VAN HALEN-VAN HALEN, VAN HALEN II, WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST, FAIR WARNING AND DIVER DOWN-VINYL EDITION
VAN HALEN-VAN HALEN, VAN HALEN II, WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST, FAIR WARNING AND DIVER DOWN-VINYL EDITION.
In the history of rock ’n’ roll, Van Halen are one the most successful bands. They released twelve studio albums between their 1978 debut Van Halen, and their 2012 swan-song A Different Kind Of Truth. These albums sold an incredible 50.5 million copies in America alone. Four of Van Halen’s albums topped the US Billboard 200 charts. Van Halen were one of the biggest bands in planet rock. Rock ’n’ roll’s great survivors had outsold and out-rocked two generations of bands.
That too many people, was incredible. Van Halen were a notoriously hard living band. They burnt the candle at both ends, replicating the excesses of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. Just like Icarus, members of Van Halen sailed to close to the sun. Unlike Icarus, Van Halen lived to tell the tale, and in the process, released some of the best rock of a generation. That was the case from Van Halen released their debut album Van Halen in 1978.
When Van Halen released Van Halen in 1978, it wasn’t well received by critics. That’s somewhat ironic, as Van Halen reached number nineteen in the US Billboard 200. Gradually, critics changed their minds about Van Halen. Suddenly, they began to regard Van Halen as one of the best debut albums in the history of rock ’n’ roll. That’s the case today, with critics hailing Van Halen as a classic, and one of the greatest debut albums ever released. That’s why it’s fitting that Rhino are recently released a remastered vinyl edition of Van Halen, Van Halen II, Women and Children First, Diver Down and Fair Warning.
However, it’s not just Van Halen that Rhino are reissuing. Instead, Van Halen’s first five albums have been remastered and will be reissued on 10th July 2015. These five albums were released between 1978 and 1982. During this period, Van Halen were one of the hardest working and successful bands in the world. Having released Van Halen in 1978, they followed this up with Van Halen II in 1979. As a new decade dawned, Van Halen released Women and Children First in 1980, then Fair Warning in 1981 and and Diver Down in 1982. Each of these albums have been remastered, and document the first five years of Van Halen’s recording career. By then, Van Halen were already an experienced band.
The Van Halen story began in the early seventies, when brothers, Eddie and Alex Van Halen had formed a band. Like many bands, they found it difficult to settle on a name. Initially, they were called The Broken Combs, then changed the name to The Trojan Rubber Co. By then, The Trojan Rubber Co. had a settled lineup.
Their lineup featured Alex on drums and Eddie on guitar. They were joined by bassist Mark Stone and vocalist David Lee Roth, who they had hired a sound system from. Eddie had initially failed the audition. However, Eddie and Alex were realists. Money was tight, so if they brought David onboard, they would save having to hire a sound system. They also thought that David might improve as a vocalist. However, in 1974, The Trojan Rubber Co. changed its name and its lineup.
1974 was a pivotal year for The Trojan Rubber Co. By then, bassist Mark Stone had been replaced by bassist Michael Anthony. His audition was unorthodox. Only after Michael took part in an all night jam session, was he hired. So, Michael left local band Snake and joined The Trojan Rubber Co. Soon, The Trojan Rubber Co. changed its name to Mammoth, and then Van Halen. For the next three years, Van Halen spent honing their sound.
Van Halen played wherever they could. Backyard parties, clubs and dive bars, they weren’t proud. Far from it. They certainly were loud. Too loud some thought.
When Van Halen went to audition at Gazzarri’s, a bar on Sunset Strip, that was down on its luck, the owner Bill Gazzarri, told them they were “too loud, and refused to hire them.” However, Van Halen’s new managers stepped in.
Mark Algorri and Mario Miranda had just been installed as Van Halen’s managers. They had also just taken over the booking at Gazzarri’s. So, Van Halen were installed as the house band. Not long after this, Van Halen entered the studio for the first time.
The four members of Van Halen headed to Cherokee Studios, which had recently housed Steely Dan. At Cherokee Studios, Van Halen recorded their demo tape. It would become their calling card, and see them play some of L.A.’s top clubs, including the famous Whisky-A-Go-Go.
Soon, Van Halen were a permanent fixture in L.A.’s top clubs. That’s where they continued to hone their sound. It’s also where they came to the attention of Kiss’ Gene Simmons.
Gene Simmons had heard good things about Van Halen. So, he went to check out Van Halen. According to what he had heard, they were one of the rising stars of L.A.’s music scene. When Gene Simmons arrived at the Gazzarri club in the summer of 1976, he was won over by Van Halen. He knew they were going places.
So, Gene Simmons took Van Halen to Village Recorders in L.A. to produce a new demo tape. Overdubs then took place at Electric Ladyland in New York. Things were looking good for Van Halen. The only thing Van Halen baulked at, was Gene’s suggestion to change the band’s name to Daddy Longlegs. That was a step too far. The next step was for Gene to take the newly recorded demo tape to Kiss’ management.
When Kiss’ management heard the demo, they were pretty disparaging about Van Halen. According to Kiss’ managers, Van Halen “had no chance of making it.” These words would come back to haunt them, after Van Halen sold over 50.5 million albums in America alone. However, with Kiss’ management not interested in signing Van Halen, Gene Simmons bowed out of the story. He would be replaced a year later by Mo Ostin and Ted Templeman.
Down but not out, Van Halen returned to the club circuit. For the next year, they continued to hone their sound on the club circuit. One night, in the middle of 1977, Van Halen were playing at the Starwood in Hollywood. There wasn’t much of an audience. However, little did Van Halen know, that two very special guests were in the audience, Mo Ostin and Ted Templeman of Warner Bros. Records. The pair liked what they heard and less than a week later, Van Halen had signed to Warner Bros. Records. Mo Ostin dispatched Van Halen to Sunset Sound Records with producer Ted Templeman, where recording of Van Halen I began.
Like many bands recording their debut album, Van Halen were fearless. They had no apprehension. Mind you, this wasn’t exactly a new experience. Van Halen had been in studios before, recording two different demo tapes. However, this was for real. The band had written nine tracks. The other two were covers of The Kinks’ You Really Got Me and John Brim’s Ice Cream Man. These eleven tracks would eventually become Van Halen’s debut album, Van Halen.
Recording of Van Halen began in the middle of September 1977. Van Halen’s rhythm section of drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony set about proving the album’s pulsating heartbeat. A week was spent recording Eddie’s guitar parts. Another two weeks were spent recording David’s vocals and the backing vocals. By early October 1977, recording of Van Halen was all but complete. The decision was made not to do much in the way of over-dubbing. This meant Van Halen was much more like hearing Van Halen live. How would critics respond to this?
Before the release of Van Halen, critics had their say. For everyone at Warner Bros. Records, they held their breath. Back in 1978, critics could be venomous. It was hardly rock critic’s finest hour. They were in the throes of a love affair with punk. Many critics took great pleasure in trashing rock albums. The critics didn’t hold back when it came to Van Halen. Most of the reviews were negative. One of the worst reviews came from the so called doyen of critics, the contrarian Robert Christgau. The equally contrarian Rolling Stone were not fans of Van Halen. At least they admitted that Van Halen were going places. Mostly, the reviews panned Van Halen. However, soon, critics would be eating their words.
When Van Halen was released on 18th February 1978, it began climbing the charts. Eventually, it reached number nineteen in the US Billboard 200 charts. This was just the start of the rise and rise of Van Halen, who critics had changed their mind about,
Gradually, critics changed their minds about Van Halen. Suddenly, they began to regard Van Halen as one of the best debut albums in the history of rock ’n’ roll. That’s the case today, with critics hailing Van Halen as a classic, and one of the greatest debut albums ever released. From that album, a trio singles were chosen.
Three singles were released from Van Halen. A cover of The Kinks’ You Really Got Me reached number thirty-six in the US Billboard 100. Runnin’ With The Devil Stalled at number eighty-four in the US Billboard 100. The final single released from Van Halen was Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love. It failed to chart. While the singles failed to replicate the success of Van Halen, it showcased the band at their hard rocking best.
Literally, Van Halen strut and swagger through the eleven tracks on their debut album Van Halen. It’s no surprise that rock and heavy metal fans were won over by Van Halen. It’s a track full of some of Van Halen’s biggest songs, including Runnin’ With The Devil, Eruption, You Really Got Me, Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love, Jamie’s Cryin’ and Ice Cream Man. Van Halen’s rhythm section of Alex and Michael provide the backdrop to Eddie’s blistering guitars and David’s lived-in vocal. From the opening bars of Runnin’ With The Devil, right through On Fire, Van Halen win friends and influence people. The band who just a year ago, were being hailed L.A.’s best bar band, were on their way to becoming a one of the biggest bands on planet rock.
Van Halen II.
When Van Halen entered Sunset Sound Recorders, in Hollywood, on 11th December 1978, the the four members of the band must have wondered what had happened in the last ten months? They had gone from bar room band, to a million selling rock band. All of a sudden, they were one of the biggest bands in the America. They were being touted as the saviour of American rock. This was hard to comprehend. It also meant that Van Halen were under pressure to record a fitting followup to Van Halen.
Recording of what became Van Halen II began on 11th December 1978. Nine of the ten tracks were penned by Van Halen. Many of the tracks weren’t new songs. Instead, they featured on the Gene Simmons’ sessions. However, given Van Halen were under pressure to record their sophomore album, it’s no surprise that they chose to dust off these songs. The other track chosen for Van Halen II was Clint Ballard Jr.’s You’re No Good. These ten track were produced by Ted Templeman. By January 1979, Van Halen II was complete, and ready for release.
Given the negative reviews of their debut album, the four members of Van Halen must have awaited the reviews of Van Halen II with bated breath. Mostly, reviews of Van Halen II were positive. That’s apart from the “usual suspects,” who still, failed to be won over by Van Halen. They were in the minority. The majority of critics were impressed by Van Halen II’s upbeat, feel good sound. Especially tracks like Dance The Night Away and Beautiful Girls, which some critics referred to Van Halen II as perfect party music. One track however, was very different to the rest.
This was the instrumental, Spanish Fly. It was perceived as the followup to Eruption on Van Halen. Spanish Fly however, is only a minute long, and featured Eddie Van Halen on an acoustic guitar. Rather than fingerpick, he uses a plectrum. This makes things doubly hard. Despite this, he delivers a guitar masterclass. Eddie deploys a variety of techniques, including finger tapping and tremolo picking. Those who had marvelled at Eruption, would be spellbound by Eddie’s performance on Spanish Fly.
That would be the case with Van Halen’s performance on Van Halen II. When Van Halen II was released on March 23rd 1979, copies of Van Halen II sold quickly. It was one of 1979s must have rock albums. Soon, Van Halen two reached number six in the US Billboard 200. Eventually, it sold five million copies in America, and was certified platinum five times over. Across the border, Van Halen II was certified double platinum in Canada. Meanwhile, in France Van Halen II was certified gold. It seemed Van Halen could do no wrong.
While that was the case with Van Halen’s first two albums, their singles were selling as well. While Dance The Night Away reached number fourteen in the US Billboard 100, Beautiful Girls stalled at number eighty-four. Just like many other rock bands before them, Van Halen looked like being an album’s band. Maybe that would change with their third album?
Women and Children First.
Just a year after Van Halen began recording their sophomore album, the band began work on their third album, Women and Children First. It marked the beginning of a new chapter in the Van Halen story.
On Van Halen’s first two albums, Van Halen had added cover versions. This included a cover of The Kinks’ You Really Got Me and John Brim’s Ice Cream Man on Van Halen. Then on Van Halen II, Van Halen covered Clint Ballard Jr.’s You’re No Good. However, when recording of Women and Children First began in December 1979, cover versions were a thing of the past.
Women and Children First, Van Halen’s third album was their first album featuring just songs written by the four members of the band. Maybe Van Halen had realised that putting cover versions on albums was costing the band royalties? There was certainly no need to resort to cover versions? The four members of Van Halen were talented songwriters, capable of writing their own material. So when Van Halen entered the studio to record Women and Children First, they came with ten new songs they had penned. This however, wasn’t the only change that became apparent.
As recording of Women and Children First began, onlookers in the studio realised that Van Halen’s music was becoming heavier. This wasn’t just a stylistic change, and to some extent, a thematic one. Some of Van Halen’s later songs had a degree of darkness. Mostly, though, Van Halen were still the same hard rocking, good time band. However, what became apparent was that their way of recording was changing.
Unlike Van Halen and Van Halen II, Women and Children First saw Van Halen rely more upon overdubs. Backing vocals weren’t used as extensively. They were on Could This Be Magic?, and Nicolette Larson was drafted in to sing the choruses and backing vocal. This was the one and only time a female backing vocalist featured on a Van Halen album. Another first was the keyboard driven And the Cradle Will Rock. Although it sounds like a guitar, it’s a Wurlitzer electric piano with a phase shifter used to transform the sound. It seemed that Van Halen had the confidence to experiment more on Women and Children First. Given that Van Halen were working with such an experienced producer as Ted Templeman, this was the perfect opportunity to try new things. He could show Van Halen how to make their ideas work.
Despite the stylistic change and change in their way of recording, producer Ted Templeman didn’t try to reign in Van Halen. He must have known that Van Halen wanted to broaden their horizons musically. They had always been a hard rocking band, and weren’t willing to sacrifice what many felt was their true sound. Maybe Van Halen had sacrificed some of their true sound on their first two albums. Now that they had their foot in Warner Bros’ door, they could show their true colours. This may not have pleased everyone.
Van Halen finished recording Women and Children First in February 1980. At last, those within Warner Bros. could hear Women and Children First. Some were aware of Van Halen’s music changing stylistically. This didn’t please everyone. Van Halen were one of Warner Bros.’ biggest success stories. By changing their style, this could alienate their audience. Not everyone who had bought Van Halen, and Van Halen II, would be receptive to a heavier Van Halen. Would this be the case within Warner Bros?
Once the executives at Warner Bros. heard Women and Children First, they were able to form an opinion. Most of those whose opinion mattered liked Van Halen’s new sound. They realised that Van Halen wanted to evolve as a band. They couldn’t keep rehashing Van Halen, and Van Halen II. Instead, they had to move forward. However, it was a big risk. Van Halen, and Van Halen II were million selling albums. There was a lot at stake. If Women and Children First flopped it would prove costly.
Van Halen had two hurdles to overcome before they would know if Women and Children First had been a success. The first was the critics.
As the critics their say, everyone at Warner Bros. and the four members of Van Halen awaited the verdict. Eventually, the reviews were published. Many critics remarked upon Van Halen’s heavier sound. They also noted that the four members of Van Halen had written the ten tracks on Women and Children First. Although Women and Children First was quite different from Van Halen II, it was well received by critics. They felt Van Halen were maturing as a band and songwriters. Proof of this were tracks like Could This Be Magic? and Everybody Wants Some!!, which reinforced Van Halen’s reputation and credentials as a good time party band. Having cleared the first hurdle, now record buyers had the final say.
Only if Women and Children First sold in similar quantities to Van Halen and Van Halen II could the album be declared a success. Women and Children First was released on March 6th 1980. Straight away, Women and Children First was selling well. Soon, Women and Children First reached number six in the US Billboard 200. Eventually, it sold three million copies in America, and was certified triple-platinum. Elsewhere, Women and Children First was certified double platinum in Canada and gold in France. As Van Halen and everyone at Warner Bros. breathed a sigh of relief, still Van Halen weren’t selling singles in vast quantities.
The only single released from Women and Children First, was And The Cradle Will Rock. It stalled at number fifty-five in the US Billboard 100. Van Halen it seemed, were never going to be a singles band. However, what really mattered was that Women and Children First had sold well. That was certainly the case. Worldwide, Women and Children First sold over three million copies. Van Halen’s decision to change direction had paid off.
By the time that Van Halen began recording their fourth album, Fair Warning, Van Halen were a divided band. The band’s two main men were at loggerheads. David Lee Roth wanted Van Halen to return to the sound of the first two album. He wasn’t in favour of the heavier sound, which he felt didn’t appeal to as many people. The proof of this was the sales of Women and Children First.
Eventually, Women and Children First sold over three million coupes. Van Halen eventually sold ten million copies and Van Halen II five million copies. David felt it Van Halen continued with the heavier sound, they risked alienating record buyers. Van Halen co-founder didn’t agree.
Eddie wanted Van Halen to continue their heavier sound. Women and Children First was the first time they showcased this sound. He felt that the way forward was longer songs with much more complicated song structures. This would allow Van Halen to shine as musicians, especially Eddie, who was seen one of the best guitarists of the late-seventies and early eighties. Given Eddie was one of the best guitarists of his generation, he felt his guitar playing should take centre-stage. David Lee Roth disagreed, and disagreed with Eddie’s other proposal.
The other change Eddie proposed was a continuation of the darker themes that Van Halen began exploring on Women and Children First. For David Lee Roth, this wasn’t what Van Halen were about. They were, in many people’s eyes, a good time rock ’n’ roll band. However, that wasn’t the direction Eddie wanted Van Halen to take. Instead, it looked as if Eddie wanted Van Halen to become the Led Zeppelin of the eighties. With David and Eddie at loggerheads, work began on Van Halen’s fourth album Fair Warning.
Just like Women and Children First, Van Halen penned the ten tracks on Fair Warning. Recording of these ten tracks began in late 1980. Quickly, it became apparent that Eddie’s ideas had prevailed. The music was fast, rocky and sometimes dark. This allowed Van Halen’s rhythm section to showcase their skills Fair Warning. Especially Eddie, who unleaded a series of fierce, blistering solos on tracks like Mean Street, Hear About It Later, Unchained and So This Is Love? David who seemed to have pst the argument, added his trademark vocals. Producer Ted Templman had the job of bringing Fair Warning together. The result was the hardest rocking album of Van Halen’s career, Fair Warning.
Before Fair Warning was released on April 29th 1981, the critics had their say on Van Halen’s hardest rocking album. Reviews of Fair Warning were mixed. Most of the critics embraced Fair Warning. They were impressed by Eddie’s virtuoso skills. Aided and abetted by his box of sound effects, Eddie unleashes a series of blistering solos. Along with the other two members of the rhythm section, he was key to Van Halen’s new, hard rocking style. Together, they provided the backdrop for David’s vocals. He brought to life the lyrics, as Van Halen continued to evolve musically.
It seemed Fair Warning had won over most of the critics. However, while most of the reviews of Fair Warning praised Van Halen’s fourth album, there were still some doubters. They felt that Van Halen were heading down the wrong road. On Women and Children First and Fair Warning, Van Halen’s music had become much harder. This had cost Van Halen precious sales on Women and Children First. Would this be the case with Fair Warning?
On the release of Fair Warning on 29th March 1981, sales were slow. Fair Warning was the slowest selling Van Halen album of their four album career. Eventually, it reached number six in the US Billboard 200. While this was the same as Van Halen II and Women and Children First, sales were way down. Fair Warning sold “just” two million copies. This was a million less than Women and Children First, and three million less than Van Halen II. To make matters worse, none of the singles charted.
Four singles were released from Fair Warning during 1981. The first was So This Is Love. It failed to chart. So did Mean Street, Push Comes To Shove and Unchained. This wasn’t unexpected, as Van Halen weren’t a singles band. However, it further reinforced David Lee Roth’s argument.
Given that Fair Warning was Van Halen’s slowest selling and least successful album, many onlookers wondered whether Van Halen would rethink their sound. It seemed record buyers weren’t embracing Van Halen heavier sound. Maybe it was time to come round to David Lee Roth’s way of thinking?
After the release of Fair Warning, Van Halen headed out on tour. They spent months promoting Fair Warning. Still, Fair Warning sold slowly, and failed to match the sales of previous albums. Once the tour was over, Warner Bros. started pressurising Van Halen into recording their fifth album.
That wasn’t what Van Halen wanted to hear. They wanted to take some time out, and then spend time writing and recording their fifth album. That wasn’t to be though.
Not long after the Fair Warning tour ended, David Lee Roth came up with an idea. He wanted Van Halen to record a single and release it just after the New Year. He had the very song in mind, Roy Orbison’s Oh, Pretty Woman. While this wasn’t the most obvious choice for a single, the rest of Van Halen agreed.
So the four members headed to Sunset Sound and recorded their cover of Oh, Pretty Woman. After working out an arrangement with producer Ted Templeman, Van Halen recorded Oh, Pretty Woman. Once it was finished, Oh, Pretty Woman was released early in the New Year.
Just after New Year 1981, Van Halen’s version of Oh, Pretty Woman was released. Van Halen weren’t known as a singles band. However, Oh, Pretty Woman succeeded where better Van Halen songs failed, and reached number twelve in the US Billboard 100 and number one on the US Mainstream Rock charts. Ironically, this became the most successful single of Van Halen’s career. However, the success of Oh, Pretty Woman backfired on Van Halen.
Having just enjoyed the biggest selling single of their career, Warner Bros. started pressurising Van Halen into recording their fifth album. Van Halen didn’t get the time to write and record their fifth album.
Eventually, Van Halen relented. That’s despite having been on tour for months. For the last four years, Van Halen had been recording and touring albums. It was like a merry-go-round, one that Van Halen needed to get off. Especially since the last year hadn’t been easy.
Eddie and David were still at loggerheads. Although Eddie had won the day, David had been vindicated. Sales of Fair Warning were way down. It sold a million less than Women and Children First. This was costing Van Halen and Warner Bros. money. So, Van Halen could hardly refuse Warner Bros.’ request to begin recording their fifth album. However, that wasn’t Warner Bros.’ only request.
Given Fair Warning hadn’t been as successful as previous Van Halen albums, someone at Warner Bros hit on the idea that Van Halen should include some covers on what became Diver Down. The reasoning for this was, that if people recognised some of the songs on the album, they would be more likely to by it. Especially if these songs had been hits before. So, Van Halen went in search of covers.
Having already recorded and released Oh, Pretty Woman, Van Halen got to work on their fifth album, Diver Down. In addition to Oh, Pretty Woman, Van Halen had chosen four other cover versions. This included The Kinks, Where Have all the Good Times Gone and Martha and The Vandellas’ Dancing In The Streets. They were augmented by Milton Ager and Jack Yellen’s Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now) and Dale Evans’ Happy Trails. Apart from the five cover versions, Van Halen had seven new songs. Three of the songs weren’t so new.
Hang ‘Em High started life as Last Night, a track from Van Halen’s 1977 demo. Happy Trails was another song from the 1977 demos, which had been included as a joke. Now the joke was on Warner Bros. The other song was Cathedral, a song Van Halen had been playing for a couple of years. During that period, the song had continued to evolve. These three songs would become part of Diver Down, which was recorded in two studios in Los Angeles.
Recording of Diver Down began in January 1982. Two studios were used by Van Halen. The first was Sunset Sound, where Van Halen had recorded previously. Other sessions took place at Warner Bros. Recording Studios, which before the corporate rebinding, was known as Amigo Studios. At these two studios, Van Halen and Ted Templeman got to work. Things weren’t going to plan as Van Halen began recording eleven of Diver Down’s twelve songs.
During the recording of Van Halen’s previous album, Diver Down, released in 1982, David, Eddie and producer Rod Templeman had clashed. The problem was, Eddie wanted to make keyboards a prominent part of the Van Halen sound. David and Rod disagreed. Thinking that Van Halen was a democracy, the two men thought the matter was settled. They were wrong.
Despite this, Eddie went ahead and recorded much of Diver Down at his home studio. When the band heard it, it was keyboard heavy rock rubbed shoulders with Van Halen’s trademark sound. Presented with what seemed like a fait accompli, David began to reconsider his position. He was far from happy with Eddie’s sudden discovery and love of synths. For a rock ’n’ roller like David, this was sacrilege. Despite this, David and Eddie managed to work together.
Over the next three months, Van Halen worked their way through the twelve tracks. Some were easier to record than others. Sometimes, things didn’t go to plan. Some of the covers were difficult to adapt, so that they took on Van Halen’s sound. One of the most problematic was Dancing In The Streets. The problem was Eddie couldn’t work out a guitar riff. Eventually though, Van Halen figured out an their take on Dancing In The Streets. Gradually, Diver Down began to take shape. By March 1982, Diver Down was completed. It would be released on April 14th 1982.
This meant there wasn’t long before Van Halen completed Diver Down and its release on April 14th 1982. By then, some of the members of Van Halen were beginning to realise that Diver Down wasn’t their finest moment. Eddie Van Halen would later say: “I’d rather have a bomb with one of my own songs than a hit with someone else’s.” However, Van Halen had folded too quickly for a band who had already sold over fifteen million albums. They had been cajoled into recording cover versions. For the hard rocking Van Halen, this almost subservient attitude was surprising. Or was it?
When critics were sent advance copies of Diver Down, they were struck by the album cover. It portrayed the diver down flag, which is used to indicate that a scuba diver is diving within that area. If ever it was a case of “a picture paints a thousand words.” David Lee Roth explained that “there was something going on that’s not apparent to your eyes…it’s not immediately apparent to your eyes what is going on underneath the surface.” That could easily be replaced by the press and record buyers weren’t aware what was going on behind the scenes. They never knew that Van Halen were pressurised to record Diver Down. Would the pressure Warner Bros. under, could come back to bite them?
Having received advance copies of Diver Down, critics were determined to have their say. Most were impressed by Diver Down. Some weren’t enamoured with the cover versions. This was quite unlike Van Halen. However, mostly, the reviews of Diver Down were positive. Things were looking up for Van Halen.
On its release on 29th April 1982, Diver Down reached number three in the US Billboard 100. This was the highest chart position of Van Halen’s first five album. Eventually, Diver Down sold four million copies, which was double the amount of Fair Warning. This was pretty good for album that included cover versions and a trio of tracks from Van Halen’s past. However, the success didn’t stop there.
Dancing In The Street was the second single to be released from Diver Down. It stalled at number thirty-eight in the US Billboard 100. The other four singles, Secrets, Little Guitars, The Full Bug and Where Have All the Good Times Gone failed to reach the US Billboard 100. At least they reached the US Mainstream Rock charts. However, times had changed, with Van Halen having enjoyed two hit singles from Diver Down. For a band who hadn’t been known as a singles band, this was changed times for Van Halen.
That had been the case throughout the last five years. Between the release of Van Halen in 1978, and Diver Down in 1982, Van Halen had been on a musical roller-coaster. Before signing to Warner Bros., Van Halen were just a bar band, albeit the biggest and best bar band in Los Angeles. Their career had began in a blaze of glory, with Van Halen, which went on to sell ten million copies. Van Halen II then sold five million copies. Suddenly, Van Halen were one of the biggest rock bands in the world. From there, the next three years were one filled with twists and turns.
After releasing Van Halen and Van Halen II, which are considered two of Van Halen’s finest albums, the next two years saw Van Halen’s music evolve. It become harder and rockier on Women and Children First. By then, Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth were at loggerheads as to the future direction of the band.
While Eddie wanted Van Halen’s music to take on a harder, rockier sound, David wanted Van Halen to continue the populist sound of their first two albums. Eddie won the day. However, it proved to be a Pyrrhic victory. Sales decreased on Women and Children First. The drop in sales continued on Fair Warning, where Van Halen’s music becomes even harder and rockier. After Fair Warning sold three million less than Van Halen II, Warner Bros. decided to intervene.
Ironically, Warner Bros.’ suggestion that Van Halen combine cover versions and original material on Diver Down, resulted in the most successful album since Van Halen II. Diver Down sound four million copies. For most bands, this would’ve been a cause for celebration. Not Van Halen. They soon realised that they had folded too easily. They shouldn’t have given in to Warner Bros., as they were an experienced and successful band. If they had taken the time to write and record the album they wanted, they may have reached the scaled the same heights as their next album.
Two years later, in 1984, and Van Halen’s first five albums were well on their way to selling twenty-four million copies. However, their sixth album, 1984. was a game-changer, in more ways than one.
Van Halen’s sixth album, 1984, was proof that if Van Halen were given time to write and record an album, they could come up with something very special. 1984 was a fusion of keyboard heavy rock, combined Van Halen’s trademark hard rocking sound. Thos proved a winning combination. These two sides of Van Halen resulted in a classic album that would become the biggest selling album of Van Halen’s career.
On its release on January 9th 1984, 1984 started climbing the charts. Eventually, it reached number two in the US Billboard 200. This was the highest chart placing of Van Halen’s six album career. It also became the biggest selling album of Van Halen’s career. Eventually, 1984 sold twelve million copies. 1984 became Van Halen’s second album to be certified diamond. Elsewhere, 1984 was a huge seller.
In Canada, 1984 was certified five times platinum. Over the Atlantic, 1984 was certified gold in Britain and France. Meanwhile, 1984 was certified platinum in Germany. Van Halen had recorded the album everyone knew they were capable of. It came at a cost.
Behind the scenes, all wasn’t well within Van Halen. David Lee Roth, Van Halen’s charismatic frontman would quit after 1984. In some ways, the writing had been on the wall. David left on a high. However, maybe, Van Halen might have released an album of the quality of 1984 two years earlier?
Given the time they wanted and needed, Van Halen’s fifth album would’ve been of a similar quality. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. Instead, Diver Down was an album that Eddie Van Halen openly admitted to disliking. Eddie was quite open when he said: ”I’d rather have a bomb with one of my own songs than a hit with someone else’s.” It as obvious that he didn’t see Diver Down as his finest hour. That’s the case.
While Diver Down is a good, but not great album, it’s nowhere near as good as Van Halen, Van Halen II and Women and Children First. They’re three of the first five Van Halen albums that have been remastered by Rhino. They were reissued on vinyl on 10th July 2015. The others are Fair Warning and Diver Down. Of these two albums, Fair Warning is the best of the two. However, for the newcomer to Van Halen, then s Van Halen, Van Halen II and Women and Children First are the perfect introduction to Van Halen, who were well on their way to becoming one of the biggest selling bands in rock music.
From Van Halen’s 1978 debut album Van Halen, and their 2012 swan-song A Different Kind Of Truth, the former Los Angeles bar band’s twelve studio albums sold 50.5 million copies in America alone. Four of Van Halen’s albums topped the US Billboard 200 charts. Two albums were certified diamond, having sold ten million copies. This includes Van Halen and 1984, two classic albums from Van Halen, who are still one of the biggest bands on planet rock. Van Halen are one of rock ’n’ roll’s great survivors, who have outsold and out-rocked two generations of bands.
VAN HALEN-VAN HALEN, VAN HALEN II, WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST, FAIR WARNING AND DIVER DOWN-VINYL EDITION