One of the drawbacks to my blog is that there are so many instances of bands I like so much that when I switched over to digital I replaced the cassettes with Greatest Hits and Anthologies. This leaves some artist representations seem woefully lacking. It’s a flaw in my system. Van Halen falls right into that category, as I had so many cassettes from this band but the only digital replacement that was made falls right here…Woman And Children First. Many bands have held the title as “biggest rock band in the world” and for a time in the early 1980’s if you were a teenager…Van Halen was that band. Through disco,punk and then new wave….Van Halen was the torch bearer for balls out hard rock. They had the golden maned sex pot front man, the lightning fingered guitar God and embraced their image of a good time drug and alcohol fueled party band. In the early ’80’s nobody shook an arena like the mighty Van Halen and few kids notebook covers in junior high didn’t have the famous “VH” logo drawn on them. Before you knew what a narrcessitic prick Eddie Van Halen was and when Sammy Hagar was still the Red Rocker. In fact I vaguely remember doing a Van Halen song in an air band competition at a Blaine High School dance. I was David Lee Roth jumping off the stage and touching my toes in mid air….ahhh might as well Jump.
Woman And Children First is perhaps the heaviest sounding VH album in the catalog. It seems to be the perfect bridge from the first 2 albums of the 1970’s and the albums leading up to the earth and band shattering release of 1984. This was a band who made their reputation on word of mouth and didn’t need radio to sell records. They saw no need at the time to make radio friendly music (in fact they would only release one song as a single on this record..“And The Cradle Will Rock…” reached #55 on the Billboard Hot 100)…they sold albums and sold out arenas without the benefit of a radio hit. The band was tight and played with a fervor. While they refused at the time to make records for Top 40 radio…AOR and classic rock stations played them extensively because the fans demanded it.
The first 2/3 of this album kicks off the 1980’s with a sonic boom. “And The Cradle Will Rock…” sets the tone with all the things that made DLR-era VH the hottest band in the land. A thundering rythm section of Alex & Michael, lightning fingered guitar work by Eddie and Roth’s vocal gymnastics pound out a classic track ( have you seen junior’s grades?). Another classic VH track follows right on it’s heels, “Everybody Wants Some” stays right on message and doesn’t deviate from the formula. You always knew who the cool DJ’s were on KQ & Stereo 101 back in the day if they let this track play until the very end and you can hear DLR say…”look I’ll pay you for it, what the fuck”. The album then rips into “Fools”, “Romeo Delight”, “Tora, Tora” and “Loss Of Control” with pounding drums and mystical guitar work…and speed playing that pre-dated Metallica. Then the true gems start. After all that blistering guitar work you hear the start of “Take Your Whiskey Home” and it’s acoustic blues jamming (it takes me at least halfway to the label before I can even make through the night). For my money the best song on the set. Then comes a transition only DLR-era Van Halen could make. “Could This Be Magic?” is a wonderful bluesy acoustic ragtime jam, an earthy earworm that will stay with you all day once its heard. It also shows that Eddie did not have to be plugged in to show that he was a guitar virtuoso.
The band was moving ahead at warp speed when Women And Children First was released. Van Halen had the talent,hubris,sense of humor and camp that merged with just the right amount of serendipity with MTV and the new music video format of the 1980’s. Although Van Halen carried on after the departure/ousting of David Lee Roth the band was never the same. Most of us from the this era who were fans never really considered it Van Halen without Roth. The band died with the end of the 1984 tour. There was alot of music that I liked from Van Hagar and even a couple of concerts that I attended. But Sammy Hagar is no David Lee Roth.