The list of the most popular debut albums in rock history is a real head-turner, but towering like a giant redwood still forty-five years after its February 1978 release remains the first Van Halen album. Not since the debut by Montrose five years earlier (interestingly produced by the same veteran sonic sorcerer, Ted Templeman) had hard rock been written, played, and captured this hot, including “Runnin’ with the Devil”, “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”, “Jamie’s Cryin'”, “Ice Cream Man”, and a scorching cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”.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 their recollections of their unaided efforts before signing their record deal and releasing that now-legendary debut, Van Halen, in February 1978. Just like countless other bands before and since, for five lean years the band members papered fliers on every public blank space from Pasadena California to Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, promoting themselves for untold scores of club gigs while humping their own equipment. 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, the band rejected the standard record 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. 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. Eddie Van Halen was very much like Albert Einstein in that both were so all consumed by their respective interests that they would literally forget to eat, sleeping in their clothes. “I made those first four Van Halen albums in that same blue shirt,” Eddie once told me here In the Studio . Eddie did not talk that much about making music, but rather was totally action-oriented. So rather than the Muhammad Ali of music, Eddie Van Halen was the Jerry Rice of rock, simply outperforming everybody while changing the course of his field of endeavor by raising the bar to a new height to which others could only aspire. The reporters all shoved microphones in the faces of prodigal peacock David Lee Roth and later the feisty Sammy Hagar for colorful quotes , but the name of this band is Van Halen, and with all due respect it ain’t because Alex is such a great drummer, OK? Sure, Joe Montana deservedly got all the press conferences and photos, but when you looked for the guy who actually crossed the goal line with the football and put up six points standing in the end zone, it was Jerry Rice. So when history writes the story of the greatest American rock band of the last half century, it won’t be because of Sam or Dave. It was Eddie Van Halen. Just look at that grin! – Redbeard