Philadelphia, PA – 1978
I was sitting with my friend Michael in the back seat of his parent’s green Caprice. His mom was driving and needed to stop at the Roosevelt Mall to pick something up. She said she’d only be a few minutes and asked if we could just wait in the car.
We didn’t mind. Michael asked if we could listen to the stereo while she was gone. I watched as she left the car and entered what I think was Gimbel’s department store. He pushed the 8 track into the system and hit play. He and chatted during the first song on the tape.
But then an instrumental piece came on. It was a single guitar. I had never heard anything like it. I loved all things rock and it was an extraordinary sound. At times it almost sounded like classical music to me. Really incredible playing more wild yet controlled than anything I had ever heard before in my life.
I liked it.
And then the next song began immediately following that incredible fiery piece.
I knew this song. It was ‘You Really Got Me’ by The Kinks. But these guys had somehow supercharged it. Made it better than the original.
“Who is this?”
“Van Halen? I never heard of them.”
“It’s my brother Jimmy’s tape.”
“Van Halen. This is really good. Crazy.”
“I know, right?”
We listened to more of the album on the way home. (Of course, at a decreased volume due to his mom driving.)
The next day I went to a local music store that had recently opened on Rising Sun Avenue in my neighborhood. I inquired about the band, and the guy handed me the vinyl record album. I looked at the cover and it looked cool. I purchased it and went home to listen to it.
I went to my room and put it on. I automatically fell in love with this ‘new’ supercharged rock sound. The songs were powerful and catchy. I think ‘Jaime’s Cryin’ became my favorite, but there wasn’t a clunker in the bunch on this debut album.
I’ll never forget that day, and hearing Van Halen for the very first time. There will always be Jimi Hendrix, who broke through in the late sixties and electrified psychedelic blues. Jimmy Page, the session man in the sixties who joined the Yardbirds and later formed what would become the greatest hard rock band of the seventies, Led Zeppelin.
But Eddie Van Halen changed rock music forever with his signature sound. Because after that first album, every guitarist that followed him tried to play like him. This fast precise sound. They all copied him. But no one could replicate his sound.
He created it and it would always belong only to him. If you’re ever wondering what a music genius sounds like, listen to Van Halen.
Thank you for sharing your brilliance with us Eddie. You’ve inspired us all.
Rest in power.
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