Prime Cuts: Eddie Van Halen Breaks Down 10 Van Halen Classics, from "Eruption" to "Right Now"
From the GW archive: This feature originally appeared in the December 1996 issue of Guitar World.
King Edward weighs in on two decades’ worth of Van Halen classics!
Van Halen (1978)
“I like the way ‘Eruption’ sounds. I’d never heard a guitar sound like that before—like some classical instrument.
“The story behind ‘Eruption’ is strange. It wasn’t even supposed to be on Van Halen.
"While we were recording the album, I showed up at the studio early one day and started to warm up because I had a gig on the weekend and I wanted to practice my solo guitar spot. Our producer, Ted Templeman, happened to walk by and he asked, 'What’s that? Let’s put it on tape!'
"I played it two or three times for the record, and we kept the one that seemed to flow. Ted and Donn [Landee, engineer] liked it, and everyone else agreed that we should throw it on. I didn’t even play it right. There’s a mistake at the top end of it. Whenever I hear it, I always think, Man, I could have played that better.
“For the tail end, I used a Univox echo chamber. It had a miniature 8-track cassette in it, and the way it would adjust the rate of repeat was by the speed of the motor, and not by tape heads. So if you recorded something on the tape, the faster you played the motor back, the faster it would repeat, and vice versa. I liked some of the noises I got out of it, but its motor would always burn out.
“That first album was recorded, mixed and mastered for only $46,000, which was like an all-time low in the record industry. People couldn’t believe it, because the average cost of producing an album at that time was around $150,000 or $200,000. Back then, bands like Fleetwood Mac and Boston were spending something like three years on album, so you can just imagine the cost.
“ ‘Eruption,’ like most of the other songs on the first album, was performed pretty much live. We had been in the studio for the first time ever about a year earlier with Gene Simmons of Kiss, and I quickly learned that I didn’t like overdubbing.
"Simmons produced a three-song demo for us that consisted of ‘Runnin’ with the Devil,’ ‘House of Pain’ and a song called ‘Babe, Don’t Leave Me Alone.’ Gene said, ‘Here’s what you do in the studio—you play your rhythm parts on one track, and your solo parts on another.’
“I remember feeling very uncomfortable with separating my lead and fill parts from my rhythm parts. Onstage, I’d gotten used to doing both simultaneously. I’d just noodle in between chord lines. Because it was my first time in a recording studio, it didn’t occur to me to say, ‘Can’t I play just the way I play live?’
“The demo didn’t work out, anyway. When we finished recording with Gene, we met with Kiss’ manager, Bill Aucoin. When we went to his office he was getting a shoeshine and said, “I don’t see any commercial potential. Besides that, I’ve got my hands full because I just signed a band called Piper [featuring a then-unknown Billy Squier].
"It was really depressing—we were totally bummed. Gene gave us a couple hundred bucks to make our way home. We just kept playing the Whisky and the Starwood in Los Angeles, and about a year later Warner Bros. came down and eventually signed us.”