Much has been made of the semi-reunion of Van Halen. They were a band who had some solid rock albums (and one classic!) that were based on a few simple principles:
A party band that had the good fortune of having two players with serious chops and musical ideas that went beyond what was popular in the mid to late 70s. Eddie and Alex Van Halen spent years in the “wood shed” honing their craft, and when they hooked up with David Lee Roth’s glitzy lead singer act, and a bass player who looked like that guy you hung with in gym class (Michael Anthony), the band laid down some solid rock grooves that propelled them into pantheon of rock gods.
Their first album has one of the best rock song line ups in a long, long time. From the amazing “Running With the Devil” to “Eruption,” and then into “You Really Got Me,” the band had what I think was a perfect air guitar trifecta for suburban rock star wannabes in 1978 (C’mon! Did it really surprise you when “You Really Got Me” was on Guitar Hero II?)
Sometime you can bottle lighting, and on Van Halen , the boys did just that. The album was recorded very quickly (about 3 weeks), and very little studio trickery was used during the recording process. So, what you’re hearing on this first record is the band playing tight and furious while the tape was rolling. That energy, playfulness, and pop/rock sensibility was a giant push back against the synthesized grooves of disco of the time. It’s a “balls-to-the-wall” rock album that, to this day, remains a work to marvel at. Yes, it’s that good.
And that’s why it’s so painful to listen to Van Halen III. The songs have a “paint by numbers” feel to them, and the fact that Gary Cherone was the lead singer was the least of their problems. What’s missing is any sort of feeling to the songs (Just listen to “Without You” and “Fire In The Hole”). The Van Halen playfulness is gone, the larger-than-life rock persona that we expect Van Halen to trot out is replaced by playing that seems propped up by “trying-way-too-hard-to-rock” power chords, and Cherone’s shrug-inducing vocals.
Eddie once called Gary Cherone his “musical soul mate,” and that’s just sad. If Cherone fronted Van Halen back in the late they would have remained L.A.’s favorite bar band who were never quite good enough to land a record deal. Happily, they found Roth first, and because of that bit of luck, they made history.
Listen to “Running With The Devil” HERE
Listen to “Eruption” HERE
Listen to “You Really Got Me” HERE
Listen to “Without You” HERE
Listen to “Fire In The Hole” HERE
P.S. Jefito has a really great post on Van Halen that made me go back and listen to some VH and post these thought. Read his musings HERE.