- This outstanding copy of the band’s debut album boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
- Both sides here are smooth, rich and Tubey Magical, with soaring guitars and huge choruses that really get loud
- One of the most powerful rock recordings of its day (if you get one that sounds like this)
- 5 stars: “They sound vital, surprising, and ultimately fun — and really revolutionary, because no other band rocked like this before Van Halen, and it’s still a giddy thrill to hear them discover a new way to rock on this stellar, seminal debut.”
Turn up your nose if you like, but this music is widely considered classic rock by now. I’m not going to pretend it’s on a level with After The Gold Rush or Zep II, but this album does exactly what it’s trying to do — it really ROCKS.
At least it does when you have a pressing as good as this one. The All Music Guide gives the album 5 Big Stars, and I’m sure that more than a few of you out there think it deserves every last one of them.
This vintage Warner Brothers pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.
What outstanding sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1978
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
I’m sure it won’t come as much of a surprise to most of you that the average copy is, well, average sounding. Not bad, just mediocre. It’s not rockin’ all that hard and it’s not all that much fun. You know the kind of record I’m talkin’ about. The music sounds great on the radio, but the record you just picked up from your local Flip Side doesn’t seem to be doing much, and even turning up the volume can’t seem to bring it to life.
The problem you find yourself with is the same problem most people have, but they are in the unfortunate position of not knowing what they are missing. The problem is the mediocrity of most pressings. The world is full of mediocre pressings. We know them well, better than anyone I would venture to say. They’re the kinds of records we wade through all day in shootout after shootout trying to find Hot Stampers.
What You Need
Most copies just do not have the kind of weight to the bottom and lower mids that this music needs to rock. Put simply, if your Van Halen LP doesn’t rock, then what exactly is the point of playing it?
The other qualities to look for on the better pressings are, firstly, space — the best pressings are huge and three-dimensional, with large, lively, exceptionally dynamic choruses.
Richness is also key — every instrument should be full-bodied and solid, never thin and squawky. The copies with the most resolving power are easy to spot — they display plenty of lovely analog reverb trailing the guitars and vocals.
And lastly (although we could go on for days with this kind of stuff), listen for spit on the vocals. Even the best copies have some sibilance, but the bad copies have much too much and make the sibilance gritty to boot.
Credit Donn Landee (and Ted Templeman too) with the rich, smooth, oh-so-analog sound of the best copies. He’s recorded many of our favorite albums here at Better Records.
Most of the best sounding Doobies Brothers albums are his; more by Van Halen of course; Lowell George’s wonderful Thanks I’ll Eat It Here; Little Feat’s Time Loves a Hero (not their best music but some of their best sound); Carly Simon’s Another Passenger (my favorite of all her albums); and his Masterpiece (in my humble opinion), Captain Beefheart’s mindblowing Clear Spot.
What We’re Listening For on Van Halen’s Debut
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
- The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Runnin’ With the Devil
You Really Got Me
Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love
I’m the One
Feel Your Love Tonight
Ice Cream Man
AMG 5 Star Rave Review
Among revolutionary rock albums, Van Halen’s debut often gets short shrift. Although it altered perceptions of what the guitar could do, it is not spoken of in the same reverential tones as Are You Experienced? and although it set the template for how rock & roll sounded for the next decade or more, it isn’t seen as an epochal generational shift, like Led Zeppelin, The Ramones, The Rolling Stones, or Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols, which was released just the year before.
But make no mistake, Van Halen is as monumental, as seismic as those records, but part of the reason it’s never given the same due is that there’s no pretension, nothing self-conscious about it. In the best sense, it is an artless record, in the sense that it doesn’t seem contrived, but it’s also a great work of art because it’s an effortless, guileless expression of what the band is all about, and what it would continue to be over the years.
The band did get better, tighter, over the years — peaking with their sleek masterpiece 1984, where there was no fat, nothing untidy — but everything was in place here, from the robotic pulse of Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen, to the gonzo shtick of David Lee Roth to the astonishing guitar of Eddie Van Halen.
They still sound vital, surprising, and ultimately fun — and really revolutionary, because no other band rocked like this before Van Halen, and it’s still a giddy thrill to hear them discover a new way to rock on this stellar, seminal debut.
The DCC and One Customer’s Take
As I recall it wasn’t very good — thick and dull and closed-in; in other words, boring — but it was quite a while ago that I played it. If your copy sounds better, more power to you, but I bet it doesn’t.
Any copy we sell is guaranteed to blow the doors off of it — as well as any other pressing you own — or your money back.