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Why Van Halen Are The Band The Velvets Could Only Dream Of Being
Michael Hann , August 31st, 2017 12:23

The Beatles are the only rock band who can surpass Van Halen's influence, argues Michael Hann as he sets out the stall for the legacy and greatness of David Lee Roth and his flowing-locked pals

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There's one thing pretty much everyone knows about Van Halen, which is that their contract rider for gigs contained the following stipulation: "There will be no brown M&Ms anywhere in the backstage area or immediate vicinity, upon pain of forfeiture of the show with full compensation." The popular notion was that this was proof of Van Halen's rock star pettiness, their selfishness, their capricious remove from the realities of normal life.

The reality, as David Lee Roth explained in his magnificently gonzo memoir Crazy From The Heat, was somewhat different. The M&M clause was hidden deep within the band's technical requirements, as test of a promoter's attention to detail. "So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl … well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you're going to arrive at a technical error. They didn't read the contract. Guaranteed you'd run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something, like, literally life-threatening."

Nevertheless, this is the kind of thing Van Halen get remembered for. For M&Ms. For groupies. For big hair. For acrimonious splits, in which charter members – Roth, bassist Michael Anthony – are dispensed with and banished. For being the embodiment of a particular strain of California rock: shallow, self-obsessed, narcissistic, substance-free, sun-kissed and empty. That, to a certain kind of music fan, is the Van Halen legacy, and there's a degree of truth in that assessment.

There's another way to look at it, though. The other week in tQ, David Bennun assessed Michael Jackson's Bad and decided: "The most influential artists of the last 40 years - and perhaps ever, depending on how one attempts to quantify it - are Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston." He's right: if you remember that "most influential" does not actually mean "most likely to spawn copycat groups who release three acclaimed indie singles" and really should mean "most likely to affect the sound of the music the greatest number of people listen to", then it's pretty much unarguable.

Except for one thing.

Van Halen should be on the list, too.

I'm not writing this apologetically, or ironically, or to provoke. I love Van Halen. I fucking love Van Halen. I hate their legacy, which consists of inspiring around 75% of the worst groups in the history of music. I have, literally, no interest in anything they recorded after Roth was replaced by Sammy Hagar. I have, literally, less than no interest in anything they recorded after Hagar was replaced by Gary Cherone. But given a desert island choice between any of the first six Van Halen albums (except Diver Down*) and a comparable run from pretty much any other group, I'd take Van Halen. I'd take Van Halen's first six over the Beatles' first six, the Stones' first six, or the first six of any serious-minded band with a revolutionary approach to music and a small coterie of joyless fans who've never absently sung along to a big pop hit playing over a supermarket sound system.

I'd go further than saying Van Halen are one of the three most influential artists of the last 40 years. I'd say they're the most influential rock band of the last 40 years. I'd say they're the second most influential rock band of all time, after the Beatles. I'd say they deserve to be hailed as among popular music's greatest pioneers. They are the equals of Kraftwerk, pioneers of a genre all their own that then permeated through music. And their wings logo was really, really fucking cool.

If you look through pretty much any US album chart of the second half of the 80s, after 1984 had finally ensured they were just as big a pop group as a rock band, you'll see the influence of Van Halen all over the place. (It's worth me stipulating that "the influence of Van Halen" does not mean "this record sounds exactly like Van Halen" but "this is a record that would probably not have been made without Van Halen's existence. And if it did, it would have sounded markedly different.")

So, at random, the Billboard top 100 for 2 July 1988. (Really, I did pick this week at random, the first one I chose, Having found such an illustrative one, I'm not going to risk my theory by picking another.)

No 1 - OU812 by Van Halen themselves (Hagar era. Haven't listened. Not going to).
No 3 - Hysteria by Def Leppard (the group who had the clearest vision of the possibilities opened up by Van Halen's unashamed crossing of pop music and hard rock).
No 5 - Open Up And Say … Ahh! by Poison (the Poundland Van Halen).
No 8 - Appetite For Destruction by Guns N'Roses (no, they don't sound like Van Halen. But they came out of the hair/glam/whatever metal world Van Halen's imitators created).
No 10 - Savage Amusement by Scorpions (the ancient German metal band had dropped all the spacey noodling when the late 70s metal wave hit. In the 80s they added a distinctly Halenish spit and polish).
No 28 - Pride by White Lion (the Poundstretcher Van Halen)
No 31 - Ram It Down by Judas Priest (one of the Judas Priest albums Judas Priest fans don't much like. Because it's slathered in synthetic effects and sounds designed to fit alongside mainstream pop-metal. Which was invented by Van Halen. But we'll return to Judas Priest later. They're relevant.)
No 32 - Lita by Lita Ford (the female Van Halen).
No 45 - Surfing With The Alien by Joe Satriani (space-age pop metal guitar virtuoso. Tenner says he listened to 'Eruption' every night a decade earlier).
No 46 - Kingdom Come by Kingdom Come (compared more often to Zeppelin. But it's Zeppelin filtered through mainstream pop-metal. Which was invented by Van Halen. We won't return to Kingdom Come later).
No 56 - Operation: Mindcrime by Queensryche (prog rock filtered through mainstream pop-metal. Which was invented by Van Halen. We won't return to Queensryche later, either).
No 63 - Odyssey by Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force (see entry for No 45).
No 64 - All System by Vinnie Vincent Invasion (he'd been in Kiss. Do you think he would have been in Kiss if Kiss had been able to fulfil their desire to get Eddie Van Halen? Absolutely by the numbers 80s pop metal. Which was invented by Van Halen).
No 67 - Skyscraper by David Lee Roth (such a limited singer wouldn't have had a solo career in the first place if he hadn't been in Van Halen)
No 81 - Second Sighting by Frehley's Comet (I'll accept argument on this one. Yes, Frehley had previously had a hand in a distinctive hard rock sound, Kiss's Dinosaur Plod. But there's a lot more sleek, synthetic pop metal in this than there is Dinosaur Plod).
No 83 - By Any Means Necessary by Boogie Down Productions (nothing in common with Van Halen. Just checking you're still reading. Think of this as the M&M test of the list).
No 87 - Heart Attack by Krokus (see entry for No 10. Substitute Swiss for German. If you think an unremarkable Swiss band could have got in the US album charts at any other point other than during the Pop Metal Hegemony, you're mad. And when you say, "What about Double?" I reply, 'Captain Of Her Heart' was a hit on the singles chart, but its parent album never charted).
No 91 - Whitesnake by Whitesnake (see entry for No 10. Substitute British for German and bluesy for spacey).

That was going to be a rundown of the whole top 200, but even as I made my case, I didn't realise quite how Van Halen-indebted the chart was going to be - 17% of that week's top 100 have Van Halen in their DNA - and I'm not sure anyone needs to read an even longer list of terrible hair metal albums. I certainly don't want to write one.

But that list is a testament to a pretty much unparalleled run of influence - not over the music that was being critically approved, or the music being made by people who had some big notion about the function of music, or even over music that had any lasting worth. Van Halen's influence, like that of Houston and Jackson, was over music that people actually bought and listened to. And they exerted that influence because they were revolutionary.

Chuck Klosterman put it succinctly in an interview with Eddie Van Halen a few years back: "Van Halen radically modernised the trajectory of American metal by making it less heavy, more melodic, less gothic, and more inclusive." Or as Roth put it, a little less prosaically, in Crazy From The Heat: "We were not afraid of defying convention, breaking the rules. If you think back to the way we looked in the late seventies, this was the age of the deep sabbath, black purples, whatever it was … We showed up with our cool little designer pants that we'd bought in Paris on the Champs-Elysees, in our high-heeled shoes and with our hair styled and everything. Oh, man. We defied all convention. The media, the rock critics squealed like wieners on a barbecue. Wholly unacceptable."

To put it simply, from the release of their first album in 1978 until the grunge explosion offered an alternative to the Pop Metal Hegemony in the early 1990s, if an American hard rock band wanted to be noticed they had to have followed the Van Halen template. They might do that through looks: dressing less like harbingers of doom, or men who spent all day underneath cars, and more like peacocks. They might do it by leavening their riffs with harmonies, as Michael Anthony did with Van Halen, and by eschewing the devil's interval for bright, pop progressions. They might do it by having a guitarist who could play hammer-ons at 6,000mph while grinning goofily at the camera (with 'Eruption', the solo guitar piece on the first Van Halen album, Eddie Van Halen reinvented rock guitar as surely as Jimi Hendrix had more than a decade before. It doesn't matter if Ronnie Montrose had been playing in a similar same style beforehand, it really doesn't. Because what people remember is Eruption. That was the year zero.) For nearly 15 years, virtually all popular American rock music was made by the children of Van Halen.

Don Dokken, whose own group was among those who dragged themselves into the charts by grabbing on to Van Halen's coattails, described seeing Van Halen in 1978 and how "it changed the way I looked at music and performing forever". His band were supporting Van Halen at the Starwood club, and Dokken left his dressing room to watch after hearing something unfamiliar from the stage. "Eddie was playing with both hands in the neck. This was the first time I had ever seen anybody do this," Dokken said. "It was the biggest, punchiest guitar sound I had ever heard. Then, to top it off, there was David Lee Roth, doing his antics and performing like he owned the world … Van Halen showed everyone they were going to change the face of rock music."

Julian Cope, unsurprisingly, has a rather more flowery way of phrasing what made Van Halen remarkable: "So long as the songs contained the pre-determined codes - off-kilter riffs, unmelodic chromatic strato-guitar solo, showmanic look-at-me vocals, and faultline punishing ur-bass - Van Halen COULD NOT fail."

When you listen to the early Van Halen records now, they still sound weirdly futuristic. The first Van Halen record does not sound like it was made in 1978. If you heard it blind, you would guess it was from some time in the mid-80s. It's not just Ted Templeman's production – clean and sharp, the sharpness coming not just from Eddie Van Halen's guitar tone, but also from the minimal overdubbing; it would have been easy to clog up the album with sludge, but that never happens. It's really evident in something more important: Van Halen had largely expunged the blues from their music, which was a) not something hard rock bands normally did and b) odd, given that Eddie Van Halen's greatest hero had been Eric Clapton.

I'm not claiming the blues were completely gone. The chassis of 'I'm The One' is still a hyperspeed blues shuffle, and EVH performs a few blues vamps on it. But if, say, Led Zeppelin were a band based on one generation's remove from the blues, Van Halen were already - while Zeppelin were still extant – several generations down the removal line. It's as if Zeppelin were the elderly great grandparents going on about how good television had been back when you only had two channels, while Van Halen are the kids who never ever turn on the TV, because they're all over YouTube, or watching Netflix on their phone.

I said we'd return to Judas Priest, and so we will. Because you can make the case that several thousand miles away, they were undergoing the same blues removal process. And they were. Sort of. But not to the same extent – the 1976 album Sad Wings of Destiny still has a post-Sabbath swing to it; Stained Class - released the same day as the first Van Halen record - gets closer still. But Stained Class still sounds like a 70s album in a way Van Halen doesn't: it's tinny and underpowered and, crucially, it doesn't have any trace of pop. Pop forced the blues to one side in Van Halen; there simply wasn't room for both. Van Halen came to a fork in the road and took the path no one else travelled. In fact, they took the path no one else had even noticed.

Nevertheless, as I said a few hundred words ago, as great as Van Halen were, their influence proved to be almost entirely malign. The Van Halen copyists were, without exception, inferior in every way. They were, in fact, pretty much the worst bands rock music ever produced. Mötley Crüe? Poison? Cinderella? Warrant? Give me a break. Why people bought that crap in such colossal numbers remains one of music's great mysteries. It's a legacy Roth - always a fan of soul and R&B, not hard rock - seems at best ambivalent about, too.

"I don't know who coined the phrase imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," he told me in 2012, in the course of an interview that took in sheepdog training, the demographics of southern California, Beat Takeshi, primary education and an imitation of Bruce Springsteen, all in half an hour. "I think David Mamet coined the phrase imitation is the sincerest form of stealing. Probably a litigating attorney coined it first. OK, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then there are a whole lot of dogs out there. When it's done well and you see some of your teachings out there, then you must have taught somebody something, whether you have kids or you taught your girlfriend how to play chess or ride a horse or you taught somebody how to, I don't know, drive a car, you feel something. At worst I feel like I'm driving past a traffic accident and I'm relieved no one was killed."

But the extent of the influence is undeniable. It is colossal. So, everyone who heard the first Velvet Underground album formed a band, did they? Yes, but very few of those bands were heard by anyone else. Dozens of the bands who were formed after the first Van Halen album were heard by millions upon millions of people. It is likely this is the only time you will read this sentence: Van Halen were more influential than the Velvet Underground could ever have been in Lou Reed's wildest dreams.

And, because hair metal was so utterly reprehensible, Van Halen's influence spread in the other direction, too. No one formed a band because they were sick of the Velvet Underground's ubiquity and wanted to make music that answered their own needs. Lots of people formed bands because hair metal offered them nothing, something Roth was aware of in 1984, when he told the writer Lisa Robinson: "I know for a fact that to a small degree, we've bred a small legion of imitators, copycats, mimics, people who are using Van Halen for their sole inspiration. But even more important than that are all the people who are just disgusted and revolted by our music and our presence and our appearance and the way I do interviews, and they've been forced to come up with some very substantial musical alternatives to Van Halen-type rock, and that's why we have new wave."

Van Halen don't deserve recognition for their influence, though. They deserve it for being great. For being one of the greatest bands ever. For being a band who could confound and confuse even as they appeared to be the simplest proposition ever. For being the band who made preposterousness a valid choice. For David Lee Roth, saying on stage at the Lewisham Odeon in May 1978, when they supported Black Sabbath: "Lewisham! Rock & roll capital of the universe!"

When I spoke to Roth in 2012, I concluded by asking him which song summed up Van Halen best. Let his answer, nonsensical, brilliant and allusive, stand as testimony to the band's brilliance. And, put it this way, Vince Neil would never have come up with this.

"I think 'Jump'. The chorus - you can translate it into 15 different things. It's ambiguous enough that you create it: you're forced to interact and use your imagination. What do I mean by that? It can mean several things. I just watched a samurai epic. They interview Beat Takeshi at the end. He's got his sunglasses and a beret, talking in Japanese, and they say: 'The character that dies in the middle comes back at the end and has a funny conversation with the hero. Is that a ghost or an idea?' And he says: 'I'm not sure.' So I had to go back and watch it six more times, which means it's a device on his part, which is even more fascinating. And with Van Halen there's a lot of times I'm not really sure. I think I am. But then you might say, '"Might as well jump" doesn't mean that at all, it means world peace, David.' I think good music does that: is this epic or is it pompous? It it articulate or is it, 'Er, I'm sorry about this but there's a few too many notes'? Is there a chance you're right? I don't know - better go back and listen again."

Listen again to Van Halen. Go on.

  • I listened again to Diver Down while I was writing this. Clearly, it's nowhere near as good as the other five original Roth-era Van Halen albums. But it's also great in a quite-clearly-tossed-off way, what with the five covers, three instrumentals and one a cappella joke at the end. Julian Cope refuses to acknowledge Diver Down or its successor, 1984. On 1984, he says, Van Halen step outside their own metaphor and fail as a result. I think he's wrong. On 1984, Van Halen refuse to accept the limitations of their own metaphor and become the band that is everything all at once – synthpop, hard rock, thundering metal, art rock (yes. If Talking Heads had come up with any of the guitar lines in 'Top Jimmy', you'd be all over it like a cheap suit. But they wouldn't have. Because Talking Heads were never as good as Van Halen). It's their best album.

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Aug 31, 2017 12:49pm

Provocative bastard. Excellent piece which will hopefully make people think and re-evaluate, but will probably largely just provoke the usual 'metal is shit' snobbery.

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Aug 31, 2017 1:35pm

In reply to SpaceLord:

There is zero place for DLR's corny vocals anywhere in music. Will literally never take VH seriously on this point alone.

Music/musicianship - fine.
Lyricism/vocals - rather hear poems from a 5th grader.

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Aug 31, 2017 2:56pm

What a crock of crap. Trust me, I was 16 in high school when VH were at their peak. Looking back on them, I will admit they wrote about 4-5 great songs. That is it.

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Aug 31, 2017 3:07pm

only styx were worse than van halen. maybe reo speedwagon.

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Aug 31, 2017 3:22pm

Ah yes - but where do you stand on VH's first six albums vs. AC/DC's...?

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Aug 31, 2017 3:54pm

Maybe a little over the top but Van Halen were clearly very influential- they simultaneously created 2 genres - Hair metal and Shred metal...and yet were neither.

The classic six DLR-era albums are filled with the wit, charm, bombast, humor that define VH- the first "metal" band to smile.

Curious what you had to say about their "recent" album with DLR- its the best album since 1984. Some of DLR's best lyrics ever (wizened with age)- absolutely stunning guitar from EVH...and the best Bass playing on any VH album

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Aug 31, 2017 4:13pm

In reply to SpaceButt:

Agreed. DLR is basically a drug addled mental retard when it comes to lyrics-and oh yeah, life.

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Aug 31, 2017 4:15pm

This is tremendous. And I say this as a guy who grew up on post-punk. I once heard many of the same points come from the mouth of no less an authority than Henry Rollins. Again, tremendous.

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Post-Punk Monk
Aug 31, 2017 4:39pm

Hmm. Some interesting ideas put forth here. The whole matter of influence is indisputable. 1978's "Van Halen" defined 80s hard rock, which was a mix of pop metal with, yes, the blues severely minimized. It may be the reason why I initially gravitated to Van Halen in spite of their idiocy. I agree with SpaceButt [?] that their lyrics are strictly 5th grade. I bought the first three Van Halen albums when released but by 1980, had made them the first records I ever sold off when even a year or two before discovering the concept of used record stores, I sold them to a classmate to get them out of my house. The songs that were not covers were stupid and coarse. Some of the covers were awful [particularly on "Van Halen II"]. David Lee Roth had the tendency to bray like a mule in heat in lieu of actually singing, and the sugar sweet backing harmonies by the band were like having saccharine tablets being poured in my ears. But the musicianship of the trio was almost inspired. They were clearly blazing trails for many to follow. I found Mr. Roth's quote about road accidents particularly witty. Interviews with the man clearly show an intellect. Why he chose not to use in in his job was a question for wiser minds to debate.

In the late 90s my wife bought the first three albums again at a yard sale. They were seriously well-played copies, and for years I considered digitizing them, skips and all, into a compiled CD-R that faithfully reproduced every mar to the sound as well as scrawling to the covers inherent in my copies. Of course, I would have rendered "Van Halen II" down to just two tracks: "Dance The Night Away" and "Beautiful Girls." The rest was clearly sophomore album hell writ large. But I never got around to doing this, because in 2011, I went to a local store's anniversary sale, with bins of dollar CDs and found a copy of "Van Halen" for a single dollar. It was even the 2000 remaster. Hearing it again for the first time in 31 years didn't change much. Roth still avoided actually singing like a plague in favor of hooting. The songs were ploddingly stoopid. Listening to the backing vocals were like shooting cake icing into your veins. But the riffage was profound in ways that no other content of the album was delivering. I totally get why "The Minutemen" covered "Ain't Talking 'Bout Love" on "Double Nickles On The Dime" in 1984. It authoritatively rocks in ways that almost justify the existence of their hair farmer progeny; boorish louts to a number. But significantly, louts without the alchemical touch capable of turning lead into musical gold.

I would still buy a CD of "Women And Children First" if I could find one for a dollar as well. Nothing personal Van Halen; I'm just cheap. My question is this: If I'm fine with albums one and three, what of the other three, which I've never heard? Sure, "1984" had lots of single peeled off of it and if there was a video on MTV at the time, I have surely heard it hundreds of times by now. That, and five bucks, will get me a chai latte. Are there deep cuts even half as good as "Ain't Talking 'Bout Love" hiding in wait for me?

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Aug 31, 2017 4:48pm

In reply to Post-Punk Monk:

Fair Warning is thought by many die-hards to be their best album. Dark and Angry. Its worth a listen. EVH's best playing on any album.

People ripping on DLR's lyrics are either pretentious fuckwits with no sense of humour or simply too stupid to see the wit and irony.

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Aug 31, 2017 5:35pm

This article inspired me to listen to "Diver Down" on the way to work today. I agree that it's not their best but the recording sounds incredible (especially the guitar and drums) and "Hang em' High", "Cathedral", "Secrets" and "Little Guitars" (one of my faves) are great songs. Good enough for me

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Aug 31, 2017 6:15pm

Pretty easy to claim everything influenced by something with the useful caveat that anything that wasn't was in response to.

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Aug 31, 2017 6:32pm

Van Halen are...not quite as shit as Queen.

Why Can't This Be Love is alright, even if Sammy Hagar is VH's Doug Yule figure.

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The Mighty VH
Aug 31, 2017 7:38pm

In reply to SpaceButt:

huh????????????????????????? someone calling Dave's lyrics corny. wow SMH. That's Sammy you're thinking about.

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Aug 31, 2017 7:44pm

My best mate had bought the first album when it came out. I`d not even heard of them, and we sat down to listen to it. I had n`t heard anything like it. That guitar sound was so unique, and the production was so clean and punchy. We Brit rock fans had to accept some new kids on the block that completely changed the game.
Saw them on the first headline UK tour, and they were fantastic . They supported the VH2 album , the next time I saw them, and they were lazy, sloppy and very disappointing (and probably high). Women and Children First is probably my favourite VH album.

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Aug 31, 2017 8:34pm

I will forever associate VH1 and VH2 with getting high and working as a dishwasher in the university dining hall. Not that that's a bad thing.

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Johnny Nothing
Aug 31, 2017 10:49pm

Here are some bands and artists nobody's ever heard of: David Bowie, Roxy Music, the New York Dolls, the Stooges, Suicide, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, Talking Heads, Blondie, the Ramones, Television, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, the Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Adam and the Ants, Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, Bauhaus, the Sisters of Mercy, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream. All influenced by the Velvet Underground.

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Telegam Sam / Self-Fellate Nate
Sep 1, 2017 1:27am

Half-inspired, half half-witted.

Should have mentioned the Minutemen's cover of "Ain't Talking 'Bout Love" and also how VH had kid appeal that Kiss did but with a lot more chops; thus young Dweezil Zappa as EVH acolyte.

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six strings away
Sep 1, 2017 1:31am

Is Eddie really that big a (fucking) Clapton fan? I'd think Jeff Beck a much greater fount of ideas-- John McLaughlin also (obviously).

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Sep 1, 2017 1:43am

A wonderful bit of provocation. Of course, I will still take the Velvets any day, but I truly admire the author's moxie. Nice job!

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Sep 1, 2017 2:27am

I grew up on punk, post-punk, and hardcore. I've even got a Sick Of It All tattoo. Yet I agree with every single word of this.

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Sep 1, 2017 3:09am

Good Article, but if you need to look dowm some bands to make your point, that´s a very insecure thing to do

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Chris Tchida
Sep 1, 2017 6:11am


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Sep 1, 2017 7:44am

The words Jim Jones and keep drinking the Kool-aid spring to mind.

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Sep 1, 2017 7:55am

The Author is dead serious. These are the times of reevaluation of everything and everyone, so why not VH and especially "metal" as once despised genre, but adored by loyal masses. But it went into antithesis; nowadays you cannot easily state that majority of VH (and Black Sabbath's) ancestors in "doom", "death", "black", "sludge" and other various incarnations are pretentious crap. Reevaluation is not bad, especially in art and culture, but some balance and restraint should exist. And yes, BS were threshold in "re-ev" and later it all went wrong.

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Sep 1, 2017 9:22am

Let's not forget DLR's appearance, as himself, on The Sopranos where he talks about how he used to claim condoms as a legitimate business expense.

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Post-Punk Monk
Sep 1, 2017 10:59am

In reply to Johnny Nothing:

Johnny Nothing: Bravo! [claps] Well played, sir!

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Christopher McNeely
Sep 1, 2017 12:50pm


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Stefan B
Sep 1, 2017 4:31pm

This is a deliberately provocative but unintentionally childish article.

I spend 10 years listening to VH (not being petulant enough to limit this to pre-1985) and at the time took this very seriously only due to ignorance of real bands appropriate to be seen as so influential and deserving of such accolade (to name a few the Velvets, Kraftwerk, Einstuerzende Neubauten and so on).

The most important thing VH did has nothing to do with DLR or even Sammy Hagar for that matter. EVH sadly was never positioned to take music as seriously as he wanted to but his tone and practical approach to his instrument was incredibly sincere and completely groundbreaking.

Listen to Fair Warning and you will see flashes of what this could have been if they didn't come from sunny California. For that matter some of the B side tracks from OU812 present similarly clear evidence of this. But nonetheless this sadly remained immature and incredibly chauvinistic music throughout the years.

The only thing I can agree with in this article is that VH inspired "75% of the worst groups in the history of music", which has some real truth to it.

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Sep 1, 2017 4:42pm

Lots of salt in these comments.


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Vinnie V
Sep 1, 2017 4:55pm

Ffs! What a load of bollocks. If I wanna get a VH fanboy perspective I'll head down to Walmart. Wake up.

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Sep 1, 2017 5:13pm

lol. pure lol.
utter garbage.

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Manic Inventot
Sep 1, 2017 5:23pm

Last week a load of fan-boy crap about Michael Jackson. Now lionising Van Halen. There is something as being too open-minded. Everyone has a soft spot for some ridiculous singer or band. It's another thing to go and write a piece about it. Sometimes convincing yourself is way sufficient. Do not bother us on The Quietus with it. And no, I do not find metal ridiculous or shitty. But I sure know that wanting to remain an adolescent forever is a bad thing for any self-respecting person.

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Sep 1, 2017 6:31pm

I was a teenager during the Van Halen days, but my guitar hero was Fred Frith. I'm pretty sure Fred didn't cover "Dancing in the Street" because he liked Motown. Influential indeed.

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Sep 1, 2017 9:02pm

love it. I've pointed a few young'uns towards the first VH album - "you will not believe this, it's nuts". No one did it better. I still don't know if I really like them. But yeah.

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Sep 2, 2017 1:37am

well, unfortunately, you have failed to account for the Sammy Hagar years, and then then next years after that....I certainly wouldn't argue that they're not one of the most influential hard rock bands ever, but I think there is a manic over-stating of that level of influence here, or maybe I just can't think in pure terms of 'level of influence divorced from kind of influence'. as you correctly stipulate, nearly everything they inspired is junk. DLR was a great performer, once, but the need for every rock front-person to do the splits and mug for the camera until the camera was like "come on, man" largely ruined rock music. the Velvet Underground is literally still influencing people starting bands right now at this moment! and to say that nobody heard the bands they influenced is just a dead giveaway that the headline is clickbait. REM? Patti Smith? every fucking punk and post-punk and indie band ever? you can't attribute this level of influence to Van Halen. the reason that they can't be that super-influential and the Velvets can is because you can't just pick up a guitar or synth and do something like what EVH could do. almost no matter who you are on Earth, you can't do it. I think of them as more of an ever-exploding cultural nova than an 'influential' rock band. the early DLR period, anyway. but 'Dreams' alone is enough to undo nearly all of that!

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Sep 2, 2017 3:34am

The thing that is so, so tricky about an article like this is that VH existed at a point in time that no longer entails. They had major influence because their songs got played - everywhere - and because lots of other bands took on their style (usually badly, but still) and who also got played. ("Turn Up The Radio", anyone?) The societal context that existed in the late 70s and early 80s, where a huge number of kids knew the same songs by the same bands, doesn't really exist any more, does it?

The other tricky thing about an article like this is: writing it in such a way as to have the readership be unsure about the degree of tongue-in-cheek-ness it's intended to have. Well done, sir.

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Thaddeus J Lovelock
Sep 2, 2017 11:31am

I love it when people write passionately and persuasively about music even if I don't agree with everything, so this was a very enjoyable read. As Good as Van Halen were they they lacked a happy medium between gravitas and light heartedness. An excess of gravitas and you end up like U2, too much light - heartedness can make the music seem trivial even silly.

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Tickle My Stylus
Sep 2, 2017 12:17pm

In reply to Post-Punk Monk:

So, never listened to Fair Warning? On par with their debut. Plop the needle down (figuratively) on "Push Comes to Shove", at night, in a car (where VH is meant to be listened to), with the windows down.

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Sep 2, 2017 8:11pm

In reply to Post-Punk Monk:

'I totally get why "The Minutemen" covered "Ain't Talking 'Bout Love" on "Double Nickles On The Dime" in 1984.' Huh? They don't. It's not on the album. Maybe you mean a different Minutement LP that I don't have...?

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Sep 2, 2017 8:20pm

In reply to Thor:

Excellent commentary.. The wit was an integral ingredient in VH's magic sauce. There is a self-awareness that set them apart, a product of Roth's prodigious intelligence which probably grated on the brothers. You are also entirely correct that Wolf has brought a vital new dimension to their sound, though at the expense of Mike's backing vocals. Also agree the lyrics of ADKOT are the best of any VH record, full of wisdom and clever word play. What can I say? Roth is the philosopher king of hair metal.

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Sep 2, 2017 9:11pm

In reply to onceler:

The VH cover on the Minutemen album is only on the vinyl, none of the CD reissues.

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Sep 3, 2017 4:28am

Loved the article, and found it very convincing as well as humorous. And I'll admit to being someone who never cared much for VH until Hagar arrived. I've always wondered, the early VH had a reputation as a killer live band, yet they never released any live shows from the DLR era. Any idea why? I'd love to see a video compilation of those years, or a single show. I've heard the '83 US Festival performance was phenomenal, and I know it was professionally filmed. Seems Ed has no interest in releasing treasures from the vault.

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Adam King
Sep 3, 2017 7:06am

I loved this mirrors my opinions(although mine were less well written) in a project for my music degree. I don't understand why so many great writers don't acknowledge the jazz influence that Jan Van Halen had on the VH brothers. I agree that no Van Halen would've existed the way we know and love without my favourite VH frontman...Diamond David Lee Roth....he changed the band and help make em. His thought process is something I'd love to observe by asking questions....his witt is incredible as is his insight into what makes things what they are.

I don't think that Hagar had a bad time in VH....just that they got more poppy and less heavy overall...not completely but they did lose some edge. OU812 has some great guitar work....but was terribly mixed. Balance had a couple tunes that were ok....but it left me disappointed. VH 3 was a mistake in choice of vocalist....but the guitar work is outstanding on many tracks.

I agree....there would be no music the way we think there would be if not for Van Halen and their first 6 albums...I include Diver Down, cause it shows a bands bar roots....and how damn good those guys were no matter what they played! Great article!

Thanks so much for this piece....I'm a huge VH fan. I wonder how you'll feel about Wolfgang and his solo project? Did you like his playing in Van Halen? I know I have...and is nothing like them! I won't keep flapjawing, but great article!!! You wrote a lot of truth....a different kind of truth...but non th less true! Cheers! Van Halen forever my fellow Van Halenite!

Pleasantly pleased,
Adam King

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Sep 3, 2017 7:09am

In reply to six strings away:

I think he was a huge Allan Holdsworth fan....I don't know why jazz isn't mentioned more in his influences section of articles. Between his father and those musicians in rock he liked....many were amazing Holdsworth....and jazz influenced fusion. That would make me agree with you about Jeff Beck...he's just amazing too. I'm a huge Clapton fan, and I do hear t....just not as much as Eddie says it's there. Cheers! Rock on....I'm never six strings away! Lol cheers!

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Sep 3, 2017 8:38pm

In reply to ArizonaSteve:

VH live in Oakland 1981 is some good DLR era footage:

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Sep 3, 2017 9:02pm

"But they came out of the hair/glam/whatever metal world Van Halen's imitators created)."

Um, Kiss, Sweet, NY Dolls, Slade? I think it's easier to draw a direct line from these bands to Poison, Motley Crue and Quiet Riot than from VH.

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Ge Lopz
Sep 5, 2017 8:30pm

In reply to SpaceButt:

Dave always was a GREAT LYRICIST and a great frontman. Ted Templeman said that. And i agree with him. Hagar, on the other hand, hace a better voice, but always was a poor lyricist and a boring frontman. There is no Van Halen without Eddie´s music and Dave´s lyrics.

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Sep 5, 2017 8:36pm

Van Halen always was/is superb, influential. Van hagar was just another ordinary good band. VAN HALEN IS UNIQUE.
And all VH/DLR haters are stupid people that just don´t get it. They just don´t know NOTHING about hard rock, guitar playing, frontmen, etc, etc etc. Stupid teenagers.
This is a GREAT ARTICLE. Congratulations.

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Sep 5, 2017 10:12pm

In reply to Johnny Nothing:

And yet between Van Halen and Motley Crue, they sold more records in total than all the bands you listed combined. Which brings it all back to the original thesis: the more records sold, the more people listened to the band, the more influential they are. Quality of music has nothing to do with it. I have a feeling a horrible Van Halen-imitation band, name any, has probably sold more records than any horrible Velvet Underground-imitation band, thus spreading the influence far and wide. Its just the way it is.

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Chris Dalton
Sep 6, 2017 3:30pm

In reply to Post-Punk Monk:

"Fair Warning" is absolutely the second best Van Halen album. Check it out.

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Adrian Ferra
Sep 7, 2017 4:22am

Great, thought provoking piece. I think one aspect of VH (and the subsequent wave of pop metal) worth exploring is this idea of virtuosic playing in pop music. I cant really think of any examples where fast technical playing exists in pop music today. Certainly, bands like radiohead (for example) whilst musically complex, do not emphasize technical solo playing.

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Flaming Telepath
Sep 7, 2017 8:46am

Another thing about Van Halen: Girls liked them.

Probably why a lot of the commenters here are annoyed at the idea that they were great -- which they were, no fuckin doubt about it.

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Michael Hann
Sep 7, 2017 10:47am

In reply to elrad:

No. First, all those bands have much more in common sonically with Van Halen than with Kiss/Dolls/Sweet/Slade. Second, they all decamped to LA, not to NY. They went to be part of the scene Van Halen created, or assimilated that scene from early on. Third, the only Slade link is Quiet Riot's two covers. They only covered Cum on Feel the Noize because the label ordered them to. They were furious about it.

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Michael Hann
Sep 7, 2017 10:53am

In reply to Johnny Nothing:

I would rather listen to any of those than the bands Van Halen influenced. But the Van Halen spawn were heard by far more people. Motley Crue sold 100m records worldwide on their own. So have Def Leppard. Even Poison sold 45m worldwide. Absolute also rans like Cinderella sold 15m worldwide. Bowie has sold plenty, but behind him, of the acts you list, Ferry is the next biggest with 30m sales across eight Roxy albums and 13 solo albums. Influence isn't about leading to good music, it's about how much you affect the music that is heard. Van Halen did that far more than the Velvet Underground.

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Sep 8, 2017 2:25am

In reply to Ricardo:

Insane. There are at minimum eight great songs on Van Halen 1 alone.

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Sep 9, 2017 12:09am

In reply to jmurphy:

well damn, I will have to seek out the vinyl then. thanks for the tip!

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Fret Bored
Sep 9, 2017 10:00am

DLR bakers dozen please.
Also, if you're new to VH check '1984' this is the high water mark of their classic era. Every track is killer.

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Sep 11, 2017 10:30am

I've read Julian before this and think he made a better case, and even within those "Big Six" there is, assuredly, a lot of complete shit that's aged about as well as Eddie's DNA in the form of Wolfgang. But there is a platonic ideal version of Van Halen that clearly a lot of people have seen (after maybe chugging seawater for three days) and it'd be nice if that's what actually was. This all said Diamond Dave seems like a genuinely thoughtful, excitable and heartfelt person and there's nothing wrong with rock n' roll histrionics when used responsibly. (You can tell I like him because I let him have his nickname.)

The problem the author faces is now this: critical re-evaluations tend to lead, as inevitably as Faith No More birthed Limp Bizkit, to further critical re-evaluations. Now that all the elements of the genre have been born there is only the permanent churn of glut, cull, reclamation and revival. Each band in turn rises, falls, has their ashes pissed on, and eventually gets a monument built on top when you're far enough away to escape the smell of the fetid earth.

And so when some scaly-tongued lesser demon crawls up the flagpole to right the historical wrongs cast upon the punishing rhythms hard-living authenticity of Maytley Creee, it will be your turn to wonder what you've wrought.

(And BPD sampled "Smoke on the Water" on that album; what band was that again? Deep Sabbath? Black Purple? Ya slippin'.)

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Eddy B
Sep 11, 2017 10:43am

Now I'll just have to spend the whole day imagining what a Velvet Underground album of Van Halen would sound like. Damnit..

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Sep 19, 2017 10:16pm

Bit late to this but...what a great article! Of course I am biased in that I mostly agree with what has been said, but you have to remember the times when VH came on the rock scene...REO Speedwagon, Budgie, Styx, Uriah Heep...FFS what a bunch of weird looking and boring-sounding musicians. VH came from outer space, especially the tight, simple production and the madness of the guitars, and yes, the vocals/lyrics. I know a lot of people on this site wax on about Joy Division, etc but really, could you have a good time and laugh with those guys music? Was it art or angst? Anyway, one of DLR's best quote was about how critics hated him and loved Elvis Costello...cause thay all looked like Costello... Saw them live and they were the real deal. Take all other points onboard but at the end of the day VH have influenced many many bands.

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try the veal, it's the best in the city
Sep 20, 2017 2:29pm

Lol a wild refugee from Circus magazine appears. Of course this article utterly fails to address the vile misogyny in Roth's lyrics. Van Halen was everything that was wrong with 80s rock and the sooner their legacy of white privilege and toxic masculinity is forgotten, the better.

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Gilbert Hanover
Sep 20, 2017 2:41pm

Well I for one really like Van Halen's early work, especially the first two lps. Dance The Night Away is a pop classic, bloody brilliant. Not sure about the premise of the article but they certainly don't deserve to be dismissed just because of Jump.

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