Black and white promo photo of Van Halen
Courtesy of the Rock Hall Library and Archive

Revolutions: Van Halen's "Van Halen"


The Rock Hall and Klipsch Audio take fans deep inside these albums to showcase their significance and impact.

Van Halen's self-titled debut album's debauched, feel good vibe was cultivated from the band's years of playing Southern California backyard parties and rock clubs. Released in 1978, the record remains a vibrant rock 'n' roll masterpiece that reinvigorated heavy music.

In 1978, Van Halen's self-titled debut album gave rock 'n' roll an electrifying jolt of energy.

The record’s debauched, feel good vibe was cultivated from the band's years of playing Southern California backyard parties and rock clubs.

The iconic opening track "Runnin' With The Devil" is a brazen rock 'n' roll seduction with slithering grooves and slippery riffs. "Feel Your Love Tonight' is a ferocious, flirtatious boogie, while "Little Dreamer" hews toward smoky, seething blues-rock.

Van Halen was the namesake of two Amsterdam-born brothers: drummer Alex Van Halen and his younger brother, Eddie.

Eddie Van Halen was a new breed of guitar hero, a virtuoso shredder who coaxed distorted tones from his instrument and relished experimentation. The solo instrumental "Eruption" showcased a two-handed technique known as tapping, which soon became Eddie Van Halen's signature move.

And on "Atomic Punk," he ran his hand over the guitar strings and distorted the results using a pedal, making the riffs sound like phase-shifted sandpaper.

Despite these innovations, Van Halen didn't labor over their sound.

The band recorded at Sunset Sound Recorders with Ted Templeman, who had also produced the Doobie Brothers and Montrose. Together they cut their debut in just 15 days.

This urgency suited the group's loose-cannon lead vocalist, David Lee Roth.

Roth let his unrestrained range take force: He screamed a la Little Richard, but also wailed like a blues singer, dripping sleazy charm and innuendo. The hotrodding '50s rock 'n' roll homage "Ice Cream Man," finds Roth as a flirtatious lothario.

But on the thrashing "On Fire," Roth channels Ozzy Osbourne's furious snarls, adding in punk's righteous vivacity.

Despite Roth's wild-child veneer, Van Halen's music had deep reverence for rock 'n' roll history.

The steamrolling "I'm The One" breaks into a doo wop-inspired vocal interlude, and "Jamie's Cryin'" is a pop tune from a bygone era with a sizzling rumba rhythm. The band's cascading multi-part harmonies—dominated by the booming voice of bassist Michael Anthony—nodded to Roth's love of Motown.

Van Halen spent most of 1978 touring as openers for classic rock heavyweights Journey and Black Sabbath.

Their hard work touring paid off: A revved-up cover of the Kinks' "You Really Got Me," which the band nailed in two takes, became their first Top 40 single.

Van Halen's debut record was platinum by the end of ‘78, and went on to sell more than 10 million copies. Forty years later, Van Halen is considered one of the greatest debut records of all time—a vibrant rock 'n' roll masterpiece that reinvigorated heavy music.

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