I decided I wanted to write about the debut Van Halen album, Van Halen (aka Van Halen I), in mid-August of 2020 amidst a Covid quarantine in Japan, and listed it on my “must do writing list”. I began listening to it over and over, which was not a stretch as I often do! On these latest vinyl listenings, I also began refamiliarizing myself with each track. Listening to the album several times a week often led into other Van Halen albums and tracks on a more than regular basis as well. Around the first week of October back in 2020, I decided it was time to put some thoughts on paper and began making a few notes over a couple of days. Then the sad news broke early one morning… On October 6, 2020, Eddie Van Halen lost his battle with cancer. Eddie was gone. My first thought was disbelief. Guitar gods don’t die! A cloud of sadness descended upon me. The last time a music legend died that hit me this hard was Tom Petty back in 2017. I did not personally know either musician, but their music is a big part of the soundtrack of my life. The writing was put on hold. I had to face my music grief.
Which brings us to February 2023, which marks the 45th Anniversary of the release of Van Halen I.
As I sat and pondered the last 45 years of Van Halen and their awesome debut album Van Halen I, I thought of my old school friend Mark McFarland’s Van Halen t-shirt. Mark introduced me to Van Halen by wearing their tour shirt to a school dance. I was intrigued by the VH logo on the shirt and had no idea what it meant at the time. Mark never knew, but I considered him to be one of the coolest dudes in school. We were merely acquaintances, but he was always kind to me, and at the same time a bit aloof. I guess that was to be expected as he was a year or two older. After a very brief conversation with Mark in the wings of the school cafeteria-turned-dance-floor as a decibel limit stretching “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” shook the walls, he told me that Van Halen was a hard rocking band with an awesome guitar player. If he thought they were worthy of a t-shirt, I had to give this band some serious attention. To do that, I monitored my favorite rock-n-roll stations hoping to catch a Van Halen song. This was a time before the Internet, it was not as easy as logging onto AppleMusic or Spotify and typing in Van Halen! I managed to catch a few songs on the radio. “Runnin’ With the Devil”, “You Really Got Me”, “Jamie’s Cryin’”, “Dance the Night Away”, and “Beautiful Girls” were in pretty heavy rotation on KY-102 and after a few weeks of catching them when I could, I decided Van Halen was worth spending my allowance money to buy an album and the first one I bought was Van Halen I.
With my purchase of Van Halen I, I poured over the photos of Eddie and Alex Van Halen, Micheal Anthony, and David Lee Roth as I devoured the liner notes. Released in 1978, Van Halen I was the band’s first of twelve studio albums and peaked at #19 on the Billboard Charts. The first track on the album, “Runnin’ with the Devil” does not prepare you for “Eruption”. Who was this Eddie Van Halen and how did he learn to play the guitar like that?! I was mesmerized! And then it slides into The Kinks cover “You Really Got Me” and the listener is never allowed to look back or relax. KY102 and most FM radio stations from Minnesota to California rarely played “Eruption/You Really Got Me” together, but in the words of my friend Fred, “When they did, it was F-in cool”. The album powers on with Eddie’s guitar crunching into “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” where Roth ‘takes you to the edge, looks down, lets you know he’s lost a lot of friends there, and has no time to mess around’. “I’m the One” finishes off side one of the album.
Flip it over and side two starts with a howling “Jamie’s Cryin’” and then fades into a scratching “Atomic Punk”. Both of these songs are steady rockers that set the stage for my favorite song on the album, “Feel Your Love Tonight”. “Feel Your Love Tonight” was released October 1978 as the B-Side single to “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”, I’ve always felt it should have been an A-Side release because it showcases the unique talents of all four members, complete with killer acapella harmonies. And along comes “Little Dreamer” sashaying through the car stereo speakers as you put your best moves on your best girl in the back seat amid the glow of those dashboard lights! Only to then be cooled down by the “Ice Cream Man”, the second cover on the album originally recorded by John Brim, a Chicago blues man. The Van Halen I experience ends with “On Fire” featuring killer David Lee Roth and Michael Anthony screams! Rock on!
Fast forward 45 years later, and Van Halen I is one of my prized Van Halen records and I listen to it quite often. It still gets my blood pumping and I still marvel at Eddie’s guitar prowess.
And that’s Van Halen I…in its entirety.
Van Halen I
- Runnin’ with the Devil
- You Really Got Me
- Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love
- I’m the One
- Jamie’s Cryin’
- Atomic Punk
- Feel Your Love Tonight
- Little Dreamer
- Ice Cream Man
- On Fire
Moipai arigato Fred san!
© 2023 Gregory Vessar. A Thousand Miles from Kansas. All Rights Reserved.
Oh my goodness!! What memories you have brought back. They were and still are a favorite for me too. My nephew, who was in a band and an amazing drummer and still is, got to meet them many many years ago when they were in Knoxville. He has a picture of him and Eddie. They were one of my first concerts.
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