Rock archaeologists have recently unearthed conclusive evidence (some liner notes contained in the ancient Dead Weight Scrolls) that the subspecies of heavy metal known as thud rock was born way back in the paleolithic mists when a certain strain of Heidelberg man (Mondo erectus) began banging on a garbage can with the skull bone of a chimpanzee.
Predictably, these findings received scant attention in the world’s music press — until the discovery, off the coast of Sumatra last month, of a No. 4-gauge trash barrel whose artfully dented surface had markings that could only have been made by a slope-headed Stone Age percussionist. And now a research team of MIT-trained musicologists has deduced that this early primate was pounding out the same hectic boogie tempo found throughout Van Halen II. Both anthropologists and musicians were stunned by the news, and Dr. Kenneth Clark and Leonard Bernstein are reportedly collaborating on a book about the breakthrough (with Robert Stigwood holding the film rights).
Phew. Talk about history repeating itself!
Van Halen is the latest rock act to fall out of a family tree of deadbeats whose ancestry includes slave drummers on Roman galleys, Ginger Baker’s Air Force and the street crews of the New York City Department of Sanitation. But this blockbusting four-man band is not without some outside influences. Scattered throughout Van Halen’s second album are various Vanilla Fudge bumps and grinds, an Aerosmith-derived pseudobravado, a bit of Bad Company basement funk and even a few Humble Pie miniraveups. And check out these timelessly ponderable lyrics lifted from “Beautiful Girls”: “I got a drink in my hand!/I got my toes in the sand! …/All I need is a beautiful girl!” Mighty lead singer David Lee Roth hammers the maxim home with a flurry of blind yowls, ain’t-we-got-fun guffaws and clever asides like “Awww!” “Come this way!” “Sit down right here!” “Ooooooh-la-la!” and “I think I got it now!”
From “Somebody Get Me a Doctor” to “D.O.A.,” the material on Van Halen II comes up consistently ruminative and semirollicking, fleshed out as it is by the stilted instrumental blarings of lead guitarist Edward Van Halen, bassist Michael Anthony and drummer Alex Van Halen. Thanks to the behind-the-scenes assistance of “guitar technician” Robin (Rudy) Leiren and “drum kit set up” craftsman Gregg Emerson, the players are free to re-create every familiar squawking fuzz-tone riff, leaden bass run, cowbell clunk and rumbling drum eruption known to their genre. And yet the LP retains a numbing live feel, with Roth’s repertoire of deft “Uh-huhs” and train-whistle exhortations (“Whoa-whoa whooooo!”) occasionally segueing into impromptu snickers that are shared by the entire group.
Even as I write, Van Halen is scaling the topmost reaches of the nation’s record charts and conquering arena-sized crowds from coast to coast. Like the Stone Age, these flawless thud rockers will probably be around for a long time — and they deserve any notice they get. Dig it or not, I’ve had this amazing thirty-one-minute artifact on my turntable for hours, and after almost one careful listening, I’m utterly convinced that the members of Van Halen must have been up half the night creating it. What an effort.