Van Halen: Van Halen – [Record 163]
Van Halen is the eponymous debut studio album by American rock band Van Halen. Released on February 10, 1978, sales were initially slow, with the album peaking at number 19 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album became widely recognized as the band’s popularity grew, selling more than ten million copies in the United States by 1999 and achieving RIAA diamond status.
Van Halen contains many of Van Halen’s signature songs, including “Runnin’ with the Devil”, the guitar solo “Eruption”, the The Kinks cover “You Really Got Me”, “Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love”, “Jamie’s Cryin'”, and “Ice Cream Man”.
1. Runnin’ with the Devil.
3. You Really Got Me.
4. Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love.
5. I’m the One.
1. Jamie’s Cryin.
2. Atomic Punk.
3. Feel Your Love Tonight.
4. Little Dreamer.
5. Ice Cream Man.
6. On Fire.
Packaging and artwork: The cover photos for Van Halen were taken at the Whisky a Go Go, a Los Angeles club at which Van Halen often performed during the mid-1970s. The guitar pictured on the cover of the album is Eddie Van Halen’s famous Frankenstrat Guitar, a Fender prototype replica of which is now housed in the Smithsonian Institution. Assembled by Eddie in his parents’ garage, the “Frankenstrat” features a neck purchased from Boogie Bodies and a Stratocaster style body custom made by Wayne Charvel in California.
Release and reception: In the United States, Van Halen’s debut album reached number 19 on the Billboard Hot 100; their debut single, a cover of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”, spent three weeks on the chart, peaking at number 36.
Soon after its February 1978 release, Van Halen became regarded by fans and critics as one of rock and roll’s greatest debut albums; however, its initial critical reception was mostly negative. In 1978, music critic Robert Christgau gave the album a negative review, writing: “For some reason Warners wants us to know that this is the biggest bar band in the San Fernando Valley … The term becomes honorific when the music belongs in a bar. This music belongs on an aircraft carrier.” Also in 1978, Rolling Stone critic Charles M. Young predicted, “in three years, Van Halen is going to be fat and self-indulgent and disgusting … follow[ing] Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin right into the toilet. In the meantime, they are likely to be a big deal.”
According to Rolling Stone ’s Holly George-Warren, with the album’s release the mainstream media focused on Roth’s “swaggering good looks and extroverted persona”, while fans and musicians “were riveted by Eddie Van Halen’s guitar mastery”, which included “an array of unorthodox techniques”. She notes that, even before the band’s debut, “Eddie became a legend among local guitarists”.
Legacy: Allmusic’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine described Van Halen as “monumental” and “seismic”, while noting that it is typically not viewed as an “epochal generation shift” in the same way as the debut albums of Led Zeppelin, the Ramones, the Rolling Stones, and the Sex Pistols. He explains, “the reason it’s never given the same due is that there’s no pretension, nothing self-conscious about it”. He commented: “The still-amazing thing about Van Halen is how it sounds like it has no fathers … Like all great originals Van Halen doesn’t seem to belong to the past and it still sounds like little else, despite generations of copycats.” In Erlewine’s opinion, the album “set the template for how rock and roll sounded for the next decade or more”. A retrospective review by Q noted, “Hit singles came later, but this dazzling debut remains their trump card.”
In 1994, Van Halen was ranked number eight in Colin Larkin’s Top 50 Heavy Metal Albums. Larkin described it as “one of the truly great” debut albums of heavy metal. According to authors Gary Graff and Daniel Durchholz, writing in MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide (1999), Van Halen is a “headbanger’s paradise”, before its release, “no one had heard or seen anything like it”. In 2003, Rolling Stone, listed it among The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, at number 410. According to Rolling Stone ’s Joe Levy, the album “gave the world a new guitar hero and charismatic frontman” in Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth, respectively. Levy credits the tracks “Runnin’ with the Devil” and “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” with “put[ting] the swagger back in hard rock”, praising Eddie Van Halen’s “jaw-dropping technique”, which “raised the bar for rock guitar”. In 2006, Guitar World readers ranked it number 7 on a list of the Greatest Guitar Albums of All Time. In 2013, Rolling Stone listed the album at number 27 of the 100 Best Debut Albums of All Time. By 1999, Van Halen had sold more than ten million copies in the United States, enough to achieve RIAA diamond status.