Formed around 1975 in Pasadena, California by Dutch brothers Eddie and Alex, Van Halen virtually defined heavy metal for the entire 1980s with their debut release in 1978. Their initial recording sessions were funded by big-tongued Kiss fella Gene Simmons, and their initial investor was Dr. Roth, the dentist father of lead singer, David Lee Roth.
Van Halen was a jaw-dropper. Roth was the showman with the fancy moves and fancy pants but he could really sing too. Songs like ‘Jamie’s Crying’, the awesome riffing of ‘Aint Talkin About Love’ and ‘Runnin' with the Devil,’ were a shot of adrenalin into the bloodstream of a flatulent heavy rock scene.
In Eddie Van Halen they had possibly the most influential guitarist of modern times. His manifesto was declared in the 2 minutes 4 seconds of Eruption. As a piece of sonic guitar wizardry, Eruption had no equal. It was subsequently single-handedly responsible for more widdly-widdly crimes of guitar wankery, but Eddie was the original and the best. His playing was a revelation. Full of hammer-on and hammer-offs, in the early days he’d play with his back to the crowd, so guitarists couldn’t work out what he was doing.
Now, his style has become commonplace, but back in 1978 we were genuinely amazed by it.
The debut album made 34 in UK and 19 in US ,but its impact was far reaching and long lasting. It’s sold over 5 million now.
Their slamming version of The Kinks ‘You Really Got Me’ was a minor hit. The next three albums Van Halen II, Women and Children First, Fair Warning and Diver Down consolidated their fan base. Live they were loud enough to blow your pants clean off. Diamond Dave specialised in hamming it up at all opportunities on stage and in videos. Eddie played a typical solo on Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ in 1983.
1984 was their mainstream break-through record. The classic single ‘Jump’ making it to number 2 and forever more being a jukebox favourite. Perhaps typically, at the height of their fame, Dave decided he rather fancied a solo career and off he went, taking his humour, receding hairline, wit and leather chaps with him, doubtless confident that Van Halen was finished without him.
As it turned out, he couldn’t have been more wrong. Their biggest commercial successes were right around the corner. Sammy Hager, the ex Montrose and shaggy-haired red-wearing singer was brought in and was instantly a huge success. 5150 was their first number 1 album. They had several hit singles from the album. If anyone was missing Dave it didn’t show. OU812 followed on in 1988. Another chart topping record, there was no stopping Van Halen. They were late 80s hard rock par excellence. And even when grunge came along to wipe away lesser acts, Van Halen just kept right on ploughing their own particular furrow. For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge continued their run of number 1 albums. They won awards for the video ‘Right Here Right Now’. 1993 saw a long awaited Live album come out, which only served to prove just what fine live performers they were.
1995’s Balance made it 4 number 1 studio albums consecutively. Then things got strange. Hager apparently fell out with Eddie because Eddie was clean and sober and Sammy, well Sammy wasn’t. Or was it because Eddie got Roth back in behind Sammy’s back? Did Sammy quit or did he walk? Either way, he was offski and Roth returned for a couple of tracks on a beefed-up Greatest Hits. The reunion was much anticipated. But egos were no more compatible than 11 years prior, Extreme’s Gary Charrone came in full time, and in 1998 they put out Van Halen III. It came into the charts at 3 then dipped. It was the worst selling VH album ever. Fans just didn’t like it much. Consequently, Charrone left. More rumours began about another DLR reunion, songs were recorded, but then Eddie got throat cancer. By the time he was well again, Roth was again out of the picture but reappeared in 2003 touring with Sammy Hager – naturally, they fell out acrimoniously. The summer of 2004 finds Van Halen back with Sammy Hagar and embarking on a major tour. Check the VH official site for dates and I Love All Access for special ticket packages.
Latter day squabbles should not hide the fact that Van Halen and Eddie in particular, all but reinvented modern heavy metal.