45 Years Ago: Van Halen Erupt With Their Self-Titled Debut Album
The mid-'70s were a transformative time for rock 'n' roll music. The psychedelic phase was coming to an end, glam and punk were on the rise, and bands like Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, KISS and the Eagles were on top of the world. But a four-piece band called Van Halen had just formed in Pasadena, Calif. that was about to change the rock landscape forever.
Van Halen, which by this point had an established lineup of brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen, David Lee Roth and Michael Anthony, got their start playing gigs in various venues around Los Angeles. Eventually, they met KISS' Gene Simmons, who decided to finance their very first demo tape.
"Nothing really came out of it because we didn't know where to take it," Eddie Van Halen told Guitar Player magazine in 1978. "We didn't want to go around knocking on people's doors, saying, 'Sign us, sign us,' so we ended up with just a decent sounding tape."
From there, they continued playing shows until they met Marshall Berle, who would become their manager. Warner Bros. executive Mo Ostin and producer Ted Templeman were fascinated by the band after seeing them play at Hollywood's Starwood venue, so they signed them to a deal.
Van Halen, "Runnin' With the Devil"
The fledgling Van Halen entered Sunset Sound in 1977 and recorded their debut album in three weeks. The guitarist was exceptionally proud of the live feel of the record's sound, adding that he only overdubbed his solos on "Runnin' With the Devil," "Ice Cream Man" and "Jamie's Cryin.'"
Van Halen was released to the world on Feb. 10, 1978. Though the record houses some of Van Halen's most notable songs of their entire career, it was the explosive "Eruption" that was truly extraordinary. Coming in right after opener "Runnin' With the Devil," the instrumental introduced the world to a new technique of guitar wizardry that Van Halen became known for — tapping.
"I was just sittin’ in my room at the pad at home, drinkin’ a beer, and I remembered seeing people stretching one note and hitting the note once. They popped the finger on there to hit one note. I said, 'Well, fuck, nobody is really capitalizing on that,'" the guitarist explained to Classic Rock of the style.
Van Halen, "Eruption / You Really Got Me"
"Eruption" served as the precursor to their cover of the Kinks' "You Really Got Me." It was chosen as the lead single by Templeman, though Van Halen later admitted he would've preferred if it was "Jamie's Cryin'," or one of their other compositions.
The song was picked up by radio stations all over the U.S. rather quickly, and the song peaked at No. 36 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It became so popular among younger generations of rock fans that the Kinks version was sometimes confused as the cover rather than the original, according to Dave Davies. While his brother Ray favored the cover, he felt rather bitter about how much more extravagant it was than their own.
"When I first heard [Van Halen's] version of it, I felt, you know, 'This sounds really flash.' But it depicted the era, didn't it?" Davies said to the Van Halen News Desk years later. "In that it was in the era when stadium rock was big, and guitars were flashier, and tight trousers, and swanky."
Van Halen, "Jamie's Cryin'"
This particular set of songs would catapult the band into superstardom and set the stage for a very long and successful career. The album peaked at No. 19 on the Billboard 200, and was certified Diamond by the RIAA in 1999 — making it one of the best-selling debut albums in rock history.
Is Van Halen mostly full of arena-rock singalongs? Sure, but the complexity of the instrumentation made them so much more than that, which would inspire future generations of rock artists to focus on their skill and technique as much as their songwriting.