Van Halen II (1979)–the weekend review #20

Image result for photos of original van halen lineup

In a post earlier today, I said that this album, then unnamed, was just about as close to perfect of a rock and roll album as I’ve ever heard, and I stand by that statement. And the crazy thing about it is that it can be such a forgotten album. Depending on when a person came onto the Van Halen timeline, you often hear people say that their favorite album is VH I, 1984, or even For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, but you don’t hear too many people mention VH II.

First off, I’m in no way going to say that VH II is better than the first one; I’ve also listened to that one again to prepare for this article, and I can’t think of anything bad to say about it; to me, it was the album that brought about the new era of rock and roll, that which spawned 80s rock and hair metal. I think the 80s musical landscape would have looked much different without Van Halen, and I think that some of the notable 80s guitarists, Warren DeMartini, George Lynch, Phil Collen, Chris DeGarmo, and Vivian Campbell all come to mind) would have played quite differently if they never got to hear that gentleman from Pasadena do his thing.

Still, if I was going to be stranded on a desert island with a Van Halen album, I would want it to be the second one. I just like the songs better; plus, I think the second album shows a depth of the whole band that wasn’t as evident on the debut. At times, the first album seems like it was the Eddie and Dave show, while VH II seems to highlight the full band more. The main reason I like VH II more is that I find its weakest tracks to be stronger than VH I‘s.

In fact, I can’t think of a song on II that’s anywhere close to weak, and all ten tracks are so strong that I can’t even say which is my least favorite.

In preparation for this, I also listened to the album once focusing only on Eddie. The rest of the band came through also of course, but just to take an entire album (even a short one at less than 32 minutes) and pay primary attention to what that dude can do when he gets a guitar in his hands is something extraordinary to experience.

So much of what Eddie does here is behind the scenes. When a band only has one guitarist, that player serves as a lead guitarist as well as a rhythm guitarist; we all know what Eddie can do as a lead guitarist but so much of the remarkable work he does here is of the rhythm variety. You have the march-like cadence of “Bottoms Up!”; he comes at you with fine skiffle and scat on “Outta Love Again,” which is a type of playing that plays well to David Lee’s vocal styling; you even get some classical acoustic on “Spanish Fly.”

And then you get the rock and roll; some of it is of the feel-good variety, songs like the album’s two singles, “Dance the Night Away’ and “Beautiful Girls,” and then you get punchier and crunchier stuff like that which is evident on songs like “DOA” and one of the best opening numbers on any album anywhere, “You’re No Good.”  You add to that my favorite Van Halen song of all time, “Women in Love,” plus some other notable songs, and you’re hard pressed to find 31 and a half minutes of better rock and roll anywhere.

I don’t want to sound like it’s all about Eddie though. You still have the other three members of this band, who are all legends and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees in their own right. David is doing what David does best, and being somewhat more subdued than he was on the first album–if it’s possible for David to be anything close to subdued–and overall more effective for it. Alex is at the top of his game. If he were playing with any other singer/guitarist combo, he’d be the focal point of the band. And no album from this line-up would be complete without Michael Anthony doing what he does. He and Alex create a foundation that lets this band run down every tangent that strikes its fancy, and his famous backing vocals have never been better than they are on tracks like “DOA” and “Women in Love.”

And if VH II is the forgotten Van Halen, as it so often seems to me, this is just me doing my part to make sure it isn’t totally forgotten. Do yourself a favor; take a half an hour and listen to this album. It’ll remind you of the transcendent quality of music.

Much love, dear friends. Be kind to one another, and I’ll see you back here soon.

*I own nothing here.

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