Category Archives: Van Halen

Rocks In The Attic #275: Van Halen – ‘5150’ (1986)

RITA#275Van Hagar’s first album is a ripper. I have a soft spot for it because my first guitar amp was a Peavey EVH 5150 model, and that beast got me through a lot of gigs; but I actually prefer this album to 1984 – usually seen as the peak of the band’s involvement with David Lee Roth. In fact, Diamond Dave’s solo album Eat ‘Em And Smile, released the same year as 5150 and with Steve Vai on guitar, is an overlooked classic – and those three albums together are a great trifecta of mid-‘80s rock.

Unfortunately – whether it be Sammy Hagar’s influence or not – this is also where Van Halen start to drift into the middle of the road (it’s probably also the influence of Foreigner’s Mick Jones in the co-producer’ seat). Until this point, I’d say they were probably one of the most cutting-edge bands of the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s. Now, with soppy ballads like Dreams and Love Walks In, they showed that they were making records for middle-aged people, not teens at keg parties.

I used to play this record over and over when I was at University, and this was probably the time I was most in awe of Eddie’s guitar playing. The guitar intro to Summer Nights is one of my favourite Van Halen moments – a wonderful showcase of his warped ability. Listening now, I can’t quite handle some of the most dated aspects of the album, like the God-awful synth on Dreams and Love Walks In. Eddie used synths masterly on 1984’s Jump, but here he uses them to soundtrack how they might be played in the kind of heaven where Kenny G plays God.

Thankfully there’s only one song on the album – opener Good Enough – where Hagar seems to be doing his best David Lee Roth impression. He wails over the rest of the album more in his own style, which I like much more than the whelps and screams of his predecessor.

My least favourite part of the album is the closing song Inside. This dirge-like song really leaves a sour taste in the mouth after such a sunny and upbeat album.

Hit: Why Can’t This Be Love

Hidden Gem: Summer Nights

Rocks In The Attic #240: Van Halen – ‘Van Halen II’ (1979)

RITA#240Given the energy that peppers the band’s debut album, it almost feels wrong when you put this record on, and you’re faced with the laid-back cover of You’re No Good as the opening track. It’s so laid-back it almost sounds like you’ve put a 45RPM record on a lower speed. The band eventually gets going, and you realise that yes, this is indeed a Van Halen record.

Big single Dance The Night Away serves as proof that the band can write decent pop songs, and the running time on the album – a very brief 32 minutes – is a welcome hit-and-run in the days before Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth started taking themselves too seriously.

Guitar-wise, to match Eruption from the first album, Eddie gives us a similar showcase in the shape of Spanish Fly – a virtuoso harmonics and tapping performance, but on an acoustic guitar. The whole of the album seems to be a departure from the previous album, in fact. Whereas that album seemed to be very two-dimensional in its guitar tone (a lot of it sounds as though it was recorded without Eddie changing any settings), this sophomore effort finds Eddie starting to experiment with guitar sounds – especially clean tones, such as the introduction to Women In Love…, which sounds very anachronistic for a late ‘70s rock record, and much more in line with their mid-‘80s creative peak.

The back and yellow guitar that Eddie’s is shown playing on the back cover of the album, is now buried with Pantera’s Dimebag Darrell, who was shot and killed on stage in 2004.

Hit: Dance The Night Away

Hidden Gem: Spanish Fly

Rocks In The Attic #94: Steely Dan – ‘Can’t Buy A Thrill’ (1972)

Rocks In The Attic #94: Steely Dan - ‘Can’t Buy A Thrill’ (1972)There were two bands that my guitar teacher always tried to push on me – Van Halen and Steely Dan. Some of his Van Halen recommendations stuck on me, but I already had a decent idea of their back catalogue at the time. But Steely Dan? Why would I listen to them as a 15 year old obsessed with guitars. Aren’t they a band for old people? Needless to say, I didn’t check out his advice. I really regret that.

Fast forward a decade or so, and I’m in New Zealand on my first trip here. We borrow a car from the In-Laws (to be), and for some reason the radio doesn’t work. We’d soon find out that radios don’t tend to work unless you retract the aerial on the roof (d’oh!), but it didn’t matter – there was a CD in the car. Only one CD mind you, so we’d have to listen to it a lot, on our 3-week trip.

The CD was The Best of Steely Dan – Then And Now – the one with the image of the car graveyard (or I’d guess you’d call it an art installation) on the cover. We must have listened to that album dozens of times, and all of a sudden I was really wishing I could go back in time and take my guitar teacher’s advice.

This is Steely Dan’s first album – and in my eyes it’s probably the least Steely Dan of their albums. Well, their initial run of albums that is. It has a couple of big hits – Do It Again and Reelin’ In The Years – but it doesn’t all fit together as nicely as their later albums. The main point of difference with this debut is that this seems to feel more of a band effort. At this point in their career, it doesn’t appear clear that Steely Dan is Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Only the songwriting credits on the record hint at this. On the reverse of the record, especially in the liner notes, each member of the band playing on the record gets as much mention as anyone else.

The cover of the album deserves a special mention for how awful it is. I love the Steely Dan logo, but the art direction on the album – random images pasted over a shot of a row of housewife-looking hookers is really amateurish, and is easily the worst thing about the album.

Hit: Reelin’ In The Years

Hidden Gem: Change Of The Guard

Rocks In The Attic #68: Van Halen – ‘Van Halen’ (1978)

Rocks In The Attic #68: Van Halen - ‘Van Halen’ (1978)Aside from a slightly misplaced running order (I so would have opened this album with Eruption – something they would do in retrospect on their Best Of Volume 1 package), this is a killer rock album.

History – and Ozzy Osbourne – would try and have us believe that Randy Rhoads was the hottest new guitarist on the block at the time, but this debut by Van Halen came out a full two and a half years before Blizzard Of Ozz, and Eddie is on fire here. People say there’s no soul in the way that these guitarists play, but like any virtuoso, soul and feel will always take a backseat to speed and technique.

This album is also very California – although a lot of the music is in minor keys, it feels sunny and happy all the way through, with even some Beach Boys-esque harmonies employed on Feel Your Love Tonight.

When it comes to David Lee Roth versus Sammy Hagar on vocals, obviously the original frontman is the purist’s choice, but those crazy yelps and creams that Lee Roth peppers all over this album is a little off-putting. So the choice comes down to that, or the middle-of-the-road soulful vocals of Hagar. At the end of the day, I’m only listening to Eddie anyway.

Hit: Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love

Hidden Gem: Eruption

Rocks In The Attic #41: Aerosmith – ‘Done With Mirrors’ (1985)

Rocks In The Attic #41: Aerosmith - ‘Done With Mirrors’ (1985)This was supposedly Aerosmith’s comeback album – their first with Joe Perry and Brad Whitford back in the band, and their first on Geffen records – the glitzy record label that had suddenly appeared out of nowhere in the 1980s. Unfortunately for everybody involved, they would have to wait another two years to release their real comeback album – Permanent Vacation – an album that rightfully put them back at the top of the tree.

This isn’t a bad album, it’s just poorly produced (by Doobie Brothers and Van Halen producer Ted Templeman). It feels very flat – and while the sound is very clear, there’s nothing special to grab your attention. This would have been the first studio album that Aerosmith would have released on compact disc, and possibly they were so taken with the new technology that they forgot to actually make a decent album.

The other thing this album has to work against is the fact that some bright spark at the record label decided to get creative with the name of the album. On its release, all text on the sleeve including the name of the album – and even the name of the band – was printed in reverse, and could be read normally by holding up to a mirror. Now I like this, it’s something different, but I’m very aware that a large proportion of rock fans tend to be cerebrally challenged – so this surely would have been commercial suicide. It’s okay when you’re the biggest band in the world and you put out a record without your name on it (eg. Led Zeppelin IV), but if you’re on the comeback trail it might make a bit more sense to actually make it loud and clear who you are.

David Geffen really must have started rubbing his hands with glee during the 1980s. Not only did he have Aerosmith on his new record label by 1985 – but he’d very soon have Guns ‘N Roses joining them, and after that Nirvana. There used to be a time when I could quite happily pigeon-hole an Aerosmith album as good or questionable depending on which label the record was on. Records on their original label Columbia were mostly good, while the stuff on Geffen was always questionable. This no longer works however, as they went back to Columbia in 1997 and have released mainly rubbish ever since.

Hit: Let The Music Do The Talking

Hidden Gem: Shela