REVIEW: Van Halen – Women and Children First (1980)

VAN HALEN (Not Van Hagar!) Part 4: Everybody Wants Some!!

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)
Part 3: Somebody Get Me A Doctor (Van Halen II – 1979)

VH WACF_0001VAN HALEN – Women And Children First (1980 Warner)

Three albums in, Van Halen started to stretch their wings.

The band were selling millions of records and touring was strong.  Eddie’s desire to grow as an artist began to stir, slightly.  The signs were beginning to show on Women And Children First, Van Halen’s first album of the 1980’s.  With producer Ted Templeman still in tow, Van Halen went heavier, and darker.

Eddie’s flanged guitar opens the record with “And the Cradle Will Rock…”, a song which should make virtually any Van Halen road tape.  For the first time, you can discern keyboards, accompanying Eddie’s guitar.  For the first time, there are multi-tracked guitars used to great effect.  Eddie coaxes different tones for different sections from his instrument, and experiments with the stereo field.  Not to be outshone is frontman David Lee Roth, with his menacing howls and hip lyrics.

“Everybody Wants Some!!” is just as adventurous.  It opens with over a minute of drums and guitars, with Roth making jungle sounds and welcoming us inside.  Again, Van Halen uses multiple tracks and his guitar in innovative ways to paint an aural picture.  Once the song kicks in, it’s off to the races.   Roth’s as sassy as ever, the best party frontman in any rock band in the country.  His squeals and shrieks are as important (if not more) than the lyrics he’s singing.  It’s more about the sounds and the images they evoke, but everyone’s invited:

Everybody wants some!
I want some too, whoa
Everybody wants some!
Baby how ’bout you? Yeah

Some bluesy bends intro the 6-minute “Fools”, a rare long bomber for this band.  Much of it is intro, a treat of Van Halen’s fingers on the fretboard, before the main riff kicks in at 1:20.  The band lock into a heavy groove, and Roth turns in another cool lyric: “Why behave in public if you’re livin’ on a playground?”  The harmony vocals of Michael Anthony and Edward himself seal the deal, as they take center stage on the chorus.  Roth’s scat outro reveals influences far deeper than rock and roll.

“Romeo Delight” concludes Side One with a racing guitar riff and a cool vibe.  It takes a frontman like Roth to hold his own in a song like this against a player like Edward, and he does.  He’s the ringleader of this party and he makes sure you don’t forget it.  Each “yeeah!” and “hey!” is placed with precision.

VH WACF_0005

You just gotta take a breath after a song like that.  It’s a good time to flip the record, and Side Two opens with a guitar intro called “Tora! Tora!”.  God knows how he’s tormenting that instrument to make the sounds he does.  Roth’s shrieks introduce “Loss of Control”, Van Halen’s fastest boogie.  I wouldn’t advise trying to dance to this one, and headbanging could induce damage to the neck.  Eddie’s solo is another stunner, but equally impressive are all the fills, licks and sounds through the whole song.

Acoustic picking introduces “Take Your Whiskey Home”, as Van Halen get swampy.  Roth nails that bluesy vibe, but it’s just a fake-out.  Van Halen really seem to like to switch gears, and when this sucker goes electric, hang on.  The riff is menacing and Dave’s lyrics are some of his best.  He’s always had a way with words and this is a great early example of Dave’s type of poetry:

Some goes to women, some goes to Jesus,
though I’m absolutely certain both’s all right.
But it takes me at least halfway to the label
‘fore I can even make it through the night.

The acoustic guitars are back out for “Could This Be Magic?”  Yes, it certainly is magic.  Van Halen capture an earlier era, one of simpler scratchy recordings. You can even hear the rain, which was recorded and added to the track.  Nicolette Larson sings backing vocals on the chorus, but this sounds like a drunken party.  It’s the best singalong you’ve never been invited to, and the vibe is killer.

“In A Simple Rhyme” is an upbeat closer.  Women and Children First is a varied ride; it is the point in the party when people start getting a bit drunk and crazy and things look like they could get out of control.  “In A Simple Rhyme” is melodic like Van Halen hits past, with a singable chorus and classic ‘Halen harmonies.  But wait…this is not the end!  Utilizing the concept of the hidden track, an unlisted instrumental is the coda.  The doomy riff, called “Growth” was one that Van Halen had played around with, and planned to use again to open their fourth album.  Perhaps the name “Growth” indicated where Eddie planned to take the band in the future.

Women And Children First represents growth and…”maturity” is not the word.  Perhaps the start of a new world-weary wisdom is evident here.  Whatever the case, the success of this album assured Van Halen that they would be able to carry out the sonic experiments they desired.

5/5 stars

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76 comments

  1. Ahhh…interesting. So if this is the end of the party, the next one must be the hangover.

    I see where I think you may be going with this!!

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  2. This was my first VH purchase back in Early of Jan of 1981. The reason I remember that month is when I went down to the record shop I was actually going to buy Lennons Double Fantasy album I still remember walking in and well WACF was out front. Sure I had heard of Halen as my friends older brother had the first two but when I seen that cover the green the long haired fellas in the Center for some reason I was hooked and went home with WACF not Double Fantasy.
    This album is my music game changer in my book.
    The songs/production/ rawness/the players everything just blew my mind as a 14 yr old.
    Sure I was I to ACDC as everyone was with Back In Black but here I was coming from Kiss/Cheap Trick and Here’s Halen taking those two bands sonically and kickin em to the curb sonically. I mean Dave yelping at the with his Tarzan yodel at the beginning of Everybody Wants Some is just the shit man…….
    So 34 yrs I still deem this my all time fave…….what a introduction to party rock!

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    1. Right on man. You picked a great fave. Did you ever get Double Fantasy?

      The Tarzan yodel, I don’t know if other bands had really done anything like that before!

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      1. No I did never purchase Double Fantasy instead later in that yr I bought the blue greatest hits 67-70 Beatles comp.
        I don’t think ever has or been a better yodel than Roth.
        I also forgot to mention I remember the sticker on the outside and it said Van Halen Poster inside..I was pumped until I got home and opened it..hahahaha…straight to,the trash !
        F’n Dave!!
        Hahaha….
        Awesome series so far Mike!

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    2. wow great story to remember when you went to buy this one. Halen certainly came on and crushed most that came before.

      I have similar story going to record store in 1982. I already had some VH…but think I only discovered VH in late 81. A friend’s older brother would blast VH1, VH2, WACF. So 1982 was the first time I was going to the store to buy a brand new VH record with Diver Down.

      All 6 of those records bring back such great, distinctive memories. And listening to most of em now can bring you right back to a teenager. They were Mighty!!!!!!

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      1. If not looooooong before. All of this awesomeness on yer site is putting me in a definite VH mood. I have, in my collection currently, I, II and 1984, then FUCK, Balance and ADKOT (thanks to HMO!). Lotsa gaps to be filled, in this one… Hell, they’re not even gaps. They’re gorges.

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        1. We can rectify that. The only question you need to ask yourself is CD or LP. The rest will fall into place.

          You picked up some Halen for your buddy the one time.

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        2. CD. Only because everything I already have is on CD, and they can go on the iPod so I rock it wherever I go.

          I did pick up one VH record on LP for my buddy Craig, but now I cannot remember which. It was the only one he didn’t have on LP, anyway, so he was quite happy to get it.

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        3. GORGES..that’s for sure ;-) You can listen to most any album free with Spotify (via computer). Not the same as owning the album, but it’s nice when you need a fix!

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        4. Hey, I was checking out that $40 boxed set you mentioned. It has 6 CDs, and I already own 3. I’m betting I could get the other three for less than $40. Very pretty, nice to have it all in one place. I’m assuming it’s very much like my early years Springsteen box, cardboard sleeves, no liners. I love that set so much. But the VH may not be essential if I only need 3 to get the early DLR years. Of course I also need those ones that are acronyms, the OUO176543 and all that.

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  3. This album was on a continuous loop in my guitarist’s furred boogie van. Never had to buy it, can hear every. single. note. clearly in my head if I summon it it from the mental vault. Although there must be some bleed-through down there over the years. “Everybody wants some …..Rock Candy!???” WTF?

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      1. I’m a record collector, AVID music fan, AND I play in a Country/Blues/ClassicRock cover tunes band. There isn’t any music I won’t listen to, and enjoy! I may not listen to it alone (much classic rock on that list) but if I visit friends and they play it, I can enjoy it. With only a rare hint of snark :D

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        1. What about opera? I have just about everything in my own collection. I can listen to ANYTHING once, from whales humping to monks chanting (though not monks humping whales yet), but opera just shuts me down. On CD, I just tune out. At Roy Thompson Hall, I started getting the fidgets ten minutes into it. I don’t even know WTF that one was about or what it was called, but it was supposed to be a big deal. I couldn’t get to it. Do you have a kryptonite like that?

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        2. Briefly dated a woman who sang Opera semi-pro. So I not only had to listen, but have something halfway intelligent to say afterward. The German guy Gunther who ran Sam’s mainstore Classical dept. found a way to get me interested; P.D.Q. Bach is the “Weird Al” of Classical & Opera.
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P._D._Q._Bach
          I still make an effort to listen, to develop an ear for it, even without the apres-opera sex reward.
          Do I sense a challenge in there? We should start a duel-of-the-unlistenable-LPs that I can BEAT yer ass into the ground with! :D

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        3. I plead the fifth.
          ouch..ouchouchowouch…
          Okay….! I did, but they vanished (bought first LP & ‘inherited’ 1984). I had a “communal” milk crate, kept apart & shared with other musicians If we needed albums to learn the songs we could show up last-minute at each others houses without having to give permission to dig through the main collection. That’s how I wound up with THREE Blob Seger’s “Hollywood Nights” TWO “Frampton Come Alive”, etc.

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        4. In got 1984 from an ex. Same ex gave me Pyromania, Led Zeppelin I, IV, and the Joan Jett album with I Love Rock And Roll. I sold that one at a garage sale.

          I think these albums and the ones you mentioned tend to get passed around like joints.

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        5. The things you’ll do for some boo-tay…

          Oh man, PDQ Bach, I’d forgotten all about that. One of the guys in high school (an insanely talented artist) was really into that stuff. FLASHBACK! Ha. Still, I don’t care if it’s PDQ or PQ, it ain’t likely to get me to interested in that stuff.

          As for your challenge, I don’t know if I can play. Everything I own, I would play. So, um, I concede?

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        6. (imagine “Mean” Gene Okerlund’s voice here)
          “Laaayyydies annnnnn Gennnnnnnelmennn….presenting the Terrible Turntable Tzar, the Whirling dervish of Woeful Wax, the Patron of Unplayable Platters, Viceroy of Venomous Vinyl, THE EARRRRL OF SWIRRRLL!!”
          turntable scratch noises, needle scrapes completely off disc

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      1. … etc. really blew me away from the get go.

        Needless to say, even after only getting into it form the fist pumping stuff, I’ve grown to like all the bands light and shade and all their different colour and personality in their music.

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        1. The light and shade is what made them special. You can’t have Running With the Devil without Ice Cream Man on the same album. That balance of influences really made them special.

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    1. Thank you very much!

      I think when talking about albums of this scale…it’s very personal when it comes to favourites. As we’re reading, the circumstances of buying the album have a huge impact on your relationship with it. It’s like that for me. 1984 was my first. It’s very special to me.

      But these are ALL great albums. Nobody is right and nobody is wrong because we all agree on that!

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  4. Cool review. I never got as familiar with this one as the ones either side of it. I always thought the 2nd half was a bit weak compared to the 1st half too but I listened to again today though after reading your review and totally dug it. This band was clearly on a roll!

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    1. Thanks man! I wouldn’t say the second side is weaker myself, but an opening like Tora Tora/Loss of Control might be a bit off-putting at first? I mean they’re mental on that song. So fast!

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        1. Yeah, I dunno… It’s maybe just a wee bit too smug sounding or something. When the album gets to that point I just find it easy to switch off and put something else on. I listened to the whole thing the other day and realised I’d hardly ever heard the last song on that!

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  5. This is where I came into VH’s world. I was 14 when this was released and they were new to me (I was reading Creem and Circus magazines but don’t remember seeing much about them until Women & Children First was released). Needless to say this was a great introduction to them…dark & bright at the same time. I remember putting that poster of DLR on my wall, as I did with any poster or insert included with albums I bought, but took it down a day or two later when I became uncomfortable having a poster of a shirtless dude chained to a fence staring at me.

    I read somewhere that Alex was never happy with the drum sound on “Everybody Wants Some.” Apparently the toms sounded humongous in the room but that sound didn’t translate to tape. I wonder if that was a conscious choice on Templeman’s part or if the drums just weren’t mic’d properly.

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    1. I’m sure in rock history, there are a lot of albums that we love every moment of, that the artist doesn’t see the same way, like Alex VH. It never would have occurred to me that anyone could be disappointed in those drums. But we don’t get to hear it in the control room like they do!

      I’m very sorry to hear about the DLR poster!

      I remember my sister liked DLR for a little while. She was just a kid though. Not old enough to really get “stuff” yet…like DLR’s buttless chaps. So she was REALLY upset when my dad REFUSED to buy her that DLR poster with the buttless chaps. I hadn’t even noticed the bum myself, but when I did, I was like, “Yeah…you don’t want somebody’s bum on your wall.”

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        1. A buddy of mine had Samantha Fox. Topless, with her arms crossing over. The English teacher, Mr. Payette, stopped to scold my buddy about all the girl pictures in his locker. Then he paused, said, “hey that’s one’s topless,” and walked away with a deadpan smile.

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        2. Oh, Sam Fox was all over our one and only music magazine is Sweden back in the 80’s. I don’t think there was one guy in Sweden who didn’t sprayed at least some Sam Fox boobs out posters on their wall. I know I did. That magazine, OKEJ, always came with posters so there she was hanging beside Kiss and Van Halen and Mötley Crüe…

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  6. I take one look at the tracklist on this album and wonader, how can anyone not like this? You’re review is spot on, Mike. A fucking monster of an album.
    Also, there was a band back in the late 80’s / early 90’s that named themselves after the Tora Tora song. They made one really good album called Wild America. Highly recommended.

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      1. Yeah, same here. I actually got into that album, some 10 years after it came out. I listened to Wild America recently and it really holds up.

        Like

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