Everybody Wants Some…
From the first notes of “Eruption” on 1978’s debut Van Halen album, the rock world was forever changed. Hard rock and metal left the 70s behind and became more muscular. Vocalist David Lee Roth elevated the swagger of frontmen everywhere, and the pyrotechnic guitar virtuosity of Eddie Van Halen set the standard for the term “Guitar God”. The rhythm section of Alex Van Halen (drums) and Michael Anthony (bass) created the meatiest foundation heard up to that point. With that in mind, we try our hand at ranking Van Halen.
In 1976 Kiss co-founder Gene Simmons took those four knuckleheads from Pasadena, California into the studio and recorded demos for Van Halen. He took those demos to Kiss management who passed on the band stating, “they had no chance of making it”. A year later producer Ted Templeman (Montrose, The Doobie Bros, Van Morrison) saw the same possibilities Simmons had, and that led ultimately to a record deal with Warner Brothers Records. Templeman would go on to produce the first six Van Halen records.
While the late 80’s post-Roth era Van Hagar, featuring Sammy Hagar on vocals, was no musical slouch, Van Halen is only Van Halen with the guitar of Eddie and the voice of Roth. The duo co-wrote some of rock music’s most enduring anthems, and despite ego quibbles and intoxicant interferences, they remain the heart of the band.
With the release of “A Different Kind of Truth” last year, Roth and the Van Halen’s have reunited. Anthony is gone, replaced by a third Van Halen, Eddie’s son Wolfgang. But that trademark Van Halen sound returned with an album that spoke to the past and present in equal measure. In honor of the band’s return, we will rank and grade all seven Van Halen studio albums that feature Roth.
1. Van Halen – Van Halen
Released in 1978 this is the eponymous debut album that altered the face of rock and roll. No one before or since has captured the distinct style and signature displayed here on songs like “Runnin’ With the Devil”, “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”, “Jamie’s Cryin'”, “Atomic Punk”, and “Ice Cream Man”. Then of course there is the guitar God instructional of “Eruption” and the cover of The Kinks “You Really Got Me.” Grade: A
2. Van Halen – 1984
Released appropriately enough in 1984, this marked the final release from the band’s seminal line-up. 1984 is packed with monster songs like “Panama”, “Hot For Teacher”, “I’ll Wait”, and the sister track to Van Halen II‘s “Dance the Night Away” in the form of “Jump”. Grade: A-
3. Van Halen – II
Van Halen II (1979) picks up where the band’s debut album left off, and featured many songs taken from early demo recordings done with Gene Simmons (Kiss) including “Beautiful Girls” (then known as “Bring on the Girls”) and “Somebody Get Me a Doctor”. The album also featured the hit “Dance the Night Away” and a cover of “You’re No Good” made popular by Linda Ronstadt in the 70s. Grade: B+
4. Van Halen – Women and Children First
Women and Children First (1980) marked the first VH album with no cover songs, and yielded arena anthems in the form of “And The Cradle Will Rock…”, and “Everybody Wants Some”. The latter has been notably featured in the films “Better Off Dead” and “Zombieland”. “Romeo Delight” was another of the album’s signature jams. Singer Nicolette Larsen lent her background vocals to “Could This Be Magic?” The only VH track on any album to contain female vocals. Grade: B
5. Van Halen – Fair Warning
Fair Warning (1981) marked the band’s darkest and heaviest album. Some of the tension brewing between David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen surrounding the vision for the band began to seep through giving the record an edgy feel. The album showcased songs like “Unchained”, “Mean Street” and “So This is Love?” Grade: B-
6. Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth
A Different Kind of Truth (2012) marked the first Van Halen album in over 25 years to feature David Lee Roth. It’s also the first with Roth not to feature producer Ted Templeman. Instead the band self-produced with the help of John Shanks (Bon Jovi, Fleetwood Mac). The band dug through many of its early recordings from the mid-70s to create much of the album, including the hits “Tattoo” and “She’s The Woman”. Other tracks came from bits and pieces Eddie Van Halen had worked on for different projects over the years, as well as a few new songs. “Stay Frosty” plays as the follow-up to “Ice Cream Man” from the band’s 1978 debut. Grade: C
7. Van Halen – Diver Down
Diver Down (1982) was perhaps Van Halen’s most ill-conceived album. The record was half cover songs, released in an era where few band’s had jumped on the trend. The rest of the record was made up of instrumentals with a few original songs beloved only by diehard fans. Van Halen scored hits with covers of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” and “Dancing in the Street”, written by Marvin Gaye and originally made famous by Martha and the Vandellas. While not a bad album by any means, it is the least of the band’s efforts. Grade: C-