Album Of The Week – February 13, 2023

I had a few different options for this week, but then this past Friday I was enlightened to the fact that February 10th marked the 45th anniversary of what likely marks the greatest debut album ever presented. So to commemorate something that came out almost six months after I was born, I’ll divert my attention to this absolutely phenomenal slab of music.

Van Halen – self-titled

Released February 10, 1978 via Warner Bros.

My Favorite Tracks – Runnin’ With The Devil, Ain’t Talking About Love, Atomic Punk

The early Van Halen tale is worth a brief run-through here. The brothers Van Halen, along with original bassist Mark Stone would kick off the band, then David Lee Roth would join on vocals after the group were regularly renting his PA equipment. Stone was replaced with Michael Anthony, and the group began a slow ascent through the Los Angeles club circuit.

Gene Simmons loves his credit for discovering Van Halen, so here’s where his part of the story comes in. Simmons helped VH craft a demo, which did not draw attention or a record deal. Simmons was frustrated that no one in his circle saw the talent within Van Halen and went to tour with Kiss, leaving VH to find their own deal. People out on the LA scene began calling producer Ted Templeman, who had been wanting to get a guitar-centric band together, and the match made in Heaven would come to fruition. Templeman got the band signed to Warner Brothers, got them in the studio and banged out the album in a few weeks.

Time to go under the hood of this landmark record. It’s 11 songs though with a fairly brief 35 minute play time, but of course there’s a lot to discuss here.

Runnin’ With The Devil

I can save a bit of time off the bat as I’ve covered the opening track before in my S-Tier Songs series. It’s a fantastic, immortal rock track and one of the band’s best, even if the field of “their best” is very crowded.


This brief instrumental would light the rock and music world on fire. Eddie’s use of two-handed tapping would revolutionize rock guitar for the next decade. The solo is a crazy shred fest that just wasn’t present in late 70’s rock music and it quickly became the piece that every aspiring guitarist looked to emulate.

You Really Got Me

This cover of the Kinks’ 1964 hit would serve as the first single from the record. It’s a Van Halen-ized version of the classic original and the VH cover would get wide airplay. Eddie wasn’t pleased with using the cover as the lead single but apparently there was a race on between Van Halen and the band Angel to get a cover version out so Warner Brothers rushed out the VH cover. The song fits the album just fine and is a very good cover track. Dave Davies of the Kinks would disagree with me but that’s kind of his thing.

Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love

This apostrophe-laden title catastrophe is also one of the band’s most celebrated songs. It was released as the album’s third single and was an instant classic. The riff is a signature rock standard and one of the areas where Van Halen could be accused of playing heavy metal. There’s also some electric sitar on the guitar solo because of course there is.

I’m The One

This is a very nice tune that really showcases in full the Van Halen sound – playing nearly off the rails with Alex and Michael holding down the rhythm fort, while David Lee Roth goes totally batshit on the mic.

Jamie’s Crying

Another highlight song, this has some fantastic riffs from Eddie as DLR spins the tale of Jamie, who got caught up trying to make a one-night stand into something more. Poor Jamie is caught in a bad spot, but at least we get a fantastic song out of it.

Atomic Punk

A very nice and heavy song about some kind of dystopian super villain or something. The song isn’t that deep or anything but it does have a bit of sci-fi cyberpunk feel to it. It’s another “brush” with heavy metal and it’s an outstanding work.

Feel Your Love Tonight

Thematically standard about trying to get with some gal, but a very revved up version of a more old-time rock song. The backing vocals from Eddie and Michael really hit here, though of course they’re present all over the album.

Little Dreamer

Here’s a song that feels like it’s a bridge between Van Halen and the rock that came prior. A very simple yet extremely effective riff and a well-done solo call to mind the rock heroes of the 70’s.

Ice Cream Man

A cover of an old blues standard from John Brim, the song had been around for ages but course had not yet had the Van Halen treatment. The band starts it off slow then kicks in with full instrumentation, making this yet another party rock tune. And of course the lyrical fare is alluding to certain, more adult activities. The song is well done and John Brim got a nice payday out of it too.

On Fire

The album ends with an exhibition, both of Eddie’s guitar playing and Roth’s full-fledged screams. Not that this album had any restraint anyway, but On Fire just goes off into another dimension. One of the band’s less heralded tracks but one that might deserve a bit more recognition.

Van Halen was a hit out of the gate and started the band on their track to superstar success. It would peak at number 19 on the Billboard 200. The record was platinum by October of 1978, and would go on to later diamond certification with over 10 million copies sold. It is virtually tied with 1984 as Van Halen’s best-selling album, though a lack of willingness on the record label’s part to re-certify does leave an incomplete picture.

The album retains its reputation as one of the greatest debut albums released. While to truly judge that would require an examination across many genres and eras, there is no doubt this was one of the most profound and electric debuts in music history.

And this goes far beyond just the scope of one album – this was the beginning of a new era in rock, one in which guitar would take center stage. This album set the table for the rock music of the 1980’s, which happened to be rock’s most commercially successful era. Van Halen was the shape of rock to come in the most excessive and loud decade of the 20th Century. Their own success would rival the biggest acts of music for their extraordinary run through a few decades, ultimately ended by the death of Eddie Van Halen in 2020.

Van Halen was the opening statement from a musical genius and the inspiration for millions to pick up guitars. The album was also the kick-off of a “party rock” trend that would run well through the next decade and usher in many good times and kill trillions of brain cells.

8 thoughts on “Album Of The Week – February 13, 2023

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