Thursday, September 30, 2010

Van Halen

As a senior in high school, my first encounter with Van Halen was on a 8 Track that I bought at the local K Mart. At that time they had a 45 version of You Really Got Me and although it didn't chart very high, it was one of many great songs off their first album. You know you're in for a rude awakening on the backwards guitar intro to Running With The Devil and then Eddie showing off his classical chops on Eruption. In the punk and disco era, Van Halen was a different sound although Ted Templeman recorded it just like he did with the first Montrose album; guitar on one side, the bass in the other and drums down the middle. Of course it all ties in with the crazy singing of one David Lee Roth, the record is so perfect but now classic and modern rock plays Van Halen to death. But back in the days of the eight track, this was our version of modern rock re imagined.

What separates the David Lee Roth years and Sammy Hager is that the DLR albums averaged around 35 minutes, the Hager albums around 54. DLR had 8 to 10 songs, the Sammy years 12 to 15 thereabouts. And even though the Sammy Hager albums weren't all that bad, they had a tendency for the music charts and perhaps spoiled by the keyboard led Jump, Eddie would attempt to be a keyboard player as well as guitarist. I do have a soft spot for 1986's 5150 with Best Of Both Worlds and Get Up but didn't care for Love Walks In. OU812 was even more spottier and less interesting, didn't like it much then, don't care for it now. With For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge that turned out to be the hardest rocking of the Sammy years, Roundaround, Right Now and Top Of The World the best of the bunch, but on a second listen twenty years down the road F.U.C.K. had way too much filler. Balance lacked substance and the less said about Van Halen 3, the better. By then Hagar was bounced, Gary Cherone came onboard and reviews were bad all around. With good reason; Cherone over sings, and Eddie sounds bored throughout the whole 65 and a half minute affair. When listening to this I really wished that Gary, who really was pretty good in Extreme would just shut up.  Only decent moments were Ballot Or The Bullet and although critics hated the final How Many Say I, I actually found it a blessed relief from wanking and screaming of Cherone. With that Warner Brothers dropped them.

Which leads us back to the original lineup. VH2 (1979) was more of the same but with a eye on the charts with top ten Dance The Night Away and the lesser charting Beautiful Girls, but there's no weak tracks on this album either. DOA, Somebody Get Me A Doctor, Out Of Love Again, even the cover of You're No Good was downright rocking. Women & Children First remains my favorite, leading off with And The Cradle Will Rock leading into the voodoo sounding Everybody Wants Some and then the Sabbath like of Fools, ending with the speed metal Romeo Delight. Again no weak cuts on this baby either, side two leading off with the bizarre Tora Tora and Loss Of Control to Take Your Whiskey Home, the goofy Could This Be Magic and concluding with the underrated In A Simple Rhyme which might be a ballad in some ways or a pop song, however I do dig the final 10 seconds of this song to which Eddie and Alex lead off with either a start of a new song or just goofing around.

The dark Fair Warning (1981) more darker and DLR throws a F bomb on Sinners Swing, Eddie throws us a evil opener Mean Street and side B lead off Unchained. Diver Down (1982) got a big hit with cover Oh Pretty Woman but to me that was the least of the DLR albums. It was too jokey and depended too much on covers although I think I liked Where Have All The Good Times Gone better than Pretty Woman. And then MTV broke them big on 1984 with the number 1 Jump. But on that album Eddie Van Halen discovered the keyboards and Alex electric drums. Certainly got top ten hits from I'll Wait and Panama but the lesser known such as House of Pain, Hot For Teacher and the prog rock sounding Drop Dead Legs, Van Halen was moving more away from the guitar drive of the first five records. But it also foretold that Roth didn't like that direction and things came to a head and Roth left for a spotty solo career which had some good moments (Eat Them And Smile) and some forgettable (Your Filthy Dirty Mouth) . Hagar replaced Roth and Van Halen managed to get bigger. Not necessarily better though.

As for their best of collections Best Of Van Halen Volume 1 showcase the battle of Roth vs Hagar and it's mostly the hits warts and all and the two new tracks recorded with David Lee Roth but they're really nothing special. And The Best Of Both Worlds is hardly useful I think. Buyer beware. Certainly Eddie has nothing to prove anymore and any new release wouldn't be a shadow of the glory years. But once upon a time when we were all young, Van Halen was the premier guitar band.

They really were and they still can do it.  In 2012, the first album with David Lee Roth since 1984 came out and A Different Kind Of Truth shows that Eddie still be the best damn guitar player   Tracks like Big River, She's The Woman, Chinatown and You And Your Blues as just as classic as the early stuff.  The recording is a bit muddy and more rawer and could have used the Ted Templeman/Donn Landee touch but musicwise this is their best since Women And Children First.  And that's saying something.  And a surprise since Eddie swore he'd never work with DLR ever again.  But somehow DLR always gets Eddie to play hard too.  And that's a blessing.

Van Halen (WB 1978) A+
Van Halen II (WB 1979) A-
Women & Children First (WB 1980) A+
Fair Warning (WB 1981) A-
Diver Down (WB 1982) B+
1984 (WB 1984) B+
5150 (WB 1986) B+
OU812 (WB 1988) C+
For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (WB 1993) B-
Balance (WB 1995) C
Best Of Van Halen Volume 1 (WB 1996) B
Van Halen III (WB 1999) C-
Best Of Both Worlds (WB 2004) C+
A Different Kind Of Truth (Interscope 2012) A-

David Lee Roth albums
Crazy From The Heat EP (WB 1984) C+
Eat Em And Smile (WB 1986) B+
Skyscraper (WB 1988) B-
A Little Ain't Enough (WB 1990) B
Your Filthy Dirty Mouth (Reprise 1994) B
DLR Band (Wawazat 1998) B+
Best (Rhino 1998) B
Diamond Dave (Magna Carta 2003) NR
Sonrisa Salvage (Friday 2007 reissue) B+

Selected Sammy Hagar albums that figured on this
Montrose (WB 1973) A+
Paper Money (WB 1974) B-
Standing Hampton (Geffen 1981) C+
Unboxed (Geffen 1993) B+
Chickenfoot (Redline 2009) A-
Chickenfoot 3 (E1-2011) B+

Certainly Sammy Hagar has a bigger LP discography but I really wasn't that much into his songs. The Capitol albums of the late 70s did spawn some FM classics such as Red or I've Done Everything For You (later covered by Rick Springfield) but I did get Standing Hampton on hit single I'll Fall In Love Again but the B side was a piece of crap called Satisfied, a throwaway if there ever was one. His biggest solo hit was I Can't Drive 55, from the Ted Templeman Produced VOA but never got around buying or reviewing it although I have heard bad reviews of it. And I avoided his MCA albums, didn't care for Mas Tequila. But after being bounced out of Van Halen along with Michael Anthony, they formed the supergroup Chickenfoot and actually made a album that rocked quite hard. I did include include the two Montrose albums simply of the fact that this sound was the basis of Van Halen, and I'm sure Eddie had a copy of that album laying around growing up. Montrose (1973) remains one of the best guitar rock albums ever put out in the 70s with underground classics like Rock The Nation, Make It Last, Space Station Number 5 and my fave Bad Motor Scooter. I do believe if there was no Montrose, there wouldn't be no Van Halen. Just my opinion.

In 2011, Chickenfoot 3 came out and like the first is hard driving rock and roll from Sammy, Joe, Micheal Anthony and Chad, and fun most of the time and still distinctive of having Anthony's backing vocals helping Sammy out.  Surprisingly it didn't sell as well as the first album but for those who love guitar driven rock and roll will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reviews of Albums.

Richard Thompson-Dream Attic (Shout Factory) The world's best unknown guitarist returns once again but this time out plays new songs in front of an audience that is probably going to the bathroom or getting more beer. The major difference between this and his last album Sweet Warrior is that Dream Attic's songs make great instrumentals. Although there are some good numbers (Money Shuffle, Demons In Her Dancing Shoes, Haul Me Up) the majority of the songs sound unfinished and in the case of Crimescene that song may be the worst thing he's ever penned. Plus the 73 minutes totat time of album gets too much to listen all in one setting. His least interesting since the Mitchell Froom overproduced Mirror Blue. C+

Goo Goo Dolls-Something For The Rest Of Us (Warner Bros) As if Let Love In never happened, the Goos give us a return to Boy Named Goo days with the bouncy and catchy Sweetest Lie and then as if their record label reminded them they need a couple hits to stay onboard return to the days of Let Love In with those sappy ballads. Used to be Robby sang the majority of songs up till Boy Named Goo, now Robby is allowed his two songs and one does rock pretty hard. I like them better when they come up with a Sweetest Lie and though it starts out promising, all the Iris rewrites tend to bog this album down in a big way. The girls that grew up listening to Dizzy Up The Girl and Gutterflower I'm sure are not listening to the Goo Goos anymore, they're now grown up and having families of their own. Unlike John Rzeznik still, living in 1997 and still looking for that epic followup to Iris. Improves over Let Love In but not by much. C+

Bob Wiseman Sing Wrench Tuttle-In Her Dream (Atlantic 1990) In Blue Rodeo, Wiseman was the eccentric secret weapon and shaping their early albums up to a cool degree. On his own it's easy to see why Wiseman was kept in check. Inspired by poems sent to him by the elusive Wrench Tuttle (and helped out by some Blue Rodeo players, namely the bass player and drummer and Ben Mink figures in this too) Wiseman adds interesting arrangements and brings in plenty of help from Mary Margaret O'Hara who channels Yoko Ono on Travel Agent. Another problem is the album goes on for 58 minutes and tends to grate on nerves. There's a reason why Wiseman was allowed a couple songs on Blue Rodeo albums, he doesn't sing very well. That's usually a problem for the eccentric artist who tends to make his original band's music sound classic but left to their own devices tend to really go over the edge. This is a classic case in point. C

Music thoughts

It's good to see From Good Homes reuniting and playing around their area although I don't believe that they will record anything new. It's beyond me why they never broke big, their RCA albums were just as good as anything Dave Matthews put out, maybe even better. For a good starting point, find Open Up The Sky and play that.

So Buffalo Springfield is once again returning to the stage although Dewey Martin and Bruce Palmer won't be there since they're both dead. But they'll be a part of Young's Bridge concert series and although I don't hold my breath of anything new it all goes to show that as long as you're still alive there will always be a chance for reunions. Even Young sang about Buffalo Springfield Again. The question remains if Steven Stills can sing it better then he did on the CSNY deja vu live album.