Van Halen: ‘Van Halen II’

VAN HALEN
VAN HALEN
Released on March 23, 1979 (Warner Bros)

Review by Lance Lumley:
I was a huge Van Halen fan growing up. My first concert ever was in 1991, seeing the band with opener Alice in Chains in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, USA. My brother and I had all the Van Halen cassettes, including most of Sammy Hagar‘s solo releases. All of my high school friends listened to the band, except two friends who constantly wanted to argue who was better musically — Van Halen or Rush (oh, the wonderful days of our youth where topics like that mattered in our lives). My brother even had a local store make a football jersey with 51 on the front and 50 on the back, in honor if the classic “5150.” We would blast Van Halen cassettes (and later CDs) almost everyday — even driving to a Christian youth conference hours away on the way to and from the event. Even though I am more of a Hagar-led fan of the band, Van Halen II is my favorite of the David Lee Roth led releases.

The normal ingredients are here — strong guitar work, powerful vocals, and of course, rockin’ songs. The opening track, the remake of “You’re No Good,” which has been covered by many artists throughout the years, actually has a dark feel to it. Whether or not this was intentional to open with this (as the first album was similar with “Running With The Devil”), the band eases the listener into a slow, mid-tempo introduction to prepare them for the attack of hard rock excellence that is to come.

Track two is one of my favorite songs from the original line-up. “Dance The Night Away” is a feel good song with a pop feel, but still has an edge that hard rock fans would not be turned off by. Alex Van Halen‘s drumming may be simple on this song, but it is one reason why I like this song so much. Alex and Michael Anthony‘s solid rhythm section carries the song, with its dynamics of  decreasing in the middle of the song, only to kick it back up again for the end, which becomes a regular throughout the album. The listener does not get its ears blown out by the assault of the band, instead getting layers of power and mellowness throughout the tracks.

“Somebody Get Me A Doctor” showcases the strong backing vocals. Not only does the song have the signature Eddie Van Halen‘s guitar work, but Anthony‘s vocals was just as much as important on the records. Michael may be the most underrated talent to be part of a mega legendary band. “Bottoms Up” is a song that my co-workers and I used to sing all the time, when I worked at a grocery store. The song has the catchy melody to it, and shows Roth‘s vocal style of a somewhat scatting towards the end of the song. I consider this Van Halen‘s version of “La Grange” with a boogie / Texas blues style to it. I challenge anyone not to be singing this song while listening to it. Eddie‘s solo here is just plain awesome.

Alex‘s drumming is the feature on “Outta Love Again.” The beat is different than a typical 4/4 beat. Alex has a shuffle beat adding to the rocking fills throughout. Mixing this with Dave‘s high notes, makes this song perfect coming after “Bottom’s Up.”  When mentioning Alex‘s drumming , many pick “Hot For Teacher” or “Panama” but I think this is one overlooked song that some may forget about when talking his best work.

“Light Up The Sky” is a heavier punk style song with a great drum break by Alex. The vocal style on this song is probably my least favorite on the album (I will get plenty of comments on this comment), but the music makes up for any minor dislikes I have with the song vocally. The wicked guitar playing and the drumming that is featured makes me forget the lyrics. One of the great parts of the album as a whole is that almost all the songs are under or around four minutes long, so even if there is a small part that I don’t like, it’s short enough that it does not take away from the album as a whole, and when you have four great band members, I can find something wonderful about the song.

Eddie showcases his talent on “Spanish Fly” where those that got the first album and marveled at his powerful playing on “Eruption” will see his playing differently with a mellower and classical style. It is a nice break for the listener before the band gets back to rocking your ears off. The song “D.O.A” contains the signature Van Halen sound that carried the band all through the rest of the Roth era years. This is the longest track on the album (at 4:08). The lyrics are perfect, with the line “They found a dirty faced kid in a garbage can” being one of them, to compliment the guitar riff of the song. The song has a muddy sound, so it needs dirty, straggly lyrics to accommodate it. The song has the late 1970s / early 1980s sleaze to it that would been found being played  in the clubs on the streets of LA.

“Women In Love” is another one of my all-time songs from this line-up. The strong harmonies, the guitar solo from Eddie, and Dave‘s singing mixes together to a radio friendly song. Dave isn’t doing his high screaming on this song, which is another part I like about the song. I wasn’t always a fan of some of Dave‘s vocals (either scatting or having lyrics that made no sense), but this song shows that he has many layers to his talent.  He was not just a live showman who squealed.

The final track is the great “Beautiful Girls,” which was one of the songs that was part of the original demos of the band that got them to sign. This song could’ve have been placed on any of the other records by the band, including Diver Down (one of my other favorite Dave albums). This is a plain out fun, party song that is still played on classic rock radio in my area constantly. I like albums that end with a rocker, or fun song that wants leaves you begging for more. Although I was not always a fan of Dave‘s goofiness with some lyrics and parts on some albums, the humor fits here perfectly, especially at the end when he tries to talk to a girl, who ends up walking away from him. His added statements, like “I love ’em / I need ’em,” and “Hey, where you going” adds to the song. And who doesn’t like singing to a song that states “All the bills are paid / I’ve got it made in the shade?”

Is Van Halen II the perfect sophomore release, after coming off of a monster debut album (maybe Hotter Than Hell, although the KISS debut was not a mega seller)? I’m going to argue that it is. The run time is short, with no extra fillers on it, filled with harmonies, great drumming and guitar work, along with the combination of heavy and soft dynamics throughout the songs. This is the only CD I upgraded from the Dave years (yes, I do have all the Sammy Van Halen ones, but let’s not go into the argument of the Sammy vs Dave, who is better, and just look at this album alone), and is probably my favorite of the original line-up.

Review by John Stoney Cannon:
Some songs get into your soul, engrained so deep they take you back to the way you felt, worldly aura and all, when you first felt them the most.  Yeah, all meaningful tunes conjure up memories but the sound of certain ones place you mind, body, and soul back in time, if even just for seconds. Before it became overtaken by scenes of headbanging slackers in Wayne’s World and modernized in popular culture, Queen‘s “Bohemian Rhapsody” was such a song but along the way became more tied to a place post ’70s. Thankfully, that same fate has not been handed to “Dance The Night Away” off of Van Halen‘s 1979 sophomore record II which still evokes time travel within the first few guitar plucking seconds. It has always shined sunny summer shaggy hair 1979 rock and roll despite musically being ahead of its time by a near half decade.

In 1978, I was a 12 year old kid fresh off the plane into my second tour of Germany and surrounded on a US Army dependent school bus by older kids fully immersed in the culture of German beer, hashish, cigarettes, and rock and roll. Suddenly, my bubblegum and boogie soundtrack of Bowie and the Bay City Rollers was invaded by a newer boombox bus ride soundtrack loaded with a bit more edge courtesy of bands like AC/DC, Judas Priest, Rush, Thin Lizzy, UFO, and this new band that I originally thought was German due to having the name Van Halen.

Shyly standing a few feet from my new housing area mates, awaiting the arrival of the bus that would take me into Frankfurt for my first day at FAJHS, I was quick to notice this thumping song getting closer and louder until the sound of bass erupted into a sonic blast of guitar that at the time I could only describe as something akin to Godzilla slowly lurking out of the sea and into the city of Tokyo. As this explosion came around the corner of the last apartment building on the shoulders of an older, taller, (and in my eyes much cooler) neighborhood kid, I was introduced to Van Halen. The song was “Running With The Devil” off the band’s debut but I wasn’t running. Matter of fact, I was frozen in this sound somehow more extraterrestrial than Bowie, edgier than Cooper, naughtier than Nugent, and just freaking unreal to my young ears. Yeah, I’d been exposed to the coolest of the cool since I slipped onto this planet in 1966 but damn, Van Halen were like nothing I had ever heard. Over the first four albums, it remained like nothing I had ever heard but as much as fell hard for future albums like Women And Children First and Fair Warning, those first two in 1978 and 79 grabbed me like a wrench and to this day have yet to set me loose. Yeah, the debut was the bomb dropping but Van Halen II released the following year was the aftermath complete with lights, strippers, and Diamond Dave threatening to steal a disco ball for rock’s sake.

Recorded in just over three weeks in Hollywood California under the watch of producer Ted Templeman, Van Halen II is as much an energetic rock and roll throwback as it is a musical crystal ball look into rock’s future. Van Halen would take live energy into the studio (in many cases leaving in slight inperfections) and eventually influence an entire ’80s hard rock movement built largely on bands that followed Van Halen‘s Sunset Strip beginnings. In Van Halen, the hair band prototype of a strong heavy-footed rhythm section, nimble fingered guitarist, and (usually blonde) sex symbol frontman reared its party head via bands like Mötley Crüe, Poison, and that most obvious of clones, the BulletBoys. Before it was all said and done, there were more than plenty bands featuring at least one notable shredder and a blonde singer.

When I saw a young and hungry Van Halen rip Black Sabbath a new pie hole back in the late ’70s, I was yet to learn what the band’s early club audiences already knew — that Van Halen could take pretty much any cover song and not only play it, but own it. They did just that with The Kinks‘ plunky tune “You Really Got Me” the previous year and would continue the trend by kicking off album number two with oft covered sixties song “You’re No Good”, a track that just a few years earlier was a 1975 chart topper for Linda Ronstadt. A country rock crossover hit, even Ronstadt‘s urgent rendition couldn’t hold a candle to the blistering, thumping power of Van Halen‘s version but this was just the start. Few could have expected the following track to blow up into one of the top tunes of the summer.

Turn on any American classic rock station during the hottest time of the year and you’re bound to hear Van Halen‘s ode to girls and good times. Yeah, years before the Crüe‘s “Girls, Girls, Girls”, Warrant‘s “Cherry Pie”, Y&T‘s “Summertime Girls”, or even Great White‘s frothy take on Mott the Hoople tune “Once Bitten Twice Shy”, Van Halen were blistering the radio waves with their own tribute to parties and pretties — “Dance The Night Away.”  Years later, this tune still never gets old and sounds just as good pumping out a club PA or jukebox as it does breaking the air from the open windows of a fast car. In 1979, I didn’t have a fast car, or a slow car for that matter, but the girls loved Van Halen and I took every opportunity to try and use my boombox and a cassette of Van Halen II as a bartering tool. Heck, it may now seem like sacrilege now but I once even gifted a young lass my copies of the first four Van Halen albums in a failed attempt to win her heart. Aaaaah, young love…

If the first couple tracks represented Van Halen at their catchy, commercial best, then the rest of side one was the band proclaiming their arrival as the new kings of hard rock. “Somebody Get Me A Doctor” plows through leaving the listener as worn out as Diamond Dave aims to be which is not surprising, 40 years later, Dave still operates somewhere way over ten. Maybe the only thing harder working is his mouth and yeah, that can surely lead to dry tonsils which, probably explains “Bottoms Up” — an ode to, well either drinkin’ or sinkin’ depending on where your mind is at. OK, so hardly the work of genius lyrically but in 1979, I was like 12 and hardly caring about poetic proficiency. We wanted to rock, sing and shout, and maybe cop a feel or two.  Feel good stuff which is why even now hearing the band screw up and laugh on the “b-b-b-b-b-b-baby” vocal breakdown STILL draws a smile and occasional chuckle. Van Halen at their “no nonsense but still fuck around if we wanna” best.

“Outta Love Again” finishes up the first half of Van Halen‘s second opus with Dave humbling himself in heartbroken defeat.  Easy to imagine for the average listener, but rockstar Roth? Hardly but just the same, this track blisters. But as much musical mayhem ensues to barrel out of this side and into a last bit of vinyl crackle, pop, and eventual silence, this rocket barely holds a candle to what awaits to start off the flipside.

A year or so earlier, Dave, Eddie, and the guys turned things up on their debut with the ferocious “Atomic Punk” but not to be outdone by their own badass selves, Van Halen crank up the volume to the point of breaking the damn knob off to start the second half of their 1979 follow up with “Light Up The Sky.” In terms of Van Halen tunes, it rarely gets more intense, more uptempo, more wild, and just more hard rock than this. One of the band’s lesser known tunes, it belongs right up there with future hard rock classics like “Kickstart Your Heart.” Truth be known, if it wasn’t for Van Halen‘s deeper album cuts, the ’80s as we would experience them might have never happened.  The guys took the Strip to the world spawning band after band especially the ones coming outta Hollywood.

While it’s cool to have rocker validation, a true red blooded American male rocker can no more exist on dudes yelling “Dude! You Rock!” than Gene Simmons can live five minutes without hearing his own voice. So it’s hardly surprising that Van Halen slide into a block of tunes aimed at attracting the fairer sex with a tune entitled “Spanish Fly”, a drug popular at the time for supposedly provided a voracious sexual appetite for any lass that might ingest it. Never mind that the tune is an instrumental flamenco guitar style piece, this is Van Halen.  At the end of the Dave… um day, it’s really all about sex. From there, the band go on full attack with a trifecta of catchy singalong tunes starting with summertime slacker storytelling aka “D.O.A.” and the “pair off and get down” groove of “Women in Love.” You got drugs, adventure, sex, and lo and behold, the guys save the funnest for last and surprise, the dang thing is about girls!

A masterclass in worldplay and melody, “Beautiful Girls” is one part Cab Calloway vaudeville, one part Steve Martin comedy, and a whole lotta Benny Hill girl chasing. The lyrics flow like an old Broadway musical and you can’t help but to nod at the absurdity of all of this old school musical theater dolled up in a rock and roll package. But then again that’s part of Van Halen‘s power. Who else can take tunes by bands like The Kinks (and later Roy Orbison) and make ’em sound like the coolest hard rock tunes? If anything, Van Halen only proved that rock and roll is a bowl of all the ingredients shoved in a big musical buffet over the years. Van Halen just had a knack for knowing which seasonings to use and how much.

History would go on to show exactly how instrumental Van Halen were to the rock music of the ’80s. From Alex Van Halen‘s bigger than necessary drum kit to Michael Anthony‘s rhythmic bass lines to Eddie Van Halen‘s revolutionary guitar style to David Lee Roth creating the prototype for the frontman of the hair metal generation, Van Halen went from club band to groundbreaking music legends. Their look, sound, and attitude influenced a movement that would rule an entire decade of musicians and songs that would become part of pop culture. Every band that donned spandex, wild guitar, and big hair while pushing anthems with even bigger choruses owe a debt of rocking gratitude to Van Halen and albums like Van Halen II.  As for the fans, we are just thankful someone showed us that it was cool even for shaggy haired white kids to “Dance The Night Away.”

Track List:
01. You’re No Good
02. Dance The Night Away
03. Somebody Get Me A Doctor
04. Bottom’s Up!
05. Outta Love Again
06. Light Up The Sky
07. Spanish Fly
08. D.O.A.
09. Women In Love
10. Beautiful Girls

Band Members:
David Lee Roth – lead vocals
Michael Anthony – bass, backing vocals
Eddie Van Halen – guitar, backing vocals
Alex Van Halen – drums

Production:
Produced by Ted Templeman
Engineered by Donn Landee
Second Engineers: Corey Bailey and Jim Fitzpatrick

Band Websites:
Official Website
Facebook
Twitter

Reviewed by Lance Lumley and John Stoney Cannon for Sleaze Roxx, March 2019

Van Halen‘s “Dance The Night Away” video:

Van Halen – “Dance The Night Away” (Official Music Video)

Watch the official music video for “Dance The Night Away” by Van Halen