Review #292: Van Halen, Van Halen

Karla Clifton
3 min readJul 1, 2022

#292: Van Halen, Van Halen

The sixteen-year-old in me is outraged that this is the only Van Halen album I’ll be reviewing on the RS 500 list. When I eventually release my own list of the Top 500 Albums of All Time, I’m including at least four more, including 5150, just because Sammy Hagar deserves a little bit of love.

Hard to believe this was released in 1978, 44 years ago, nearly twenty years before I was even born. How could it be that David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen were unknown when they wrote “Runnin’ with the Devil,” the anthem that defined (for me) exactly how cool a person could be? Ask me how many times I air-guitared in my room to “Atomic Punk,” “On Fire,” or (even more embarrassingly) “Little Dreamer,” which is more moving than you think, with a church choir backing up DLR as he assures you that Baby, you have all you need.

Don’t get it twisted, though — Van Halen isn’t just about swaggering into rooms and declaring that they’re badass. They then proceed to sleep with every woman in those rooms. I can’t pretend I don’t get it, either. Just listen to Roth try to convince you that even if you have all you want, he’s got something you need, and he “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love.”

I obviously didn’t pick up on all those sexual undertones when I was twelve. “Feel Your Love Tonight” is one of those songs I grew up hearing, so for some reason I was shocked when I realized that it was super explicit. But you don’t have to be horny to love Van Halen. “I’m the One” isn’t just sexy, it’s incredible, part speed metal part doo-wop quartet.

It’s kind of unbelievable that Van Halen was ever underrated, but somehow they were. Just listen to this 1978 RS review: “Mark my words: 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.” Every single word in that quote makes me want to hit someone.

People really had no idea how crazy ahead-of-their-time Van Halen was. “Eruption” is exactly what Mike McCreedy says in the RS blurb: otherworldly. There’s a thirteen-minute version from a 1986 performance at the New Haven’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum. He has a big, stupid grin plastered on his face throughout the entire performance. Who wants a moody rock star anyway?

On the radio, “Eruption” usually precedes “You Really Got Me,” their explosive cover of a Kinks song that apparently disappointed both Eddie Van Halen and Dave Davies. EVH didn’t want a cover to be the band’s first single, and would have preferred “Jamie’s Cryin’,” a snarky, lofty-harmonied original.

Lucky for him, every song on this record would become a classic.

Song That Still Makes Me Blush Every Time: “Ice Cream Man.”

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