The four original members of Van Halen, guitarist/songwriter Eddie Van Halen, big brother drummer Alex Van Halen, lead singer/lyricist David Lee Roth, and ex-bass player/backing vocalist Michael Anthony are all unanimous in this classic rock interview in their recollections of their unaided efforts before signing their record deal and releasing that now-legendary debut, Van Halen, in February 1978. The band members papered fliers on every public blank space from Pasadena California to Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, promoting themselves while humping their equipment for five years just like countless other bands before and since.
But once Warner Bros label president Mo Ostin and A&R head Ted Templeman signed Van Halen and recorded that first album, that all changed. Apparently there was an unprecedented commitment from the label to this untried baby band, a belief that Van Halen was going to break big right out of the box. The first indication of this appeared a full three months prior to the full album’s February 1978 release when Warner Bros distributed one of the coolest, most memorable promotional records ever to U.S. rock radio stations, a four song sampler of “Runnin’ With the Devil”, the band’s electrifying cover of The Kinks‘ “Eruption/You Really Got Me”, “Jamie’s Cryin’ “, and an obscure blues song,“Ice Cream Man” in a shiny black 12″ sleeve pressed on bright red vinyl with a label on one side only of the classic Warner Bros film studio’s Looney Tunes cartoon logo with Elmer Fudd.
Then when the full Van Halen album followed in February 1978, again the label rejected the standard industry practice of skimping on debut album cover photography and artwork (labels had always made the bands pay for the album cover designs out of their production budgets, which is why so many first albums have such lackluster eye appeal). Instead Van Halen’s first volley looks way big time, sleek and sassy with pro photography and effects, and inside Ted Templeman’s crisp production announced that a new world class hard rock band had arrived. With more than ten million in U.S. sales, it would be another five albums and six years before Van Halen would equal that hard rock benchmark with 1984. – Redbeard