Van Halen: A Secret Influence Finally Gets its Due


The announcement of Van Halen's coming indictment* into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame gives me an excuse to link to one of my all-time favorite bits of rock crit, a hilarious, smart alternate universe, pop-Borgesian critical fantasy by the brilliant Bill Tuomala about a 1970s where punk ruled the schools and the charts, metal was a despised underground taste, Jimmy Carter escalated the Cold War in his second term, and Van Halen were not chart-topping sensations but a secret and neglected influence.

The essay is called "Best Band in the Land." A tiny sample below, but all fans and/or students of standard rock history really ought to read the whole thing–the conceit is brilliantly developed throughout and doesn't miss a beat, fill, or riff:

Van Halen's first two albums stiffed on the charts and their best hope for a hit song, "Dance The Night Away," also bombed. America's kids just wanted the fast chords and throaty vocals of punk; not the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink eclecticism of Van Halen. It was too messy—youngsters didn't want to deal with all the blues, vaudeville, and covers of Linda Ronstadt hits that they were serving up. The kids dug the Ramones because they were easier to dig; their jokes were simpler, as was their music—you knew what you were getting each and every time. Van Halen was the cool name to drop in certain circles and they got glowing reviews in the rock press, but their sales were lousy.

*apparently misused word a deliberate hat-tip to all my fellow Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments fans.