Welcome to THE FIRST Album by Album Challenge of 2016. For those that are new here, the “Album by Album Challenge” is where I take a band’s entire discography and listen to every album in order of release from front to back. With my unforgiving and well-aged ear, I call it how I hear it. In some cases, I find that what I once thought was good is actually pretty crappy and sometimes crap manages to age into something pretty kick ass. And in some cases, face melting is still just good ol’ face melting.
This time around I have dipped into the Van Halen discography. I have never been a diehard Van Halen fan so a lot of these albums never really got the full “start to finish” listen from me so this challenge was exciting, scary, infuriating, nauseating, and epic winning all at the same time. This was a really fun challenge (for the most part). How did I feel about YOUR favorite Van Halen album? Well, read on my friends and you’ll see what I had to say about the Van Halen Discography!
Van Halen I
Release Date: February 10, 1978
The Good: Running With the Devil, Eruption, Aint Talkin’ ‘Bout Love, I’m The One, Jamie’s Cryin’, Atomic Punk, Feel Your Love Tonight, Little Dreamer, Ice Cream Man, On Fire
The Indifferent: You Really Got Me,
Ok, so right out the gates, how can you even go wrong with “Running With the Devil”? That song just fucking kills. Sonically, this album is so raw and full of punch and goddamn that guitar tone. Not only is Eddie Van Halen one of the kings of guitar, he’s one of the kings of tone. His tone on this album is just through the fucking roof but can we address the shitty drum sound? Who the fuck mixed those drums? A deaf mute? I mean, those drums sheesh.
Song wise, I never really realized that this album right here pretty much inspired the entire LA Sunset Strip glam rock scene that would come in just a few years later. Anyways, this album is fucking great but for me, the real meat of this album is pretty much the last half of the album starting with “Atomic Punk” on back. That song right there is Diamond Dave’s shining moment on this album in my opinion. What a master of the craft he is on this one and pretty much on all the fucking songs. The only real weak link I found on this album was “You Really Got Me.” Hell, even as a kid I thought that song was stupid. Yes, even the Kinks’ version I thought was dumb but while it was weak, it was tolerable. All in all, this album is a fucking killer. Love it!
Van Halen II
Release Date: March 23, 1979
The Good: You’re No Good, Dance the Night Away, Somebody Get Me a Doctor, Bottoms Up!, Outta Love Again, Light Up the Sky, Spanish Fly, D.O.A, Women In Love, Beautiful Girls
I can’t tell you the last time I listened to Van Halen II in its entirety front to back and after completing this challenge I was like, “Why the fuck haven’t I been listening to this album more?” In no disrespect, the band doesn’t seem to be playing much better than on the debut and what I mean by that is that they just came out of the gates slamming and so good that this album just seems like a continuation. I don’t know a whole lot about Van Halen’s history so I don’t even know if, like many bands, some of these songs were written at the same time as the debut.
Anyways, this album is just so fucking good. Can we just talk about how the band opens up with that dark as fuck rendition of “You’re No Good”, goes into the feel good “Dance the Night Away”, and then right into the balls out rocker of “Somebody Get Me a Doctor”? I love that this album just seems to carry quite a few mood changes yet still seems to be over all a really heavy album. This was a great album that I totally need to revisit again and again in the future.
Women and Children First
Release Date: March 26, 1980
The Good: And The Cradle Will Rock, Everybody Wants Some, Fools, Romeo Delight, Loss of Control, Take Your Whiskey Home, Could This Be Magic?, In a Simple Rhyme
Ok, so call me lame but I have never heard this album in its entirety front to back. I’ve heard this album in various degrees of shuffle but man, hearing this album in sequence is something. This album is just full of some seriously nasty swagger. While not quite as dark as the previous album, Women and Children First just seems to have this real tongue in cheek switchblade in the back pocket kind of attitude.
There isn’t a single clunker on this album and song after song I was just getting killed. Once again, Diamond Dave proves just why he was one of the all time greatest frontmen. His voice is just so full of fire and grit on this one. “Fools” just blew my mind and holy shit, “Loss of Control”! How has this song not been covered by Exodus or some other thrash band? This is Van Halen doing some fucking thrash! “Could This Be Magic” has to be one of the fucking coolest moments in Van Halen history and the sudden change in gears is like slamming into a wall made of marshmallow! I know, it doesn’t make sense but if you’ve heard this album in order, than you know exactly what I’m talking about. As of now, this is my favorite Van Halen album to date.
Release Date: April 29, 1981
The Good: Mean Street, Dirty Movies, Sinner’s Swing, Hear About it Later, Hear About it Later, Push Comes to Shove, So This is Love?, One Foot Out the Door
The Indifferent: Sunday Afternoon in the Park
Aside from “Mean Street” and “Unchained”, I have never heard Fair Warning in its entirety. I’m not sure why I didn’t even bother with this one as a kid. Maybe it was the shitty album cover art or whatever but for some reason or another this album just went completely off my radar. Hearing this album for the first time in its entirety has completely blown me away. Again, I’m not much of a Van Halen buff but I don’t ever recall this being an album that I ever had anyone say, “Dude, you MUST get this album.”
I have to say, while I definitely enjoyed this album it’s definitely a really odd album. What I mean by odd is that this album just sounds like they don’t give any of the fucks at all. This album sounds like the kind of album a band “wants” to make as opposed to making an album they “need” to make. The songs aren’t really all that commercial sounding, they definitely cover a bit more versatile ground such as the hard rock of “Unchained”, the soulful, gritty, back alley disco kind groove of “Push Comes to Shove”, the way weird synth instrumental “Sunday Afternoon in the Park”, to the bluesy swing of “So This Is Love?” Also, I have to say that “One Foot Out the Door” has to be one of the strangest, coolest album closers I’ve ever heard. This album is really pretty fucking rad and while it didn’t totally blow me away first time around, I can’t help but feel that this is one that needs some more future attention.
Release Date: April 14, 1982
The Good: Hang ’em High, Secrets, Little Guitars, Big Bad Bill, The Full Bug
The Bad: Happy Trails
The Indifferent: Where Have All The Good Times Gone, Cathedral, Intruder, Oh Pretty Woman, Dancing In The Streets,
Again, being that I’m not a huge Van Halen nutswinger, I’m curious to hear from the other Van Halen freaks as to what they think of Diver Down. To me, this album just sounds completely thrown together and is full of filler. All of these ridiculous cover songs and those dumb little instrumentals. It literally sounds like they threw an album together just to get one out and be done with it. This album as a whole just seems like a waste except for the really good songs on this album.
Here’s the deal. I don’t hate those cover songs but they just seem kind of silly and useless. I mean, “Where Have All the Good Times Gone” is probably the best of them but still, not all that exciting or even fun. While this album is chock full of filler, this album does have five EXTREMELY awesome songs. “Hang ’em High” is so fucking good and I love the novelty quality of “Big Bad Bill.” “The Full Bug” is a fucking gangbuster of a good time but it’s “Secrets” that I have to say is one of the single coolest fucking Van Halen songs I have ever heard. Looking back on this album, Van Halen could’ve easily put this out as a five song EP and it would’ve been epic as fuck. If anything, this album is worth owning just for those five songs so maybe you’d do better to just download those five tracks and call it a day.
Release Date: January 9, 1984
The Good: Panama, Top Jimmy, Drop Dead Legs, Hot For Teacher, Girl Gone Bad, House of Pain
The Bad: 1984, I’ll Wait,
The Indifferent: Jump,
Van Halen really knew how to keep up with the changing trend in music and it’s amazing to me that while they were able to change their sound just enough to be modernly relevant, the songwriting as a whole didn’t change much at all and the band was still able to deliver some really well written tunes. The album kicks off with this horrible synth instrumental “1984” which, in a way, I felt like was Ed’s way of saying, “Look at us! We are 80’s!” Leading into “Jump” which after all these years just doesn’t hold up well at all for me. As a matter of fact, I just roll my eyes whenever I hear this song and I wonder, “Did the old school VH fans have this same reaction?”
Once you get past those first two tunes, I found that there was quite a bit of fucking win in this album. Can we just talk about how fucking great “Drop Dead Legs” is? Seriously? That song is fucking cool and it’s a song that I could’ve heard on say Women and Children First or something. “I’ll Wait”? What the fuck is that all about? I felt like I was listening to the theme from Miami Vice or something. This song is just terrible and it took all I had to even make it through the song. “House of Pain” closes this album and from what I remember, this is a pretty fucking old Van Halen song and it sounds it. It’s without a doubt the heaviest song on the album and it sticks out like a sore thumb but that’s ok because it kicks fucking ass. As a matter of fact, I would’ve loved more of THIS and less of “I’ll Wait” and “Jump.” All in all, this album is pretty good. It’s a bit dated sounding and not my favorite by a long shot but worth owning for the really great songs.
Release Date: March 24, 1986
The Good: Get Up, Summer Nights, 5150, Inside
The Bad: Why Can’t This Be Love, Dreams, Love Walks In,
The Indifferent: Good Enough, Best of Both Worlds,
Man, I can remember the first time I heard this album. I remember not loving “Why Can’t This Be Love?” at all and that hasn’t changed a bit over time. I remember being tolerant of this change in the guards and I went with it but even back then I was favoring Diamond Dave’s solo stuff over this pop encrusted bullshit. First off, this album sounds horrible. The production is terrible and those electronic drums just sound terrible. Now I will say this, Sammy Hagar is a fucking monster singer and a great guitarist in his own right but this guy can’t write songs that are worth a shit.
“Get Up” is pretty fucking good I have to say and “Summer Nights” is a great, catchy tune but it just doesn’t sound like Van Halen. The title track for this album is actually pretty good too. I love the guitar work on this particular song and I actually think it’s a pretty well written tune. “Inside” is the only song on this album that I could hear Diamond Dave doing and it’s the only song that remotely resembles anything that Van Halen was about. At this point, I just know that the Van Halen of old is put to rest and from here on out (for a few albums at least) this is going to be Van Halen… unfortunately.
Release Date: May 24, 1988
The Good: Mine All Mine, AFU (Naturally Wired),
The Bad: When It’s Love, Cabo Wabo, Feels So Good, Finish What You Started, A Apolitical Blues
The Indifferent: Source of Infection, Black and Blue, Sucker In a Three Piece,
Sonically, OU812 is a step up from that horrible sounding 5150. Gone are those terrible electronic drums but song wise this album was still just chockfull of terribly written “tongue in cheek” songs and shitty ballads. The opening song is actually a really cool song and I have to say that “AFU” is fucking killer. I really liked this song a lot but the steam just started to fade from here. “Source of Infection” is another slight glimpse of the Van Halen of old but those lyrics are just fucking horrid.
When I was a kid, I remember loving this album and thinking, “This is way better than 5150.” Well, I wasn’t too far off the mark but at the same time, I was a dumb kid and this album just sounds more retarded as the years pass. “Finish What You Started” is such a dumb song that I can literally hear Diamond Dave laughing at them from a far. “Black and Blue” had some potential as it was musically quite good but again, here comes Sammy with those horrible lyrics. This album does very little if anything and I can’t even say that those two good songs are worth buying this album for.
For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge
Release Date: June 17, 1991
The Good: Judgement Day,
The Bad: Poundcake, Spanked, Runaround, In N’ Out, Man On a Mission, The Dream is Over, Right Now, Top of the World
The Indifferent: Pleasure Dome, 316
How is it even possible that an album can be this fucking bad? Seriously. I mean, hell, when this album came out I remember not liking much at all but 20-something years later, this album sucks even more than I imagined it would. Sonically, it’s a great sounding album. I love that production wise it sounds like Van Halen and it’s really heavy. Musically, this album has some great moments on songs like “Pleasure Dome”, “In N’ Out”, and, “Man on a Mission”, and “Spanked.” Even as great as they are musically, it doesn’t save these songs from the high level of lyrical suck. Seriously. I mean, these lyrics are fucking terrible. “All you bad, bad boys, call her up on the spank line.” Are you fucking kidding me? “Here we go round and round and round…” For real? Sad… just plain fucking sad.
There is one really good song on this album and that’s “Judgment Day.” That song seemed to be the one that sucked WAY LESS than the other crapolla on this album. Again, musically I found this album to have some really great moments but it’s just a reminder of how important great lyrics are to a song. Lyrics can make or break a song and unfortunately they lyrics definitely break the living fuck out of this album. This isn’t even an album worth streaming for free on Spotify much less owning. Just forget this one even happened.
Release Date: January 24, 1995
The Good: The Seventh Seal, Baluchitherium
The Bad: What Keeps Me Loving You, Don’t Tell Me What Love Can Do, Amsterdam, Big Fat Money, Not Enough, Take Me Back, Feelin’
Wow. Just when I thought an album couldn’t get worse than For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. This album is fucking atrocious. This shit sounds like adult contemporary bullshit. I feel like I was so surprised that I liked the opening song “The Seventh Seal” so much that I thought maybe my mind would be changed by this album but nope. This album flat out sucks. There aren’t even any real redeeming musical qualities to this album besides “Baluchitherium” which is a fucking instrumental. It’s almost like they figured out that the only way they’d really get a great song on this album would be to put one without Hagar’s lame ass lyrics.
This album is just like FUCK in that it’s completely unnecessary and completely unforgettable. It’s really so sad because as a person and as a singer, I LOVE Hagar but let’s just be honest. This guy couldn’t write his way out of wet paper bag.
Van Halen III
Release Date: March 17, 1998
The Bad: One I Want, Ballot or the Bullet,
The Indifferent: Without You, From Afar, Year to the Day, Dirty Water Dog, Once, Fire in the Hole, Josephina, How Many Say I
Ok, so this is a weird fucking album. I’ll be honest, I didn’t hate this album like I hate the Hagar albums but this being the only album to feature Extreme singer Gary Cherone, it just sounds to me like a lost Extreme album. I had a really hard time even listening to this album like it was a Van Halen album. The songs don’t flat out suck but, again, I just couldn’t connect with them as a Van Halen album. Maybe I’d feel differently if I didn’t know it was a Van Halen album.
Can we also just talk about what a motherfucking weirdo Edward Van Halen is? Have you listened to that song “How Many Say I”? Good lord that is one of the most insane sounding songs I have heard in my life. I mean literally insane but I kind of like it because it’s so fucking crazy. Anyways, this is just an album best left alone and let’s all just pretend that it never happened.
A Different Kind of Truth
Release Date: February 7, 2012
The Good: Tattoo, She’s The Woman, You and Your Blues, China Town, Blood and Fire, Bullethead, As Is, Honeybabysweetiedoll, The Trouble with Never, Outta Space, Stay Frosty, Big River, Beats Workin’
Holy motherfucking facemelt Batman. If I was Sammy Hagar and I heard this album, I would feel like an absolute putz. From the minute “Tattoo” kicks in, I just knew that this album was going to be a return to the Van Halen that I loved so much. As a matter of fact, A Different Kind of Truth is my favorite Van Halen album since Women and Children First. The songs are just so well written and they really cover all the facets of the Van Halen sound. Gone are those corny ass keyboards and shitty love songs. Returning are the melodic, ballsy music creating a foundation for some ingenious and fantastic lyric writing. I love that you get “Tattoo” which sounds totally old school, “Blood and Fire” could’ve been on 1984 and “China Town” would’ve fit with the dark and heavy material of Women and Children First.
Say what you want about this album but it’s a fucking stellar album. I know they got a lot of shit for the fact that a lot of these songs were unfinished/re-written songs from their early past but who the fuck cares? In my opinion, that makes me love this album even more because the boys managed to finish what they started by going back to where it all began and put the finishing touches on some pieces that turned out to some of Van Halen’s best material do to date. I fucking LOVE everything about this fucking album and THIS… THIS is an album that everyone must own, love, and crank to “11.”