DUST IT OFF: Van Halen’s debut album…40 years later

February 10, 1978 was the day when a certain album hit the streets for the very first time but it was what happened on the following day that matters more to me.


Saturday, February 11, 1978. I was 7 years old and one reason I’m at Ala Moana Shopping Center was because it’s a Saturday, I wouldn’t be at the mall if it was a weekday, I didn’t have those type of luxuries or freedoms and neither did most other 7 years old. My mom and dad went shopping and as was the norm, I found myself in the music section at any store that had them but in this case, I was at a record store named DJ’s Sound City. Imagine a 7-year old just looking and browsing normally in the rock, soul, or jazz section. Sometimes I’d browse for something to see while other times, I just wanted to see cool covers. As I’m standing, browsing through and going through the racks. All of a sudden, I hear a sound getting louder, what reminds me of traffic, as if cars or trucks were coming my way. It was loud but I thought it was very cool and I had no idea what it was.


Then this beefy bass guitar takes a stroll and then a minor brushing or stroke of the guitar neck happens. Then a guitar riff is being played. I’m standing there, hands to records and I’m going “what is this?” Then the singer begins, he sounds like a cool and mellow guy and all of a sudden, he begins screaming. I don’t know if I began to smile or smirk as a way to describe how cool it was.


A few minutes later, a song that has a guitar solo begins. I was already a fan of hard rock, I knew of Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, and Kiss but they sounded nothing like what I was listening to. This was mind-blowing and I didn’t know how to describe it. The song was nothing but a 105 guitar blitz. This was not Ace Frehley, this was not Tony Iommi, this was not Joe Perry. Again, I’m 7 years old and it felt like my head was being filmed with so much unknown. I honestly didn’t look around to see how everyone else was reaction to what we were listening to, I was in my own world as if I was in my own bedroom, wanting to dwell into this new sound.


Then came song #3. I don’t know if I already knew “You Really Got Me”, not sure if I even knew of The Kinks just yet. I know oldies songs was something I heard on a regular basis on the radio and at that point, the original song was close to being 14 years old. I just knew it was an older song and that guitar was uncontrolled, the howls and screams from David Lee Roth was kinda trippy. Then my mom called for me and said it’s time for me to go but I had to do one thing first.


As I walked to the front of the door, I walked to the right and I knew where the record player was, I had to find out who it was. I saw the black cover with four guys on it but I wanted to look at the record label. It was the Burbank, California trees, which meant this record was on Warner Bros. I had enough records or access to records on Warner Bros. so I was knowing about labels at this point. I knew the first time I heard Black Sabbath was on the green Warner Bros. label. Later that year, when Funkadelic released One Nation Under A Groove, the label turned into a new beige/tan label with horizontal lines so for me, early 1978 was still the Burbank trees but by the time I was beginning the 3rd grade, Warner Bros. had a brand new label variation. New label, new era, new phrase. Yet those Burbank trees was the ID and I had to know so I could buy the album but did I get it, even ask for it as a Christmas gift? No.


The funny thing is as I write did, did I actually listen to “Eruption” and “You Really Got Me” at DJ’s Sound City that morning or afternoon? A part of me wants to say yes but I’m still uncertain, it could be a collection of stories I gathered as I discovered the album and listened to it in time. My Uncle David was the guitarist of the family and while he loved his Pat Travers, Yngwie Malmsteem, Rudolf Schenker and John McLaughlin, getting into Eddie Van Halen for the first time was a trip for a guy who could’ve been my older brother. He was 16 when the first Van Halen album was released so I could only imagine what his mind was like when he first heard them. Which leads us to this: did I really hear “Eruption” and “You Really Got Me” at the record store?

However, I clearly remember hearing “Running With The Devil”, I fully remember walking to the front of the record store, walking to the right, looking and being tall enough to see the turntable, the cover next to it and the Burbank trees, I forever remember it as something that meant something to me.

In my lifetime, there are many musical first and people talk about them. Some will say it’s hard to remember a time before but I clearly remember a time before Nirvana’s Nevermind, a time before Madonna’s “Holiday”, a time before Prince came out with “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, and existence before hip-hop. I’m glad to say I remember a childhood before Van Halen’s self-titled debut album. My introduction to hard rock and heavy metal was through Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Kiss, and Alice Cooper and as vulgar as the music was and as offensive as Grandma Book made it out to be (she called Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” the work of the devil and knew I would become satanic and go to hell because I played it on her phonograph without permission), I loved it. I was listening to music by Paul Simon, Johnny Nash, War, and Earth, Wind & Fire but the distortion of the guitar, the pounding of the bass and the maniacal rhythm of the drums made me becoming a devoted believer and I wanted to hear more. Much more.

  • It would be awhile before I heard the first Van Halen album in full but once I knew who gave me the music on the Burbank label, one could not listen to the radio without hearing them. Keep in mind too that early on, my radio habits were AM radio because that was the norm, Top 40 music was great and the best. Once I discovered FM radio and heard the kind of music I loved, I never went back.

    In my childhood, I still remember going to record and department stores and there were a few times when it seemed a new Van Halen album was released. I clearly remember being at GEM store on Ward Avenue when Women And Children First was brand new, I thought “my uncle has to know about this” but being 18 or 19 at this point, listening to 98 Rock, I knew he either heard it on the radio, if not walking away from a record store with his copy. I clearly remember when Fair Warning was brand new and I know when Diver Down came out, for it was represented by a music video by a new cable network (MTV) that banned it because the “pretty woman” in the video was actually a transvestite. Kinda funny, considering how in early 1982, a transvestite offended a network but by that fall. “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” became one of the hottest songs on MTV, leading to radio airplay, by a guy named Boy George. Thus, a transvestite promoting a song called “(Oh) Pretty Woman” shouldn’t have meant anything but cable network standards were still weird. The video wasn’t suggestive and yet the controversy was too much.

    Oddly enough, the first Van Halen album I ever got was 1984, the one with all of those hits: “Jump”, “I’ll Wait”, “Hot For Teacher” and “Panama”. The album fans and credits claimed was a massive sell-out for the band because it had keyboards even though the band (well, Eddie Van Halen) was using it on Fair Warning. Hard rock and heavy metal was considered manly music and anything extra into that rock formula was almost anti-metal, anti-rock and yes, feminine. As someone who was into Pink Floyd and a growing amount of progressive rock, I loved organs, keyboards, and synths so all this talk about rock becoming more “feminine” because of keyboards was stupid and later, very pathetic. When I went to high school, I would discovered some of the best hard rock and metal fans were women, some even had nicknames similar to their favorite musicians. I went to school with a girl named Dana Jabs who loved Scorpions guitarist Matthias Jabs. Oddly enough, I knew her as Dana Jabs but I don’t know if her real last name was Jabs or if she was actually Dana.

    Yet that first Van Halen album was a huge influence on not only the next wave of guitarists from that point on, but even in the fashion of the guitar. I know many guitarists put electrical tape on their guitars like Van Halen’s “Frankenstein” guitar, sprayed it in red or black paint and gave it that look. Everyone wanted to have that look, everyone wanted to have his look. His guitar wizardly was too much and many wanted to be the new EVH. Yet Van Halen was much more than a guitarist, which is what made the band so solid and so great. Most people often talk bout rhythm sections, groups with a solid drummer and bassist but the brotherly love between Eddie and Alex Van Halen was obvious in everything they played. They were two distinct musicians with different mentalities and yet they worked. As for the genuine rhythm section, Alex was a demon with the low-end theories of bassist Michael Anthony and what people loved was his falsetto singing. Some have said over the years that Anthony was the far better singer than David Lee Roth, or even Sammy Hagar or even “the other guy”. Anthony could not be messed with and for decades, no one dared to. That doesn’t take away the sheer elegance of David Lee Roth, who sang and screamed like a banshee and had a sexuality to match. Women wanted to eat him, men wanted his spandex wardrobe. Together, that Roth/Anthony/Van Halen/Van Halen lineup were a militia and in those seven years they were together before Roth went solo and was replaced by Sammy Hagar, they became monarchs that very few could measure up to. Many still can’t.

    40 years later, Van Halen is an album by a band who were lead to Warner Bros. with help from Gene Simmons so while Kiss were very much the monarchs, the kings or knights in Satan’s service, of our world, Van Halen were a band that said “now it’s our turn”. The addition of their music and musicianship was incredible and 40 years later, even if I may not be around to talk about it, there will be enough people to listen to it and say “I can’t believe they made music like this 80 years ago.” When rock bands were releasing albums around this time, critics were calling them dinosaurs due to the rise of punk rock but Van Halen brought a new life to this alleged dying genre. Van Halen saved hard rock and helped introduce a generation to heavy metal.

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