t Stop Loving You” (Parts 1 & 2, inc. collector’s tin)
VAN HALEN – “Right Now”(1992 cassette single, Warner)
BRIAN MAY & FRIENDS – Star Fleet Project (w/ Edward Van Halen)

Alright!  Let’s rock!

ZEROVAN HALEN – Zero (1976 Gene Simmons demos)

Van Halen: unquestionably one of the most influential hard rock bands of all time. By the mid-1980’s, every band had to have a “hot shot gun slinger” guitar player; such was the impact of Eddie’s innovative fretwork. David Lee Roth set the frontman bar extraordinarily high. Where Ozzy Osbourne, Robert Plant and Freddie Mercury had mastered the art of driving a crowd wild, David Lee Roth took it airborne.

Van Halen formed in 1972, and released their debut album in 1978. Originally known as Genesis and then Mammoth, the original lineup featured Eddie and Alex Van Halen, plus bassist Mark Stone. By 1974 they had replaced Stone with Michael Anthony, and added the flamboyant frontman Roth. This legendary lineup would go on to record several landmark demos, many of which would be re-recorded later. Some songs appeared on the first few Van Halen records. Some wouldn’t appear on album until 1984 and A Different Kind of Truth (2012).

Famously, Van Halen hooked up with Gene Simmons to record a 10-song demo. Simmons wished the band to change their name to “Daddy Longlegs”, and we should be grateful that this never occurred. The Simmons partnership was shortlived. According to Simmons in a 1988 MuchMusic interview, record label heads thought David Lee Roth looked too much like Jim Dandy from Black Oak Arkansas. Simmons also claimed that labels “didn’t get” why there was no backing guitar when Eddie took a solo. Unable to land Van Halen a deal, Simmons tore up the contract he had with the band.

Other fruit from this period included three Kiss demos, still unreleased to this day. Eddie and Alex Van Halen played on Gene’s demos for “Have Love Will Travel” (aka “Got Love For Sale”), “Christine Sixteen”, and “Tunnel of Love”. These songs were demoed for Love Gun, but “Tunnel of Love” would not be released until Gene’s 1978 solo album, in re-recorded form. These songs are considered a holy grail for Van Halen and Kiss fans alike, and to my knowledge they have never been bootlegged.

One demo that has been heavily bootlegged are the 10 songs Van Halen recorded with Simmons in LA and New York, referred to as the “Zero” demo. It has never been officially released anywhere. Fans hope that one day it will be released in a Van Halen box set of some kind. In the meantime, we have low-quality bootlegs to study and enjoy.

Even then, Van Halen were writing monstrous riffs and hooky songs. The talent of Eddie Van Halen was already apparent, but the full thunderous pyrotechnic sounds of the debut album were not yet there.  “On Fire”, for example, is 90% intact but the guitar solos are tentative and yet to achieve the heights on record.

“Let’s Get Rockin’” was re-written on A Different Kind of Truth as “Outta Space”. “She’s the Woman” was also partially re-written for that album. The riff from “Put Out the Lights” was re-used on “Beats Workin’”. “Big Trouble” became “Big River”, an amazing song.  Interestingly, the intro to “Running With the Devil” was originally the outro to “House of Pain”, which preceded it!

Clearly, Van Halen were writing great material from the early days, since nearly every idea from this demo was used on an album, sooner or later. “Babe, Don’t Leave Me Alone” is the only song that I don’t recognize from an album, but that doesn’t make it a bad song. Perhaps Van Halen will finally finish it for the next album.  “Woman in Love” barely resembles “Women in Love” from Van Halen II, only in superficial ways.

The Zero demo is one of those unreleased hard rock cornerstones. Like a fountain it never seems to stop giving. These songs were played live many times by the band before Simmons recorded them, and they are tight. Roth’s voice is high, youthful and powerful. If anything, the band sounded a little generic. It would take Ted Templeman and the debut record for Van Halen to find their own unique sonic niche.

4/5 stars

ZERO 2

Part 1: The Early Years (Zero – 1977) VH_0003
Part 2:
On Fire (Van Halen – 1978)
Part 3: Somebody Get Me A Doctor (Van Halen II – 1979)
Part 4: Everybody Wants Some!! (Women and Children First – 1980)
Part 5: Push Comes to Shove (Fair Warning – 1981)
Part 6: Intruder (Diver Down – 1982)
Part 7: House of Pain (1984 – 1984)
Coda: Can’t Get This Stuff No More (Best Of Volume I – 1996)

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66 comments

  1. Cool early am surprise today Mike. Your review is spot on! I was able to Zero a few yrs ago and it’s early raw VH obviously not the slick hot rod version of the debut that was released in 78 but man it’s cool to hear the inner working of the songs of which parts like you said morphed into ADKOT and that is why ADKOT is one of my fav Halen albums they went back to what made em classic in the first place!
    Roth and the band are not to steal from Brighton Rock ..young wild and free!…hahaha…and your absolutely right in saying that Templeman was there to reign em in!
    As far as know as well those Kiss Simmons songs I have never come across as well. Wonder if Simmons actually has em or had em and now can’t find em??!
    Ha! Cuz you would know he would be promoting those on any kind of Kiss comp!
    (Or perhaps he has em and there tied into some kind of red tape)
    As usual Mike a super cool review!

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    1. If he has ’em I speculate that red tape has kept ’em from being released. Or as you might guess, he’s holding them back for the NEXT box set.

      I hope Zero does get an official release one day, but I won’t hold my breath. We know that VH doesn’t release old stuff willy-nilly like that.

      In the meantime Deke, GO download your free Harem Scarem live track that goes up today!

      Like

  2. Forgot to add…..All hail the next 6 Halen reviews….lookin forward to this!!!
    Especially your take on my all time fav!

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    1. Thanks buddy. I worked HARD on these. Hours and hours and hours of a true labor of love.

      It’s funny. The amount of time I put into these is probably going to be about equal to the amount of time I’m putting into my Made in Japan review. I’ll only be able to stretch that into two parts. VH I managed to get 7!

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        1. Hahaha yeah man there u go I’m Van Halen and your Van Hagar!
          In other words….
          Romeos Delight vs Sucker In A 3 Piece!
          Hahaha

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      1. Cool! I’m calling my next band “Gene Simmons”. Our logo is going to be a bag of cash with a dollar symbol on it. And as part of our stage routine I’ve got this cool makeup I’m going to wear. Looks a bit like a demon.

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        1. According to the 1988 much music interview, Gene says the money bag was the logo for the company he signed Van Halen to. I understand he’s changing it to a pudding cup logo.

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  3. 1) HOORAY for new series from Lebrain!
    2) HOORAY it is VH!!
    3) I did not know this demo existed.
    4) Daddy Longlegs = hilariousness and beauty
    5) It took them 6 years to release their first record?!?!

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    1. 6 years is not what it took to make an album. 6 years is what it took to get the right members, and for a record label to finally step up and sign them.

      It’s not that long when you think about it. Twisted Sister took longer to get their lineup intact, get signed, and release Under the Blade. Steven Tyler was doing singles in the late 60s before he found his band and put out the first Aerosmith in 72. It took Maiden about 5 years to do it. Priest, about the same.

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      1. There’s a zoot suit swing/blues band from KW called that, did their demo at a friend of mine’s studio. Played the BIA tent at last year’s Bloozfest….. destined for obscurity

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  4. I’ll join my fellow commenters who are learning about this demo for the first time – looking forward to more history lessons!
    Van Halen I and 1984 are the ones that made the 1001 list

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    1. You will learn about I tomorrow. Those two records are must-haves. I agree with the 1001. There’s another album I consider essential, but it’s harder to penetrate. I am not surprised it didn’t make the 1001. But hopefully I’ll inspire you to check out all 6 of these great records.

      The good news is, it’s Van Halen — the albums are all short. Won’t take you long.

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      1. Admittedly, I was introduced to the early part of Van Halen’s catalogue through the Nerf Herder song – I know somewhere between VHI and 1984, there will be Fair Warning, Women & Children First, and VH2 – order to be determined!

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        1. E-Z-O, a Japanese band that wore make up, but they weren’t any good. Didn’t Gene also find Cinderella?

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        2. I remember the name, EZO (not as good as Vow Wow!) I thought Cinderella were a Bon Jovi find, which is why he features on backing vox on a couple of Night Songs tracks

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  5. I’m always intrigued by demos and alternate takes, love to hear the creative process at work. Very interesting post. “Jim Dandy” ? “JIM DANDY” ??? Them’s fightin’ words where Ah cum from!

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    1. The new Kiss 40 CD has a great demo of God of Thunder, the demo with Paul singing. It was much faster, and some prefer it to the album version!

      Jim Dandy’s fightin’ words?

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      1. I kinda like BOA’s sloppy hillbilly-southern thing (and love Ruby Starr) but if I were David Lee Roth, I would be really pissed at that comparison !! (probably only because of the hair).

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        1. I remember Jim Dandy as having, shall we say, a more redneck approach to dental hygiene? And DLR was athletically ‘graceful’- Used to howl at Jim Dandy stompin’ round the stage in his platforms.

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  6. Reblogged this on http://www.seanmunger.com and commented:
    To give you a break from all the history tidbits and dusty archives, I thought I’d show you this…Mike Ladano is working his way through all the original Van Halen albums and reviewing them anew! A flashback to the years when Eddie was skinny, fresh and not married to Valerie Bertinelli, and when he was the greatest thing ever in rock guitar. Stay tuned for some more VH reviews too!

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  7. Hey. Been away for a few days at Sweden Rock Festival and now I’m busy as hell writing reviews for said festival. I need them done by this week, so I haven’t really had the time to visit you. Sorry for that, but now I’m back to annoy all of you…. Mooooahahahaha!!!

    Is this album a legal bootleg? I would really love to get my hands on a copy, but I didn’t even know that this CD existed…

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      1. Missed them. It was raining and I don’t do rain. I’m still majorly pissed off about that. But everyone was telling me that they were absolutely fantastic and despite the rain, they pulled a huge crowd. My ex-girlfriend – who, I might add, has always been a HUGE Geoff Tate fan, said they were so awesome she was close to tears and that she didn’t miss Tate for a second.
        She’s on repeat on that one. Just to piss me off more…

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  8. Little additional color: I only saw them play once, ’83 at the US Festival, as the old saying goes: If you remember it you weren’t there. I was 17 and from the Central Valley, straight blew my mind. And while I LOVED VH the act that really left me slack jawed was The Crue. People forget now, but men in black leather wearing lipstick, playing early versions of what would arguably become speed metal, they might a as well have come from outer space.

    Anyway, I have a buddy who grew up in Pasadena which is near where the VH bro’s grew up. He remembers seeing them as Mammoth playing backyard parties.

    He said The word was Roth weasled his way into the band because his old man was a dentist and had cash, bought Dave amps and equipment which he offered to rent to the VH bro’s *unless* they let him be part of the band, in which case they could use his shit for free.

    I have another buddy who plays drums and to this day knows Alex well enough to walk into his house without knocking.

    He said, and I’ve seen indications of this in other places, that Roth is a tool. None of the other 3 likes him and mostly never have. When they were blowing up it was crazy and his antics were blown off, everyone was too fucked up to care. Plus they were getting rich. But my boy says Roth is really obnoxious and says shit that just isn’t funny, offending wives, shit that would get most guys popped on the beak.

    Again, they put up with him, but my friend said he just isn’t funny, and at the end of the day is a huge nerd with a cocky attitude. I guess he’s also a total showboat, can’t stand to see someone else have their moment.

    There was an awards show on TV years back, VH was there to present the award and while the band was accepting it Roth tried to get back on the mike and you could see the other guys physically pulling him back.

    I also remember an interview where Roth insulted Eddie’s wife, Valerie, he also made a reference to Eddie having a big dick. As a teenager at the time I thought it was hysterical. As an older married man I can see know how it wouldn’t be. Leave the wives, sisters, and mother’s out of it.

    Anyway, that’s what I know or have heard, all second hand except for the US ’83 stuff. Party on Garth!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. WOW. US Festival. That is probably the Holy grail of concerts. Can you please give some more details about that day, and the other acts. Could you rate them? If you haven’t already done a blog post about that concert cold you? If you have, can you give us a link? I have the video I have yet to watch it because I am superstitious and have been holding out for Triumph to get back together. That is looking like it will never happen so I might as well watch it. Too bad you didn’t have footage of Van Halen from that day. People would pay good money for that.

      Like

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