REVIEW: Van Halen – Van Halen II (1979)

VAN HALEN (Not Van Hagar!) Part 3: Somebody Get Me A Doctor

My latest series of reviews at mikeladano.com is an in-depth look at all the classic VAN HALEN albums, with David Lee Roth.  Dig in!

Part 1: The Early Years (Zero – 1977)
Part 2: On Fire (Van Halen – 1978)

VAN HALEN – Van Halen II (1979 Warner)

The 1970’s were much kinder to rock bands than the present.  A debut album charting at #18 was considered a great start back then.  Today, that is no guarantee.  Van Halen II went to #6, and was recorded in only three weeks.  Imagine that today, when four to five year gaps between albums is the norm!

Edward Van Halen is said to be not-so-fond of Van Halen II, where Michael Anthony felt II had stronger songs than I.  The two albums are very similar sonically, although this time Edward was allowed to do more guitar overdubs.  On “Dance the Night Away” you can hear some melody guitar playing over the rhythm, but most of the guitars are still panned hard to the left.

“Dance the Night Away” is one of the brightest stars on Van Halen II.  Its catchy melodies recall some of the more pop material on the first album, such as “Jamie’s Cryin'”  It is sandwiched between “You’re No Good” (the album opener) and “Somebody Get Me A Doctor”, this writer’s favourite track.  “Doctor” is smokin’ and heavy, Roth shrieking about needing ambulances.  Edward’s riff is one of his more legendary.  Riffs like these helped establish Edward as more than just a soloist and player, but also a rock-solid writer.  “You’re No Good” is dark and ominous, reminiscent of “Little Dreamer” from album #1, even though it is actually a cover of a 1960’s easy listening hit.

“Bottom’s Up!” demonstrates Van Halen’s ability to write killer party rock.  It’s hard to resist singing along to the drunken, live sounding group vocal section in the middle.  Edward plays a sexy solo in the right channel while the rhythm remains on the left.  “Outta Love Again” features a stuttery rhythm and some of those patented Roth shrieks, and it closes Side One.

“Light Up the Sky” is as electric as the title implies.  It opens Side Two with an ascending lick and chugging riff, fully in metal territory.  Edward’s solo is one of the album’s highlights.  “Spanish Fly”, the album instrumental, features Eddie fingerpicking on a nylon string guitar.  Regardless, there is no mistaking the artist behind the instrument, as all the technique is there.  The segue leads into the riffy “D.O.A.”.  “D.O.A.” remains a classic Van Halen song, very much an example of their early sounds.

“Women in Love…” is a mid-tempo song, with a stunningly shimmery tapped intro by Eddie.  It one one of Van Halen’s catchiest choruses.  As important as the guitar is to Van Halen’s sound, so too are the backing harmonies.  Finally the album concludes with “Beautiful Girls” which is considered to be another Van Halen party classic.

The songs on Van Halen II are not as well known as those on Van Halen, but there is very little difference in quality.  Van Halen II is probably less stunning simply because it came second.  It’s hard to jump so quickly into a second album and make jaws drop exactly the same way.

There would be no reprieve.  After a tour, and almost exactly one year later, Van Halen would release their third album in as many years.

4.5/5 stars

54 comments

  1. Y’know, a good friend of mine is a huge fan of Van Halen, but aside from a few tracks I just can’t get beyond ‘Jump’. I keep promising to dig a bit deeper … so maybe I will.

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  2. I totally agree with you on this one and your rating. I’d rate it down slightly cause it isn’t quite as classic as the first bit is still amazing. Seems like a prototype 80s Glam Metal album this one. I love when they are all chuckling while singing Bottoms Up. A great feel-good album.

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    1. Me too. That kind of natural moment is all over early Halen. Women & Children First and Diver Down have moments like that too.

      When you’re this good, you can play absolutely blitzed and still make a record!

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  3. Blitzed is the word….I know yrs ago a buddy had the lp of this and side 2 was actually side 1 and vice versa so basically Light Up The Sky is the leadoff track!
    Wonder if he had a collectors version or that was the first pressing …..
    VH 2 is a good collection of tracks but you can see the pace at which they are gonna be working for the next few yrs(album/tour/album/tour) if getting blitzed and putting out a+ material is working than why change right??!
    These are good songs and yep of course not as solid as the debut but still a solid followup I mean if anything I find this one the stop gap a solid stop gap to WACF!!
    (Can’t wait til I read that one Mike)
    When I caught em live they played four off VH 2…Beautiful Girls,Somebody Get Me A Doctor,Women In Love & Dance The Night Away….I know they were sound checking Light Up The Sky around that time as well…..
    So basically for the 2012 they played between the first two albums 4 tracks off of each a fair representation considering there’s still a wealth of others to play.

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    1. WACF will be tomorrow so hold on to your hats! Great way to start the week. Everybody wants some…I want some too.

      For VH the blitzed party style worked for a long, long time. Of course you can’t maintain that forever or you’ll end up looking worse than Deryck Whibley. They had to get sober eventually but there’s nothing wrong with us sitting here and enjoying the fruits of their drunken labor!

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      1. Absolutely…and u know Mike Halen has as u would know also how they keep a lid on everything esp the late 90s early 2000s no info than out come the remasters and that’s that…back to,silence….

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        1. Yeah they are very good at keeping things quiet in their camp. When ADKOT was being worked on one of the only people who talked about it was Mark Tremonti…because he has worked with Wolfgang…that was his inside track.

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  4. Like Michael Anthony, I prefer “II” to “I.” Like you said, there are some great party songs on it. “Beautiful Girls,” “Someone Get Me a Doctor,” “Dance the Night Away” and “Beautiful Girls” are the big standouts for me.

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  5. I think there are more wow moments on this album than the first one. Light up the sky .. DOA .. both those songs are probably more inspired rock than anything on the first album. Outta Love Again might be Alex’s best drum work ever. I have a soft spot for this album too.

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    1. I think both albums are so close in quality that we’re really just splitting hairs. So they did it twice — but not just twice. They did it again, and again too!

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        1. It would be! But a scared record company would probably never allow a new band to issue a double as their debut!

          If they had, it would be the stuff of legends today!

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        2. Both yummy examples. I think a double album as a debut is the only way to do it. GO BIG!

          [that’s what she said]

          Man, I seem to be all about the double albums, recently. What is up with that

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    1. That’s 2 posts in a row I’ve misread FTW as WTF – I keep initially thinking, what does keepsmealive have against Van Halen?!
      I can’t remember who said it first but the old ‘you’ve got your whole life to make album #1, six months to make #2’ sounds appropriate here – good to hear VH kept the quality going despite the tight timeframes

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      1. Working on my next WTF :)

        I have heard that saying as well Geoff. And many many second albums proved it true!

        But in a way that’s not true for VH because their old demos are STILL finding their way onto albums today. They had so many songs written from the early days, enough for 4-5 full albums I’m sure.

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        1. That well of WTFs continues to be impressively bottomless!

          That’s amazing having a song sitting around for 30+ years and finally making it onto an album. Those are the deluxe editions I’m most keen on – the ones with the acoustic guitar + tape recorder demos, showing the seed of an idea that ended up becoming huge songs.

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        2. There are some neat Metallica demos with no lyrics, but James has the vocal melody. So he’s singing, “Wha na na na naaay!” and it’s hilarious. There are several like that. I could compile an EP of songs Metallica sing about somebody called “Wha na nay”.

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    2. I’ve been ducking under the duvet for years telling people VHII is better than VHI. Need not hide no more. Still the best was to come.

      Also Zep 2>Zep 1

      *peeks*

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      1. Well you’re in good company. Michael Anthony agrees with you.

        I think I probably agree about Zep 2. But it’s so hard. I don’t rate any Zeps below 5 until you get to Song Remains the Same.

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        1. Rita McNeil once performed at the local theatre when I was working there. Her contract rider insisted on 2 large deli trays, specifying shaved beef & ham over regular cold cuts. When she arrived, and saw the winding, narrow staircase to the dressing rooms, she balked and stayed backstage. After everyone was gone, we staff descended on those platters like a Mongolian Horde, crying “I’m munching on Rita’s beef, nom nom nom”

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        2. I’ve always liked Rita. She was a good sport to be in that Trailer Park Boys episode. RIP Rita.

          Still, pretty funny that you ate her beef! Yeah, I’m sure she probably had mobility issues that made that staircase too difficult.

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        3. No offense intended here, she was a very friendly and gracious lady in person, and I felt sorry for her.
          Tossed a dice to see whether I would tell that contract rider story, The “Mr Dressup” Tickle Trunk story, or the Leslie West & KFC story :D

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        4. Ernie is an AWESOME guy, super sense of humor. He’d roll up in his ratty station wagon, puffin’ a cigar, and cracking sex toy jokes about what was in the Tickle Trunk on that particular tour. His rider called for “clean-shaven, morally upright boys” ONLY to handle THE TRUNK. He did it for the word-of-mouth rep that he didn’t tolerate swearing, lewd t-shirts, etc.when there were any kids around (from long experience he knew what us stagehands were like….) First show we were lectured how to be on our best behaviour. by the office. Once he sussed us out, though….
          Check my “WHO I BE” page for more celebrity gossip about the Cultural Centre.
          The Leslie West Mountain of KFC story is one I use to get free beers, can’t really do it justice without the hand movements anyway :P

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    1. Go to the Smoking Gun website they have the actual VH contract tour rider in regards to the M&Ms and a bunch of other stuff check it out!

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  6. A very fair assessment of a great album that’s not quite as strong as its predecessor, in my opinion, but that’s not a knock against it. Not many albums compare favorably to VH’s debut. One of the things I love about their albums is how short they are. If I remember correctly, this one might not even reach the 30-minute mark. A couple of years ago I got a recent pressing of VHII on 180-gram vinyl…for $1. It sounds amazing, but I’m sure that’s not a surprise.

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    1. How in the heck did you get a 180 gram vinyl version for $1? Yard sale? That’s a deal that is impossible to pass on. I would love to hear this on 180 gram vinyl…any of the VH.

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      1. A friend from my days working at Atlantic Records, who is still with Warner Music Group, called me a couple of years ago from their semi-annual employee clearance sale (the products are on clearance, not the employees) and they had several brand new 180-gram vinyl for $1 each. Van Halen II was one of them and I’m so glad I got it. Now I wish I had VH I as well. I also got the first CSN album. Not sure if you’re a fan but if you are, that vinyl version is the way to go.

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  7. This album sounds as it was written at the same time as the debut. Song structure and sound is the same – this is a sister album to the first and just as good, in my opinion. Maybe the songs here aren’t as raw as on the debut, but it sure sounds like they were recorded at the same time.

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