By Gabriela Solis
On Oct. 6, 2020, world-renowned rock legend Eddie Van Halen passed away at age 65. Van Halen was the co-founder and guitarist for the classic rock band Van Halen, so it’s safe to say the world of rock music has been shaken to the core with the tragic loss of such an influential rockstar.
Reviewing his band’s first studio album seems only necessary during this grieving time.
Van Halen was released a little over 40 years ago in early February of 1978– a perfect early Valentine’s gift for teen rock-lovers of the ‘70s. This self-titled rock explosion LP is certified diamond with over 10 million copies sold in the U.S. alone, and includes nearly all of the band’s greatest hits.
The first track, “Runnin’ With The Devil,” introduces the album with the sound of car horns — this car theme is something fans will hear later on with their 1984 single, “Hot For Teacher.” The horns almost sound spooky, perhaps making it the perfect song to repeat this month.
The following track, “Eruption,” is an epic instrumental that showcases Van Halen’s insane guitar skills. It’s typically heard preceding the band’s cover of The Kinks’ 1964 hit, “You Really Got Me,” on radio stations.
Like any other Van Halen song, the fifth track, “I’m The One,” is driven by Van Halen’s impressive guitar riffs, or so it seems, until we reach the latter half of the song. It’s here that we hear barbershop-like vocals performed by David Lee Roth that are reminiscent of a ‘90s-era Nickelodeon jingle.
The band’s unconventional blend of doo-wop jazz music with heavy metal makes this song very unique and stands as the sole reason that “I’m The One” is my personal favorite song on the album.
The seventh track, “Atomic Punk,” is arguably Van Halen’s most impressive song on the album, with a striking riff that he apparently achieved by simply rubbing his hands across the guitar strings.
Aside from Eddie’s cat-scratch riff, it’s a rare Van Halen song in the sense that it doesn’t feature their signature backing vocals. A few songs after is “Ice Cream Man,” which tricks the listener into thinking it’ll be a softer song with the acoustic guitar in the beginning, only to be struck by a thrilling electric guitar solo towards the middle of the song.
Van Halen is full of so many unique tunes that make the album so unforgettable. It set the stage for heavy rock to come and has influenced many. As relevant as it was back then, it remains just as relevant today; it even reappeared in the Billboard charts as recently as 2014.
Since the release of Van Halen, the art of the electric guitar changed drastically thanks to Van Halen himself. He became an innovator of rock and broke the traditional ways of playing guitar by doing more than just strumming; he re-introduced two-handed “finger tapping,” created a “Frankenstein” guitar and experimented with sandpaper, as well as modifying his instruments and amps.
Such a loss is hard to accept, but it’s important to remember that his soul remains thriving in rock music and his legacy will undoubtedly live on for decades to come.
Featured image by Elliot Gilbert.