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‘They tried to make us look like the Clash!’ Van Halen’s rejected first album cover
03:08 pm


The Clash
Van Halen

Here’s a wonderful story reported by Greg Renoff over at Ultimate Classic Rock. Today we think of Van Halen and the Clash as occupying very distinct places in the hard rock firmament. Influenced by Jamaican reggae, the Clash is all about anger, political resistance, and liberation, while super-noodly arena-rock heroes Van Halen boogies to a decidedly sexier party backbeat. But that wasn’t so clear to the executives trying to figure out how to position Eddie, David Lee and the gang. At the time of Van Halen’s self-titled first album in February 1978, one of the most visible bands in the world was the Clash, whose own self-titled first album had been shaking things up for almost a year. 

It wasn’t like Van Halen was unfamiliar with punk and its cousin, new wave—on the contrary. Punk had long since hit the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, and Van Halen had been in lineups at the Whisky à Go Go nightclub with bands like the Mumps, the Dogs, and the Motels. In a meeting with Warner Bros., the first stab at the album cover was presented—and it was a disaster. Not only had the designers misunderstood the band’s name to be Vanhalen, but the downbeat photo—Michael Anthony looks like he’s just eaten a bad Quaalude or something—placed Alex Van Halen in the foreground while natural ham David Lee Roth is practically snoozing in the background.

It didn’t take long for manager Marshall Berle and the band to reject the cover. As Eddie would later tell Guitar World, “They tried to make us look like the Clash. We said, ‘Fuck this shit!’”

After absorbing Van Halen’s criticisms of the preliminary cover art, Warner Bros. hired photographer Elliot Gilbert to shoot the band onstage at the Whisky, which made for a completely different impression. Eddie is waving his famous Frankenstrat around like he’s Nigel Tufnel or somebody. Add Dave Bhang’s silver, winged VH logo and you had a glitzy, balls-out look that was perfect for the new cocks on the walk. Eddie later said that after the band saw the logo, they “made [Warner Bros.] put it on the album so that it would be clear that we had nothing to do with the punk movement. It was our way of saying ‘Hey we’re just a fucking rock and roll band, don’t try and slot us with the Sex Pistols thing just because it’s becoming popular.’”

Here’s Van Halen on the Clash’s turf, London, at the Hammersmith Odeon on June 1, 1978, playing one of the best tracks off the debut, “Little Dreamer”:

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Images from the L.A. rock scene of 1978 to 1989

Demonstrating for Quiet Riot, 1979. Photo: Ken Papaleo
As a New Yorker I’ve sometimes asked myself why Los Angeles often didn’t appear to produce as many good musical acts as its size might lead you to expect. This was in the 1990s and after, when the closest answer to “What’s L.A.‘s answer to the Pixies?” might well have been “the Red Hot Chili Peppers,” which isn’t a great answer. My indie-rock bias and physical distance from the L.A. scene aren’t the only factors that would lead me to underrate what the city has produced, another one would be time. If you jump back just a decade or two, L.A.‘s music scene was as vital as anything the country had to offer, what with Minutemen, Black Flag, the Go-Go’s, RHCP, X, and the Dickies, not to mention such hard rock stalwarts as Van Halen, Faster Pussycat, Motley Crüe, and Guns ‘n’ Roses. And that only scratches the surface, as an invigorating new photo exhibition suggests.

Opening yesterday, the Los Angeles Public Library has a remarkable exhibition dedicated to throwing open the library’s Herald Examiner archives (as well as the Gary Leonard collection) for the years 1978 to 1989. The show features iconic shots of talents as diverse as Eddie Van Halen and Eazy-E as well as countless other important vital contributors to the L.A. music scene. At its best, L.A. music possessed a theatricality and immediate legibility that other cities may have lacked. Not sure what exactly that quality was, but the word “glitz” has been used so often to describe L.A. that we’ll just go with that one. And yet glitz had nothing whatsoever to do with the trenchant and incendiary punk of Minutemen or Black Flag or Descendents. Los Angeles is 100 neighborhoods in search of a city, and its music scene reflects that too, in a good way.

The exhibition is called “From Pop to the Pit: LAPL Photo Collection Celebrates the Los Angeles Music Scene, 1978-1989,” and it can be visited at the History & Genealogy Department of the Central Library location at 630 W. 5th Street through June 28. In addition to the acts shown here, the exhibition covers such diverse musical talents as Jetboy, All, the Runaways, Burning Tree, Faster Pussycat, the Nymphs, X, and the Unforgiven.

The show features an attractive catalog that runs a very affordable $13.75 on Amazon.

Dream Syndicate, ca. 1982. Photo: Dean Musgrove

Minutemen, 1983. Photo: James Ruebsamen

The Go-Gos, 1981. Photo: Anne Knudsen
More after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Six-year-old drums to Van Halen’s ‘Hot For Teacher’
11:04 am


Van Halen
Hot for Teacher

You might have seen this little dude’s videos making the rounds before: His name is Avery… and he’s a 6-year-old drumming machine!

Here’s Avery pounding along to Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher.” As one friend of mine commented on this video:

“My children cannot do this. I feel like I failed somehow as a parent.”

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Reggie Watts covers Van Halen’s ‘Panama’ like you’ve never heard it before…
08:16 am


Reggie Watts
Van Halen

Let it be no secret that I love Reggie Watts! I truly adore this man! There is no one else like him in the world.

Anyway, here’s Reggie reworking Van Halen’s “Panama.” It starts around the 1:29 mark.

Via Nerdcore

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
John Lennon, Van Halen and Crackerjack

There is something about mash-ups that reminds me of the classic British children’s TV series Crackerjack, which ruled the winter airwaves from 1955-1984.

Crackerjack was broadcast live every Friday, from BBC TV Centre in London, and was a frenetic mix of sketches, games, quizzes and mini dramas (rather like pantomime), with each show opening with the lines, “It’s Friday. It’s five o’clock. And it’s Crackerjack!”  Christ knows what drugs inspired the genesis of this series, but its effect on viewers, its studio full of hyper-active kids, and the state of British TV since has been immense.

One of the highlights of Crackerjack was its mini-drama or featurette, where chart songs were re-interpreted by the show’s stars Peter Glaze, Ed Stewart, Jan Hunt, Leslie Crowther, The Krankies, Don Maclean and co. What usually happened was the tune of one hit had its lyrics changed to fit in with the drama’s narrative, one regular choice for this was Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.

Mighty Mike’s mash-up of Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ with John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ made me think of Crackerjack, as the mix of preposterous rock vocal with, what comedian Iain Lee once described as “a nursery song for hippies,” would have sat easily within Crackerjack‘s format. Mighty Mike has been making these kinds of mash-ups for a wee while, and his site has a varied selection including Michael Jackson and Queen, Free and Madonna, Alanis Morisette and B.O.B.. Now, if only the BBC would bring back Crackerjack...but then again, perhaps not.

Bonus Mighty Mike mash-up and clip of ‘Crackerjack’ after the jump…
With thanks to Alistair Mcmenemy

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment