Wednesday, March 3, 2010

1978: Van Halen hit the road

March 3, 1978: after four years of playing backyard parties, L.A. bars and their own events, Van Halen took the show on the road in support of their self-titled debut, released just three weeks earlier, on February 10.

The world was turned upside down on January 28, when VH’s first single, a cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” hit radio: as if the power of that riff wasn’t enough on its own, it was supercharged in the hands of Van Halen.

Van Halen - Van Halen - You Really Got MeVan Halen - Van Halen - You Really Got Me

Van Halen – You Really Got Me (1978)

Rather than play the single version, most FM stations at the time played the album version of the song and included the instrumental lead-in, “Eruption” – 102-seconds of mind-blowing guitar from another planet that put Eddie Van Halen, and the band, on the map: nothing sounded like it before; almost everyone has tried to sound like it since. Without question, “Eruption” was a defining moment for the band, and a watershed moment in guitar, and music, history.

With the record in stores, Van Halen played two final gigs on their home turf before heading out on tour. The band threw its own show at The Pasadena Civic Auditorium on February 18, and then did a “send-off” show at The Whisky A Go Go on the 25th – the legendary L.A. club at which they played frequently throughout the previous year. The videos from the first album you see here were filmed at The Whisky.

Performing outside of California for the first time, Van Halen appeared on March 3 at the Aragon Ballroom in bassist Michael Anthony’s hometown of Chicago, opening for Journey and Montrose (whose original singer and future VH frontman, Sammy Hagar, had left years earlier).

By all accounts, it was not exactly the start Van Halen were looking for: as one of three bands, and at the bottom of the bill, there was little room for their gear and no sound check to speak of, which caused some issues for the crew. In addition, after years of trying to look like they sounded, VH hit the stage in three-inch platform shoes, which made it difficult to move around. Playing their 30-minute set through all of this, VH may likely have been relieved to chalk the show up to experience and move on to the next town, but the headlights were left on in the equipment truck, which meant a dead battery by the time their evening was done.

Despite the circumstances, VH made a killer first impression: a fan comment I tracked down about the show suggested that every mouth in the crowd was wide open, in sheer wonder and amazement, at Eddie's never-before-heard guitar style.

VH did learn from their Chicago experience: footwear was switched to running shoes, and I’m guessing the band gear's truck lights were probably turned off promptly on any night that followed.

Regardless, nothing could stop the VH juggernaut: “You Really Got Me” went top 40 and, after 5 weeks in stores, the album peaked at #19 on Billboard on March 11, going gold in May and platinum in October, and staying on the US charts for 169 weeks (3+ years) – to date, it has sold more than 10 million copies in the States alone.

VH’s second single, “Runnin’ With The Devil,” was released on May 6, at the start of the band’s European and UK dates with Black Sabbath; “Jamies Cryin’,” was third, on May 16 .

Beyond the sonic explosion, the strength of the album’s chart endurance also speaks to the band’s endless roadwork: VH toured for 9 months behind the first album, hitting the US, Canada, Europe, UK and Japan - setting themselves up as headliners in 1979.

Van Halen - Van Halen - Runnin' with the DevilVan Halen - Van Halen - Runnin' with the Devil

Van Halen – Runnin’ With The Devil (1978)

For more great VH info, check out the Van Halen News Desk.