February 10, 1978: a day that changed hard rock music forever with the release Van Halen’s self-titled debut album.
Fueled by the FM radio hits of “Eruption,” “You Really Got Me,” “Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love,” “Running with the Devil,” and “Jamie’s Cryin'” the album eventually broke the U.S Billboard Album Top 20 to peak at #19 and sell more than a Diamond-certification of 10 million copies in the U.S. Not bad for an album that had its start as a three-track demo in 1976 financed by Gene Simmons of Kiss. The album was eventually recorded by ex-Harpers Bizarre guitarist and Doobie Brothers producer Ted Templeman in three weeks in October of 1977 at a cost of $40,000. And we’re grateful that Gene was unable to shanghai Eddie into Kiss (to replace Ace Frehley). And that Eddie convinced Ted that replacing Dave with Sammy Hagar and grafting Eddie into a Montrose reboot wasn’t going to happen.
The Pasadena rock scene where Van Halen developed their sound was hungry and competitive. Not every band that got a major-label deal “made it” to the top of the charts: most ended up in the cut out bins.
One of the bands sharing stages with the various incarnations of Van Halen — as Wolfgang and Mammoth, and then, Van Halen — was fellow Pasadena rockers Rockits. Led by guitarist and vocalist Brian Naughton, he was knockin’ around the L.A. rock scene since his first deal on MGM Records in 1970 with his Montrose-Van Halen precursor Rock Candy, along with tenures in the line-ups of hippie-rockers the Peanut Butter Conspiracy and Top 40 darlings the Grass Roots.
Sadly, unlike Van Halen’s deal with Warner Bros., the later known Rockicks’* deal with Robert Stigwood’s RSO Records (yes, home of the Bee Gees) failed to send their album, 1977’s Outside, up the charts. Also on that same local L.A. rock scene was a band that — unlike Van Halen and Rockicks — couldn’t get a deal (and when they did, it was in Japan). It was a band that featured a young ax slinger by the name of Randy Rhodes; a band that shared management and rehearsal space with Rockicks: Quiet Riot. And how can we forget Sorcery, who ended up in the films — as actors and soundtrack contributors — Stunt Rock and Rocktober Blood.
And it wasn’t long after that little ol’ band from Pasadena starting out at the Whisky a Go Go and the Starwood was opening shows for Journey, Montrose (discovered and produced by Templeman, the band once featured Van Halen’s next lead singer), and Black Sabbath. Of course, the uppity critics at Rolling Stone and Village Voice hated Van Halen. But the fans loved them. And soon, the TV and film studios came-a-callin’. Between TV series and films — with lots of song repeats (“Jump,” “Panama,” and “Hot for Teacher” mostly) — Eddie amassed 100-plus credits.
Here’s the Top 10 highlights.
WKRP in Cincinnati “Hold Up” (1978)
Before MTV went on the air to break bands, record companies went to MTM Productions to have their bands spun on the faux-airwaves of a little ‘ol AM rocker in Cincinnati.
It’s hard to believe a network TV series could break bands, but this CBS-TV series did. Songs were, in fact, not just incidental, atmospheric pieces, but often tied into the plot of the episode with the DJs announcing the tunes. The Boyzz, which had their debut release out on CBS-affiliated Cleveland Int’l Records, were spun by Dr. Johnny Fever. Capitol’s Durocks had their poster/album featured on the show. Detective (signed to Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song label) led by Michael Des Barres, had three songs featured on the show. And the show’s use of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” is credited with breaking the band in the U.S. In a show of appreciation, the band’s label, Chrysalis, presented the show’s producers with a gold album that was used as a set piece in the sales bullpen during the second, third, and forth seasons.
Another band “broke” — in the fifth episode of the first season, “Hold Up” (the inept Herb Tarlek makes a mess of a Dr. Johnny Fever remote at Del’s Stereo Shop) — was Van Halen with “Atomic Punk” from their debut album.
Sadly, our opportunity to revisit “Atomic Punk” — as well as most other songs featured on the show — is forever lost due to music licensing issues. MTM Productions’ song licenses expired in the mid-1990s and it proved too expensive to renew, so today’s syndicated and DVD home video versions now have those songs replaced with stock music. Your only hope is to find grey market VHS (now DVDs) box sets of the series taped-from-TV during the series’ initial network and pre-’90s syndication runs to watch-hear the series in its original state. (The Shout Factory DVD box set was able to reproduce most of Season One with 80 percent of the original music intact.)
Series producer Hugh Wilson explains the music licensing issues on You Tube, while superfan Mike Hernandez created an episode-by-episode Google Spreadsheet of every band and song featured on the series. He also created Google Graphs showing a song’s chart performance before and after its appearance on the series. (Be sure to check out our review proper of the movie FM with more about the relationship between that film and the series.)
Van Halen “live off the board” at their last show at the Pasadena Civic Center with “Atomic Punk” before the release of their debut album.
Over the Edge (1979)
“You Really Got Me”
The digital content managers at the IMDb fell asleep at the data entry terminal by not including this film in Eddie’s soundtrack credits; for this second film from Orion Pictures (their first was the Diane Lane-starring A Little Romance) served as Van Halen’s big screen debut. You’ll remember Van Halen’s cover of the Kinks’ classic playing in the background of the house party scene where Carl only has eyes for Corey — who’s making out on the couch with Mark.
Sadly, the film’s eight-city test run was scuttled by negative publicity surrounding youth gang films such as The Warriors, Boulevard Nights, and Defiance — where actual violence broke out in the theaters between the gang rivals in the audience. The film, of course, found a cult audience on HBO and introduced the “new” sounds of not only Van Halen, but the Cars, the Ramones, and Cheap Trick to us youngins. And, since the film was scuttled, so was the soundtrack: us wee lads n’ lassies picked it up in the $1.00 cut out bins — and rocked.
And Kurt Cobain was one of us back then.
- We go a deeper into the backstory of Over the Edge in our review of its sister film, River’s Edge.
The Wild Life (1984) and Back to the Future (1985)
“Donut City” and “Out the Window”
No one remember Cameron Crowe’s follow up to Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which served as Eddie’s first film score. (Yes, he’s done others!) Recorded around the time of Van Halen’s sixth album, 1984, it features all new, instrumental tunes. A true solo effort, Eddie scored the entire film playing guitar along with an electronic drum machine.
Sadly, while many pieces of his music are in the film, only “Donut City” appears on the official motion picture soundtrack (Discogs). And thanks to those pesky licensing issues, the soundtrack has never been released on CD. You can, however, enjoy Eddie’s work from the soundtrack courtesy of a playlist on the official Van Halen Vault You Tube page.
Astute Van Halenites will recognize three musical vignettes from The Wild Life became the basis for three, later Van Halen songs: “Good Enough” from 1986’s 5150, “Right Now” from 1991’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, and “Blood and Fire” from their final album, 2012’s A Different Kind Of Truth. The fourth, “Out the Window,” was later recycled in Back to Future. You’ll remember when Marty McFly — in a yellow hazmat suit as “Darth Vadar from Vulcan” — played the song to a headphoned George McFly.
The Seduction of Gina (1984)
Closing out her sitcom career with One Day at Time in 1984, and while the “Big Three” networks were still making TV movies, Valerie Bertinelli produced this CBS telefilm that deals with a newly-married and bored housewife who develops a gambling addiction. And Val brought on her husband to compose the soundtrack.
At the time of producing this film, Bertinelli was also in the running for Lori Singer’s role in 1984’s Footloose. Imagine Kevin Bacon boppin’ around to a score by Eddie Van Halen — Eddie Rabbit be damned. Or was that Kenny Loggins? I always get two confused.
Eddie would go onto compose the theme music to Valerie’s next CBS-TV series, 1990’s short-lived Sydney. The show used “Finished What You Started” from OU812 and it’s said that Eddie also composed uncredited instrumentals throughout the series’ thirteen episodes.
Sigh . . . there was a You Tube clip — the only clip — of the film’s opening titles featuring Eddie’s music. It was posted for a few years . . . and right before we went press, the film’s copyright holder scrubbed the clip from You Tube. So we found this Nicki Swift report on Eddie and Val’s divorce to watch.
Better Off Dead (1985)
“Everybody Wants Some”
Then Eddie became a hamburger . . . in this mostly autobiographical film by Savage Steve Holland. According to Holland, he really was suicidal when his high school girlfriend left him for the captain of the ski team. Also, he really did have a paperboy who’d harass him for two dollars. And, when the film came out, his ex-girlfriend contacted him to apologize.
And the biographical continues . . . as the film’s infamous claymation hamburger scene was inspired by Holland’s first job working at McDonald’s. And while John Cusack went on record as hating this movie and chewed out Holland for it, Eddie VH’s “big scene” was the highest testing scene when the film was screened by audiences. The burger, of course, plays “Everybody Wants Some” from Van Halen’s third album, 1980’s Women and Children First. The burger also plays a guitar resembling the type played by Eddie during his early career.
Regardless of “Claymation Eddie” being the only part of the movie we remember, “Everybody Wants Some” does not appear on the soundtrack (Discogs). The soundtrack does, however, feature two tunes from co-star E.G Daily (Pee Wee’s Big Adventure) and one from Terri Nunn of Berlin. And we wished Eddie wrote the entire soundtrack instead of Fixx producer Rubert Hine. And we thank Richard Linklater for using the song in his 2000 film named after the song.
- Be sure to check out our full review of Better Off Dead.
“I’m the One”
Why did they use the super annoying cover from the super annoying, didn’t-even-deserve-their-one hit wonder 4-Non Blondes instead of the Van Halen original? What gives Ian the Shark? KMPX is an Active Rock station, right? Wouldn’t Van Halen be on the station’s “Gold” rotation? Why not add the friggin’ Spin Doctors and Crash Test Dummies to the playlist while you’re at it? And we love Anthrax . . . but not when they’re covering the Smiths. Or friggin’ Joe Jackson. Where’s “Metal Trashin’ Mad” when you need it to spin?
Well . . . at least we got a get very cool dig at Sammy Hagar, which exposed Harold Ramis as a cop-cum-bogus record executive.
- Be sure to check out our review proper of Airheads.
“Humans Being” and “Respect the Wind”
Could you imagine the above scene from Airheads ripping Patty Smyth of Scandal or Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates? Well, before Sammy Hagar joined, Eddie approached both singers — who turned down the offer. Yikes, talk about “thinking outside of the box,” right?
And could you imagine a world where Micheal Crichton became a “Yoko Ono” and broke up Van Hagar — and gifted us with Van Cherone? Well, it happened.
After completing their support slot on Bon Jovi’s European Summer stadium tour — which served to promote 1995’s Balance, VH’s then tenth album overall and fourth studio album with Sammy Hagar — Van Halen was contractually obligated to record two original songs for the Twister soundtrack. Hagar, who was against the Warner Bros. project to start with, wanted time off with his family, as he was expecting the birth of a child. And Eddie read him the riot act about what it means to be in a group. And Hagar ranted that being in a group sucks and he’d rather be a solo artist (no wonder the mighty Montrose — the Hagar version we cared about — fell apart after two albums). (Montrose bassist-keyboardist Alan Fitzgerald, who ended up in Night Ranger, served as VH’s off-stage/touring keyboardist from the early ’90s until the early 2000s.)
But Hagar, reluctantly, wrote and recorded “Humans Being.” And Eddie, unhappy with Sammy’s lyrics and halfhearted attempt, re-wrote the melody and re-titled the song, originally known as “Shine On.” And Eddie turned the song into, what is practically, an instrumental. And it sounds exactly like the shitty Van Halen B-Side not-suitable-for-a-studio-album outtake that it is.
Hagar was pissed.
And when it came time to record the second song, Hagar split for Hawaii. So the Van Halen brothers, with Alex on keyboards, alone recorded the instrumental “Respect the Wind,” which got dumped onto the film’s end credits. Is it the best end credits song ever? Yes. But surely Warner Bros. Pictures was expecting something more from Van Halen.
Mission to Mars (2000)
“Dance the Night Away”
What can you say about a movie that features astronauts spouting cheesy lines such as, “Okay, we’re ready to light this candle,” playing with M&M’s in zero gravity, product-placing astro-bags of Coca-Cola to seal hull breeches, and eventually gets turned into a Walt Disney theme park attraction?
Only that it gets worse: Gary Sinise wears eye liner throughout the film. The alien is CGI-hokey. And the crew dances in the ship’s zero gravity hub to a tune from Van Halen II. Where’s that copy of Hammer Films’ Moon Zero Two from 1969 when you need it?
Man, you just want to puke. And that’s not the zero-gravity sickness talking.
- While we are on the subject of the Kubrick classic this rips . . . sure to check out our “Exploring (Before “Star Wars”): The Russian Antecedents of 2001: A Space Odyssey” featurette.
Sacred Sin (2006)
“Rise” and “Catherine”
After three lead singers and almost thirty years across eleven studio albums — the last being 1998’s critical and chart-flopping Van Halen III featuring ex-Extreme singer Gary Cherone — Eddie moved into the world of adult films.
If you go into this “Gothic ghost tale” expecting “Eruption” from Van Halen I or “Saturday Afternoon in the Park,” which served as the dark, instrumental opening to “One Foot Out the Door,” the closing track from Van Halen’s fourth album, Fair Warning, you’ll be disappointed. Don’t expect the heavy darkness of “Intruder,” the instrumental opening to “Pretty Woman” from Van Halen’s fifth album, 1982’s Diver Down; expect the lighter “Cathedral” from that same album. These two tracks, written for Eddie’s longtime friend, Micheal Ninn, are closer to “Baluchitherium” from Balance and “Respect the Wind” from the Twister soundtrack.
According to Eddie, in speaking to industry website AVN, his working on a porn film was no big deal. He was simply working with and helping a friend with his film, whose work he respected. In addition to the songs, Eddie, who also served as the film’s executive producer, provides a series of atmospheric piano interludes throughout the film.
Eddie the Actor
Frazier, Cafe Americain, and Two and a Half Men
Eddie was one of the many celebrity callers — as was the schtick of the series — as Hank on “Call Me Irresponsible,” a 1993 season one episode of Frazier. Of course, that voice-guest part was result of Eddie being on the Warners Bros. lot for the shooting of his wife Valerie Bertinelli’s failed, one-season series Cafe Americain, where he played a “Street Musician” in the series’ seventh episode, “Home Alone.” For his only on-camera speaking role, he performed “Two Burritos and a Root Beer Float” on “818-jklpuzo,” the first episode of the seventh season from CBS-TV’s Two and a Half Men.
Edward Lodewijk Van Halen
January 26, 1955 – October 6, 2020
We’ll never look at or hear the guitar the same way again.
You were our Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach.
“What time is it?”
* You can learn more about the career of Brian Naughton and L.A.’s Rockicks with the Medium article “Sometimes you’re Kiss . . . and sometimes you’re Rockicks: Phantoms from the Rock ’n’ Roll Oblivion.”