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!
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.
Part 1: The Early Years (Zero – 1977)
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)