Karl Blau on the Van Halen album that changed his life
Van Halen – ‘Van Halen I’ (1978)
Karl Blau: ‘Van Halen 1 was the tape that made me realise I needed to play the electric guitar’
In the summer of 1984, I was nine and Van Halen’s MCMLXXXIV playing on a cassette boombox in Bayview State Park, Washington, sounded like the future. That synth on Jump! The kick drum intro on Hot For Teacher! This album and my uncle Tom’s home-recorded solo album made me wonder what it would be like to play rock music. Three summers later, though, on a daily walk around Samish Island with my best friend, we would find a box of tapes in a ditch that would change my life forever including the tape that made me realise I needed to play the electric guitar: Van Halen I.
The sheer precision delivery of Eddie Van Halen’s guitar seemed inhuman. Track two Eruption is a distorted guitar solo featuring some of the first two-handed tapping on record. It was the crown jewel of guitar solos of the eighties if you were a metal guitar soloist. I recently heard he did it on the first take.
Runnin’ With The Devil has that crazy split vocals thing that singer David Lee Roth does and the guitar tone on this tune is unmatchable. The riffs on this record are off the hook. The lyrics on this, and all Van Halen records are terrible and awesome – unashamedly stringing up the cliches like a beaded necklace. And the harmonies, especially the high harmonies of bassist Michael Anthony are just so square and scrumptious.
David Lee Roth will probably give you the creeps at several points, but I think they have a lot of fun with music; the heart it took to make this kind of music shines through. It’s because of this album, for better and for worse, that I and so many others picked up an electric guitar and never put it down.