Ted Templeman

REVIEW: Honeymoon Suite – The Singles (1989)

ontario-bands-weekWelcome back to Ontario Bands Week, presented by BoppinsBlog,  Keeps Me Alive, Stick It In Your Ear, 1001 Albums in 10 Years, and mikeladano.com.  

NIAGARA FALLS.

scan_20161110HONEYMOON SUITE – The Singles (1989 Warner)

In the mood for some good old fashioned Canadian AOR rock, but don’t know where to turn?

Easily solved.  Just drive down to Niagara Falls and take a left at Honeymoon Suite.

The Singles compiles all their best tunes from the first three LPs (Honeymoon Suite, The Big Prize, Racing After Midnight).  If you are a native of the Great White North, chances are you have already heard all 12 of these tracks.  Honeymoon Suite have been radio staples ever since their 1984 debut single, “New Girl Now”.  Even when they dropped off the face of the earth for much of the 1990s and 2000s, they got consistent radio play and gigs.  T-Rev and I saw them at Lulu’s in the 1990s when they were supporting a live album.  Even though singer Johnnie Dee seemed a lil’ tipsy they pulled out all the stops for an enjoyable gig.

When Honeymoon Suite kicked it off with “New Girl Now”, they tapped into a rock/new wave hybrid that earned them tons of video play in Canada.  Derry Grehan was (and is) a fine guitarist, certainly one of the most respected in the Great White North.  He gave the band the rock credibility they needed, meanwhile Johnny Dee had the pipes and the heartthrob looks.  The 80s angst of “Burning in Love” landed them another hit, with one foot a little more firmly in the rock arena. Bonus points for the very 80’s chorus echo. “I am still (still! still! still!) a lonely man burning in love,” sings Dee, and you know many ladies swooned.  The sound is not too distant from the Bon Jovi of the same period, burning up the clubs many miles away in New Jersey.


Filmed on location in Niagara Falls Ontario

“Stay in the Light” captures the same vibe, a keyboard-y tension with guitars providing the edge.  A sharp rhythm and indelible chorus keeps “Stay in the Light” burning in your memory long after it ceased playing.  “Wave Babies” is a bit hokey but that hasn’t kept it from airplay 30 years later.

Album #2, The Big Prize, edged their sound further into keyboard pop, which provided more hits but also turned some fans off.  “Feel It Again” maintained the guitars without straying too far, but the ballad anthem “What Does It Take” was a full-on 80s pop ballad.  The band had some serious firepower in the studio control room this time out.  The success of the first album gave them a shot with Bruce Fairbairn, and a young engineer named Bob Rock.  You can hear their impact in the improved sound of the drums, and the sonic clarity overall.  The production values help make “What Does It Take” palatable, but there is too much syrup for some.  “Bad Attitude” has some crunch but it’s overshadowed by those omnipresent keyboards.

Racing After Midnight returned rock to the forefront.  There were a couple lineup changes including on the keyboards.  The captain’s chair was manned this time by veteran Van Halen producer Ted Templeman.  With him they recorded “Lethal Weapon” for the film soundtrack of the same name.  Because it was written by Michael Kamen for a movie, we can forgive Honeymoon Suite for another soft rock ballad.  The guitar laden “Love Changes Everything” was a more proper introduction to the new album.  Derry has a chance to show off his enviable chops at the start, and has a good crunchy sound.  One of Honeymoon Suite’s most memorable choruses made it easy to love.  “Lookin’ Out for Number One” was equally powerful, especially when it comes to Derry Grehan’s impeccable shreddery.

Any good greatest hits album needs new material.  The Singles had two new songs:  big hit “Still Loving You”, and “Long Way”.  For a big anthemic ballad, “Still Loving You” nails it with class.  “Long Way” finishes it with a dark edgy acoustic vibe.  These two tracks do not negate the album title The Singles, because both were released as singles.

Factor in some great liner notes and lots of band photos, and The Singles is a pretty easy purchase to justify.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: David Lee Roth – Eat ‘Em and Smile (1986)

Scan_20150728DAVID LEE ROTH – Eat ‘Em and Smile (1986 Warner)

1986 was the year it all went down. If you were a Van Halen fan, it was time to choose.

Of course, nobody really had to choose between Van Hagar and David Lee Roth. It’s not like every fan had only $10 to spend on albums that year. Fans did choose anyway, and even today almost 30 years later, we still argue about who’s best: Diamond Dave or the Red Rocker?

No matter who you sided with, there is no question that David Lee Roth stormed into 1986 with a killer new band and album.

Steve Vai! That’s enough right there to make for an incendiary band — just ask David Coverdale. Before Little Stevie Vai was a household name, he had earned the respect of Frank Zappa who hired him on after Joe’s Garage. He made his Zappa debut on Tinseltown Rebellion, before being snagged by Graham Bonnet in 1985 for Alcatrazz’s Disturbing the Peace. In that band, he had the unenviable task of replacing a Swedish guitar player you may have heard of called Yngwie J. Malmsteen. Needless to say, Steve Vai was already experienced in filling big shoes by the time David Lee Roth made contact.

Billy Sheehan! A lot of people think he’s the world’s greatest bass player, period. Eight finger lead bass, baby! Three albums with Talas didn’t do much in terms of sales, but the material was strong enough that one song was re-recorded for the Roth album.

Gregg Bissonette! Once you learn how to properly spell his name, you will recognize Bissonette on loads of album credits. Joe Satriani come to mind? How about Spinal Tap? For your information, Gregg Bissonette is still alive, and is still the current Spinal Tap drummer.

Combine those three virtuosos with the greatest frontman of all time, and you have best new band of 1986.

Van Halen’s 5150 came out in March, going to #1. That’s a hard act to follow. Eat ‘Em and Smile, however, ending up standing the test of time. I would argue that even though it’s not Van Halen, it’s still the best Van Halen album since 1984….

As if to say “Eddie who?”, the album opens with Steve Vai’s trademark talking guitar. I’m talkin’ about-a-“Yankee Rose”! Here’s the shot heard ’round the world indeed. Lyrically, musically, and instrumentally, this song truly is the spiritual successor to classic Van Halen. David Lee was still in prime voice, and does he ever pour it on! Sassy as ever, Roth sounds exactly how he should: the showman in the rock and roll circus. And let’s not forget Billy and Gregg. Sheehan’s slinky bass on the outro is space age groove.

“Shyboy” is an atomic bomb. Billy brought in this song from Talas, but there is no question that Dave’s version is vastly superior. I have no idea how Vai makes his guitar create these sounds. When he goes into syncopation with Billy on the fastest solo of all time, your head may be blown clean off. Please, do not attempt to listen to “Shyboy” in the car, without testing it at home first. As Steve’s guitar flickers from left to right, Billy’s bass is the fastest, baddest groove on record. “Shyboy” is of such high quality that I do not think any self-respecting rock fan can live without it. Virtually every trick that Steve had at the time was in this one song.

One thing that was special about Van-Halen-with-Dave was their fearlessness in doing odd covers, such as “Big Bad Bill” or “Oh Pretty Woman”. Dave took that with him, and included oldie swing covers like “I’m Easy”. Horn laden and with Steve’s expert licks, it should be no surprise that they nail this one. It’s much in the spirit of Dave’s solo EP, Crazy From the Heat, only better.

Perhaps the most outstanding song on Eat ‘Em and Smile would be “Ladies Nite in Buffalo?” Dave has always said he loves disco and dance music. This is the most perfect melding of that world with rock. Vai is rarely so funky, and there is no question that Dave has the vibe right. Smooth and steamy, “Ladies Nite in Buffalo?” is a tune perfectly in synch with activities of the nocturnal persuasion. Who else but Dave would be perfect to deliver this message?

“Goin’ Crazy” was a great track to make into one of Dave’s typically high flying music videos. It’s party rock time, with a tropical vibe. “Goin’ Grazy” worked particularly well when Dave re-released it in Spanish, as “¡Loco del calor!”. I used to consider this tune a bit of a throwaway, but it has certainly endeared itself over the years. Another meticulously perfect Vai solo doesn’t hurt, and Billy’s bass popping helps end side one on an up note.

Now there is a story here that needs to be told. Billy Sheehan was in Canadian progressive rock band Max Webster for “about three weeks” according to lead singer Kim Mitchell. Upon joining Dave’s band, he introduced them to Kim Mitchell’s solo track “Kids In Action”, which they decided to cover. Bill called Kim up to ask him for the lyrics, because they couldn’t quite make them all out. Kim supplied the words, and Dave recorded the song. However, it was dropped at the 11th hour, for another cover — “Tobacco Road”. David Lee Roth’s version of “Kids In Action” has yet to be released or even bootlegged. Not that I am complaining about “Tobacco Road”, another old cover! Yet again, the reliably awesome Steve Vai just sells it. There is no question that the whole song just smokes, but getting to hear Stevie playing this old blues?  Pretty damn cool.

That’s nothing. You thought “Shyboy” was fast? Check out “Elephant Gun”! Billy’s fingers didn’t fall off, but mine would have. “I’ll protect you baby with my Elephant Gun”, claims Dave. Nudge, wink! Steve Vai’s been known to write blazing fast songs, and “Elephant Gun” is so fast it’s almost showing off. Wisely though, things get slow and nocturnal once again on “Big Trouble”. That’s a title Dave recycled from an old unused Van Halen song. (That song became “Big River” on A Different Kind of Truth.) Steve’s guitar melodies and solo on this are particularly celestial. Roth uses his speaking voice, spinning a tale as only he can. “Bump and Grind” is a perfectly acceptable album track, a sleaze rocker as only Dave can do. If I am interpreting the lyrics correctly, Dave is a dance instructor in this one. “Shake it slowly, and do that Bump and Grind”.

Much like “Happy Trails” ended Diver Down on a jokey note, Dave ends his first solo album with a cover: “That’s Life”, the song that Sinatra made famous. Coming from the guy who did “Just a Gigolo”, we know he can do that kind of thing very well. The first time I heard the album years ago, I shrugged and said, “Another one?” Now, older and fatter, I sez it’s all good! Zop-bop-doop-zooby-dooby-doo indeed. Funny thing though. When I think of Diver Down, I think of a fun but fairly shallow album of half covers. When I think of Eat ‘Em and Smile, I don’t question the integrity of it. I don’t know why I seem to hold that double standard.

In this writer’s humble opinion, Eat ‘Em and Smile was David Lee Roth’s finest moment as a solo artist. It was not nearly as well known as 5150, OU812, or any of Van Hagar’s albums, and that is almost criminal. The talent in this band, pound for pound, outweighed anybody else going at the time, including Van Halen. Shame they couldn’t make it last.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Van Halen – 1984 (1984)

VAN HALEN (Not Van Hagar!) Part 7: House of Pain

VH_0003My latest series of reviews at mikeladano.com is an in-depth look at all the classic VAN HALEN albums, with David Lee Roth.  Jump 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)
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)

INTERMISSION – “Beat It”

Edward Van Halen picked up the phone.  On the other end was a man claiming to be “Quincy Jones”, asking Eddie if he was available to play on an album.  Not knowing the name “Quincy Jones” and assuming it was a crank call, Eddie slammed down the phone yelling, “Fuck off, asshole!”  Only a followup phone call from Michael Jackson clarified the situation.  Quincy Jones, the legendary record producer, was working on the new Michael Jackson album.  Could Eddie come by and play a guitar solo on an upbeat, driving song?

What Eddie laid down (in reportedly two takes) was selected by Guitar magazine as the greatest guitar solo of the 1980’s.

In one tension-filled solo, Eddie threw every trick from his bag: whammy dives, complex neo-classical trills, hammer-ons, pull-offs, tapping, harmonics, squeals, and finally a big fat pick slide.

If one wants to hear what Eddie Van Halen sounds like, all they need to do is play “Beat It”.

VH 194_0001VAN HALEN – 1984 (MCMLXXXIV) (1984 Warner)

Having compromised his artistic instincts on 1982’s Diver Down, Edward Van Halen refused to do the same again.  He and longtime engineer Donn Landee proceeded to build 5150, Eddie’s home recording studio.  There he was free to experiment with the synthesizers that had begun to creep into Van Halen albums.  When the studio was complete, Eddie felt that he had more control.

But there were other issues beginning to surface.  The Michael Jackson cameo, for example.  Roth had reportedly vetoed previous offers for Van Halen to do guest appearances on records.  (Van Halen had also appeared on the semi-obscure Brian May and Friends EP Star Fleet Project.)  When Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson extended the offer to appear on “Beat It”, Edward did it without telling the others in the band.  Roth claims he never would have objected to Edward working with an artist of Quincy Jones’ stature, but the feelings of betrayal had set in.

Edward and Roth both recall that Van Halen had the main keyboard hook from “Jump” for years, and had submitted it for consideration twice.  Roth and producer Ted Templeman rejected it both times, wishing Eddie to keep the focus on his guitar playing.  The third time was the charm, and Roth finally agreed to write lyrics for the song, now titled “Jump”.  Another synth piece of Eddie’s, now called “1984” was used on the album to precede “Jump”.

It’s impossible to underestimate the impact of “Jump”.  Those big fat Oberheim keys were unlike any that Van Halen had used before.  The song’s success made other bands pay attention, who were quick to begin adding keyboards themselves.  The trends this song ushered included the successes of Bon Jovi, Europe and the like.  Veteran bands like Kiss started adding keyboards to their live shows.  “Jump” was a perfect storm.  It captured Van Halen’s already likable and cool party-hearty spirit, with the cool new wave bands that had replaced punk.  Eddie’s tasteful guitar solo ensured that his fans would still listen to every note in order to figure out just how the hell he did that.  Meanwhile, who couldn’t love his sheepish grin in the music video?

If you listen carefully during the fade, you’ll hear a familiar guitar riff.  Can you name it?  That very riff was recycled in 1991 on Van Hagar’s song “Top of the World”!

“Panama” was also a single, no keyboards this time!  David made the ladies faint every time during the middle break.  The high-flying video showed their sense of humour and electric stage show.  If any fan was left doubting after “Jump”, then “Panama” assured them that all was alright.  Guitar pyrotechnics and cool lyrics are where’s it at.

What’s not to like about “Top Jimmy”?  Perfectly fusing his experimental and hard rocking sides, Eddie created a hook using guitar harmonics for “Top Jimmy”.  There’s the patented Van Halen backing vocals, a smokin’ song, and David Lee Roth running the show.  This is one of those album cuts that’s every bit as good as the better known tracks.  Same with “Drop Dead Legs”.  Alex’s steady beat, Eddie’s smoldering riff, and Roth’s leathery moan are a trifecta of perfection.  If you listen to the riff, you’ll notice Eddie’s innovative way of using a whammy bar in a musical fashion, as an actual part of the music.  Towards the end, Eddie goes into a different riff, and solos his way to the side’s fade-out.

“Sit down, Waldo!”

Dave’s knack for video scored a home run with “Hot For Teacher”.  You wouldn’t necessarily think a song like this, a hard shuffle with a lot of talking in it, would make for hit.  Hell it opens with 30 seconds of nothing but drums!  “Hot For Teacher” remains a pinnacle of hard rock music videos.  There’s the humour, the girls, the cool car, and of course “Waldo” who got the last laugh, didn’t he?

“I’ll Wait” is the third and last synth track on the album (including “1984”).  It too was chosen as a single, and like all the others, it has stood the test of time.  “I’ll Wait” is a very transitional song.  Roth keeps it cool, but musically, Van Hagar was already in sight.  The echo of later songs like “Feels So Good” can be heard in that throbbing keyboard.  “I’ll Wait” (credited to the band and Michael McDonald) went through a period in the 1990’s of sounding dated, but today it sounds timeless.  Rather than commercial, today the keyboards sound classy.  The guitar solo is simple and full of feel.

Ominous guitar tapping and shredding opens “Girl Gone Bad”, a devastating assault of Eddie’s most aggressive guitar.  A song like this absolutely needed to be on 1984 in order to maintain the band’s metal credentials.  Many teenagers injured their wrists trying to pick as fast as Edward.  Meanwhile, Roth does his very best Robert Plant impression during the middle section.  “Yeah, ahh, ahh, owww!  Oooooooowhoah!  Ma…ma…ma…oh!”

Finally, exhumed from the band’s distant past is “House of Pain”.   This song was always one of Van Halen’s heaviest, featuring a chugging metallic riff.  Eddie’s increasingly interesting solos have evolved, and they make the last couple minutes of “House of Pain” absolutely indispensable for anyone wanting to know anything about the electric guitar.

As “House of Pain” fades out and 1984 comes to close, a sadness overtakes me.  The end sounds abrupt; unfinished.  The album was so good, so great, that I want to hear more.  But there is no more.

VH 194_0002

Another successful tour followed the 1984 album, and the band were burned out.  David Lee Roth got the covers EP Crazy From the Heat out of his system.  There was also some kind of companion movie to the EP in the works, something that bothered the Van Halen brothers greatly.  After a while, the band settled in to begin writing the next album, their seventh.  It was not to be.  According to Alex Van Halen in a fall 1991 M.E.A.T Magazine interview, David Lee Roth fired the entire band.

Van Halen had to replace a frontman, a difficult thing to do in any circumstances, much less when that frontman was David Lee Roth.  In the meantime, David Lee Roth had to replace an entire band.  A difficult thing, especially when the lead guitar player of that band is oft-recognized as the best in the world.

Both bounced back.  Van Halen pondered a number of singers including Patty Smyth of Scandal, before meeting Sammy Hagar.  Hagar’s energy and musical chops helped fill Roth’s sizable shoes.  Meanwhile, Roth chose to replace Van Halen with not one but two acclaimed virtuosos.  On bass was ex-Talas maestro Billy Sheehan.  On guitar, from Frank Zappa’s band, little Stevie Vai.  Throw in the talented Gregg Bissonette on drums, and you had one hell of a band.

Both artists would find 1984 hard to top in the eyes of the most stubborn old fans.  It’s hard to blame them.  1984 is a very special record, and quite arguably Van Halen’s very best.

VH 194_00045/5 stars

And that is all.

Or not…

They did try again, in 1996.  We’ll be taking a look at that next time.

 

REVIEW: Van Halen – Diver Down (1982)

VAN HALEN (Not Van Hagar!) Part 6: Intruder

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)
Part 4: Everybody Wants Some!! (Women and Children First – 1980)
Part 5: Push Comes to Shove (Fair Warning – 1981)

VAN HALEN – Diver Down (1982 Warner)

Of all the classic Van Halen discs in the canon, I find Diver Down hardest to review.  After the pugnaciously perfect Fair Warning, the band really started battling over direction.  Deciding to try for some hits rather than continue experimenting musically, Van Halen turned in the 31 minute Diver Down, a collection of covers, instrumentals and joke tunes with only a couple of serious rockers.  Yet every time I listen to it, don’t I absolutely enjoy Diver Down?

To my ears, Diver Down sounds like an intentional return to the party rock sounds that launched Van Halen in the first place.  It certainly does not sound like an album that should follow Fair Warning.  Now, we’re back into covers:  The Kinks’ “Where Have All the Good Times Gone!” opens the record.  Eddie pointed out that the song and album are loaded with errors.  He misses some harmonics in “Where Have All the Good Times Gone!”…and it’s fucking perfect.  There’s nothing wrong with Van Halen showing up to play a drunken party again in the old neighborhood, is there?  Even if they’re the big kids now?

“Hang ‘Em High” was an older song that the band exhumed for Diver Down.  It immediately evokes the heavier material from some of the earlier records.  Only now, Van Halen had learned to work in a recording studio and were taking advantage of some of the tricks they had picked up over the years.  Eddie’s extended solo sounds spontaneous and live.

“Cathedral” is a trick of guitar volume swells.  By physically manipulating the volume knob on his guitar, Eddie created a sound that reminded him of a church organ.  Tonally it resembles where Van Halen would go on the next album.  This is just an intro (a beautiful one at that) to “Secrets”, a laid-back original.  “Secrets” has vibe, and this is as good a time as any to point out the ace rhythm section of Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony.  These guys were a big part of the overall Van Halen sound.

By 1982, David Lee Roth was starting to become interested in the new medium that was music video.  He directed the concept video for “(Oh) Pretty Woman”, a Roy Orbison cover.  Dave’s classic ingredients were all there:  a cavalcade of characters, little people, and a joke-a-minute style of cool.  The video however ran too long once edited together.  The song was not even three minutes long, and Dave didn’t want to make further cuts.  Instead he played synthesizer, while Eddie made guitar noises with a beer can on the neck, and they called that “Intruder”.

“Pretty Woman” features the biggest mistake on the entire album (which is just loaded with ’em, just listen).  Where Roy Orbison sang this:

“‘Cause I need you, I’ll treat you right,”
Come with me baby, be mine tonight.”

Roth unwittingly sang just this:

“‘Cause I need you, need you tonight…”

VH DD_0002Side Two commenced with yet another cover.  David Lee Roth really wanted to do “Dancing in the Street”, but Eddie wasn’t into it.  Eddie already had a unique synthesizer part he was working on for his own song, and Roth suggested they use it for “Dancing in the Street”, which they did.  If there was one song I’d skip on Diver Down, it would be this one.  It does get a fair bit of radio play, though.

“Little Guitars” (and the intro that precedes it) is a bonafide Van Halen classic.  Eddie was intrigued by flamenco guitar but couldn’t get the fingerpicking.  Instead he used his own tricks (and a pick) to make it sound similar to what the flamenco players were doing.  The song itself is a sassy mid-tempo rocker with a shiny melody.  Once again the classic ‘Halen harmonies are to thank.

VH DD_0003There are two schools of thought on “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)”.  One is that it’s a joke cover tune that shouldn’t have been on an album.  Another is that while the song is humorous, it is also very special.  This is a song from 1924 that Roth had discovered on the radio.  Then, Dave suggested that they invite Jan Van Halen, the father of Eddie and Alex, into the studio to play clarinet.  I get chills up my spine listening to Jan’s lyrical playing.  Alex is playing with brushes, the others are on acoustics, and Dave is absolutely at home.  This song is quintessential Dave Lee Roth, and conjures up that ol’ timey Al Jolson sound.

Dave plays the acoustic intro to “The Full Bug”, and then Eddie kicks in with that riff.  Alex and Michael create that classic Van Halen shuffle as the band careens to the end of the record.  Roth throws down a ballsy harmonica.  This track could also be considered a bonafide Van Halen keeper.

Concluding with “Happy Trails” is only logical.  The boys sound absolutely blitzed as they drunkenly sing acappella, before they all crack up at the end.  Diver Down, undoubtedly a party rock album, is over.

While Diver Down is still fun to listen to, it seems like a blip in the overall Van Halen trajectory.  It’s clear that it is not as innovative as some albums previous, nor does it rock as heavy.  Yet, it’s likable.  It still sounds great in the summertime.  As Craig Fee pointed out, “I still think DLR’s version of ‘Where Have All The Good Times Gone?’ is way better than the original.  For every shitty cover (‘(Oh) Pretty Woman’ comes to mind), you have original gems like ‘Little Guitars’ to make up for it.”

But how the hell do I rate it?

4/5 stars (?)

VH DD_0005

 

REVIEW: Van Halen – Fair Warning (1981)

VAN HALEN (Not Van Hagar!) Part 5: Push Comes to Shove

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)
Part 4: Everybody Wants Some!! (Women and Children First – 1980)

VAN HALEN – Fair Warning (1981 Warner)

If Women and Children First was the point where the party got dark and a little ugly, then Fair Warning is the hangover.  It was also the point where, according to Edward Van Halen, the band started butting heads.  Eddie was interested in pushing his guitar, and himself, to new limits.  Other influences were more interested in the band continuing to create hits.  The conflict seeps through the grooves of what might be called an angry hard rock album.

A year prior, the band had planned on opening album #4 with “Growth”, a riff that was to continue on from the outro to Women and Children First.  That concept was abandoned in favor of a bold move: inaugurating the album with a funky guitar solo piece.  Edward tried slapping the strings like a bass player would for the unique intro to “Mean Street”; then this changes to his patented tapping technique.  There is only one guitar player who naturally sounds like this, and that’s Eddie.  Then it’s off to “Mean Street”, a chugging rocker with Roth offering us an ominous warning:

See, a gun is real easy on this desperate side of town,
Turns you from hunted into hunter, Go and hunt somebody down.
Wait a minute, somebody said “Fair Warning, Lord!”
Lord, strike that poor boy down!

What a killer opener to a killer album.  Now you know what you’re up against.  Van Halen, as heavy as ever, give no quarter on Fair Warning.  Maybe that’s why it is such a fan favourite today.

“‘Dirty Movies'” turns in some more stunningly original fretwork.  This dark rocker has a catchy chorus and more wickedly cool Roth lyrics.  Mike and Alex lay back and let the song breathe.  Another classic, “Sinner’s Swing!” doesn’t let up.  The Van Halen harmonies are intact, and this is the first upbeat track of the album.  Saving the best for last, “Hear About It Later” closes Side One.  This is one of my all-time favourite Van Halen tracks.  It captures all the classic ingredients:  innovative guitar, a smokin’ riff, a great chorus with the VH harmonies, and a whole lot of that Roth attitude.

VH FW_0004

 

It’s hard to follow a track like that, unless it’s “Unchained” doing the following.  Side Two’s classic opener kicks your ass, my ass, and any asses left in the room.  Edward puts the flanger on overdrive for that killer riff.  Roth throws down one of his classic spoken word breaks in the middle:  “Hey hey hey hey!  One break, comin’ up…”

“Unchained” is one of the most important Van Halen tracks in the canon.  Some would consider it a peak for this band, and I think that theory holds water.  It’s definitely a high water mark, a flawless combination of all the crucial components.  “Unchained” is a memorable classic on an album that, at times, can be more difficult to penetrate on first listen.

One of Fair Warning‘s hidden gems is “Push Comes To Shove”.  It features a slow disco beat and a funky, slippery bass intro.  Eddie’s innovative guitar work is a highlight, but the song is soaked with a cool whiskey-stained vibe.  Roth would later explore similar territory on his solo track “Ladies Night in Buffalo?”

“So This Is Love?” was, like “Unchained”, chosen as a single.  It has a cool walking bass line by Michael Anthony, something I associate with early Van Halen quite a lot.  The track is upbeat and irresistible.   It’s a mere reprieve though before “Sunday Afternoon in the Park”.  This forboding experimental synthesizer piece acts as an intro to the final song, “One Foot Out the Door”, but the two parts are actually equal in length (just under two minutes each).  You can hear the foreshadowing of what would come later on the 1984 album.  The synthesizer merges with the whole band on “One Foot Out the Door” which is as heavy as synth-based rock can get.  It’s a smoking track regardless of what instruments are playing it.  Fear not, Eddie throws in an amazing extended guitar solo with which he closes the song, and album.

Of note is the cover art, a painting called The Maze by William Kurelek.  It depicts childhood bullying, and reflects the some of the darker tones inside.  Van Halen were changing, and their album artwork alluded to this.

Fair Warning did not sell as well as Women and Chidren First, though it is equal to and arguably superior in quality.  The downturn in sales influenced the direction of the next album, which would appear one year later.

5/5 stars

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

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

REVIEW: Van Halen – Van Halen (1978)

VAN HALEN (Not Van Hagar!) Part 2: On Fire

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

Part 1: The Early Years (Zero – 1977)

VH_0001VAN HALEN – Van Halen (1978 Warner)

Then, the inevitable happened:  Van Halen signed with Warner Brothers in 1977, and went into the recording studio with Ted Templeman.  The producer, probably best known for his work with the Doobie Brothers (though he did have a Captain Beefheart record under his belt), helped hone Van Halen’s sound to a razor-sharp edge.  The relationship was to be a long and fruitful one.  Templeman was responsible for every classic Van Halen album, before helming David Lee Roth’s Eat ‘Em and Smile in 1986.  Templeman even returned to co-produce the Van Hagar album For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.  One might venture that the producer had a huge impact on the overall sound of early Van Halen.

Their first collaboration was released in February 1978.  Van Halen.  When my dad first heard the name, he responded, “Van Halen? Sounds like some kind of tropical disease.”  But they had built an audience playing legendary gigs at Gazzarri’s in West Hollywood, and with the help of a 1978 tour they propelled the album to #18 in the US.  Not bad for a rock band in the middle of punk.

It’s impossible to talk about the songs without talking about the players.   Edward Van Halen’s guitar work here set a very high bar, even for himself.  His biggest complaint about the guitar on Van Halen is that it is mixed hard to the left channel.  This old fashioned recording technique failed to create the beefy sound Van Halen had heard in his head.  As he put it himself, if you were in a car with the left speaker blown, you wouldn’t hear any guitar, only its faint shadow on the right.

Van Halen may not have introduced techniques such as tapping,  pick slides, pinch harmonics, and whammy bar dives but he did use them in new, in-your-face ways.  He turned these simple tricks into music, and on Van Halen, he did it mostly without overdubs.  Much of the album consists of a single track of guitar.  Templeman was trying to capture their live sound, but Edward would later get his way when it came to the guitar.

David Lee Roth was the most exciting rock frontman of the era, in this writer’s opinion, and he managed to bring that to vinyl.  He’s raw, menacing, and cool.  Every shriek, every sigh, every squeal is scientifically designed for maximum impact at the exact right moment.  Meanwhile, Michael Anthony’s backing vocals helped create that “Van Halen sound” — hard rock with harmonies.  Like only a few others (Hendrix for example), Van Halen managed to extend their own sound into the covers they did, to the point that their cover versions are as well known as the originals.  “You Really Got Me” (The Kinks) is an apt example.

It is not difficult to argue that every song on Van Halen, from the originals to the covers to the 1:45 guitar solo, is classic.  There is not much more to be said about these tracks.  They had been stewing in Edward’s head and fingers for years, and had acquired a deadly tightness.  Side One is one of the heaviest sides of rock and roll in the 1970’s.  From the slow burnin’ “Runnin’ With the Devil” to the explosive “I’m the One”, the first side is non-stop smoke.  Putting a guitar solo as track #2 might be suicide for some records, but on Van Halen, “Eruption” only serves to whet the appetite for more.

“Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” is menacing, ominous, forboding, and heavy.  Roth’s banshee wails are unholy enough to frighten wild beasts.  For songwriting, “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” is a highpoint of Van Halen’s entire canon.  They continued to play it live with Sammy Hagar on the 5150 tour.

VH_0002Side Two lets up a bit and introduces Roth’s early pop tendencies with “Jamie’s Cryin'”.  Edward’s inimitable riff was later sampled by Tone Lōc for his hit “Wild Thing”, introducing Van Halen to yet another new audience.  The reprieve is brief; next is a stampede from the “Atomic Punk”.  Although the guitar work is miles above and beyond any punk band, the loud spirit is there and menacing as any other.  Switching gears yet again, “Feel Your Love Tonight” is catchy and danceable.  The harmonies of Michael Anthony and the Van Halen brothers make the chorus something special, and Eddie’s guitar solo throws in lots of those signature licks that you know and love.  “Little Dreamer” is darker, another side that Van Halen does very well.  Roth and Edward gel together to paint an aural picture, while Michael and Alex stay out of the way.

David Lee Roth plays the acoustic guitar on “Ice Cream Man”, a blues song by John Brim dating back to 1953.  Brim never could have envisioned where Van Halen take the song after the first minute.  The space-age guitar solos would have been unimaginable to a bluesman of the 1950’s.  What Edward did with the blues on “Ice Cream Man” can only be described as completely original.  And let’s not forget about David Lee Roth!  “Guarantee-ee-ee-ee-ee-eed…to satis-a-fy!”

Finally, “On Fire” (which opened the Gene Simmons-produced Zero demo) closes this rollercoaster album.  Pure heavy metal with burning fretwork is an apt description.  Roth has mentioned in the past Van Halen’s early Black Sabbath influences.  Here, Van Halen anticipate where Black Sabbath would go with Ian Gillan on Born Again.

Even their logo was bad ass.  Van Halen has it all.

5/5 stars

As great as Van Halen still is today, and as highly as I rated it…the best was still yet to come.