“The 80’s is it, it belongs to Van Halen.” – David Lee Roth, 1980
On the 26th of this month, we celebrate the 36th anniversary of Van Halen’s third studio album – “Women and Children First”. Released back in 1980, the album marked the beginning of a very special and important era – both for Van Halen, as well as for the rock music in general. In the spirit of the upcoming birthday of the album, I decided to prepare a little publication, focusing on the album and its songs. I have to say, it’s most certainly not my favorite Van Halen album – and as a matter of fact it’s not even in my personal top 3 Van Halen albums. However, I cannot deny how incredibly well-written and influential this album is. Not only “Women and Children First” was the first album to feature music written solely by Van Halen themselves, but this album brought to the world a different and more striking feel of the band – their sound, theme and image became heavier and much “darker” than before.
“I love it. I think it’s our best one yet because it’s got more variety. It’s not too guitar dominated; it’s just got a little bit of everything on it. It’s got acoustic, it’s got piano, it’s got the ball-bustin’ rock. It’s got it all.” – Eddie Van Halen
The album was produced by Ted Templeman – a notable American record producer. Throughout his career, he has worked with numerous outstanding musicians, such as the Doobie Brothers, Van Morrison, Carly Simon, Eric Clapton, Aerosmith and many others. He is actually the mastermind behind a few other Van Halen, as well as Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth solo albums. Furthermore, “Women and Children First” spawned one single – “And the Cradle Will Rock…” – a song that is very significant to me and this blog (I will explain myself later…). The song performed quite well on the charts, not as much as one might predict, though – it only got to 55th place on Billboard Hot 100. As far as album sales are concerned, it is certified 3 times Platinum by the RIAA and 2 times Platinum by Music Canada. Overall, it did achieve considerable amount of success, however it wasn’t until 1984 that Van Halen reached their commercial peak and worldwide recognition. Nevertheless, this album is excellent – from its first to its last song, no second opinion about it. It’s a must for your record collection!
Now let’s talk songs!
The powerful party-rock anthem which also happens to be the opening track and my personal favorite song from the album is called “And the Cradle Will Rock…” and has a few interesting background details worth mentioning. First of all, it’s the first song that featured the keyboard playing of Eddie Van Halen. Eddie’s new ideas and visions for the band’s music and future directions were already making a strong statement. Instead of being driven by a guitar, the song’s dominant instrument is the keyboards – something that was considered a bit too experimental and not “as rock ‘n’ roll” as one might say back then. Later on, Eddie’s creative ambitions and insights on the issue of the band’s musical angels would clash with David Lee Roth’s lust and endless desire for fun and partying while playing the rock ‘n’ roll. Nevertheless, this piece of music provides a very interesting beginning for their 80s style. In addition, the song begins with very mind-boggling sounds which many of you guys might think come from a guitar; however that’s not the case. It’s actually a “phase shifter-effected Wurlitzer electric piano played through Eddie Van Halen’s 1960s model 100-watt Marshall Plexi amplifier” – how cool is that?
In terms of lyrics – the song is mainly about how younger generations misbehave and all they want to do is party and rock ‘n’ roll. A “cradle” in the context of the song, is a metaphor for “home” – no wonder the cradle is rocking – the kids are out of control.
One last thing – I thought of the name of this blog “that mixtape will rock” while I was listening to “And the Cradle Will Rock…” I absolutely adore the song and the lyrics – they inspired me to come up with the name and that says a lot really.
And this right here might be indeed the worst lip-sync in history…
The other party anthem of the album would be “Everyone Wants Some” which in my opinion, has to be one of the heaviest songs of Van Halen, along with “Loss of Control”. I get a lot of hardcore punk vibes coming out of those two songs (especially from “Loss of Control”) and that can’t but make me super happy, having in mind the fact that I am and always will be a punk rock kid. Those two songs became an absolute staple for any of Van Halen’s upcoming life concerts and tours and we can clearly understand why. The pure hard rock energy that comes out of them is just too strong to handle. Not to mention the richness and speed Eddie displays in those two masterpieces…Just have a listen…
“Everybody Wants Some” still remains one of David Lee Roth’s favorite Van Halen songs – even when he left Van Halen, he still kept on playing it during his concerts…
Van Halen’s growth in terms of musicianship, song-writing and technical improvement is probably most evident in “Fools”. To me, this song has one of the most powerful and captivating intros. The guitar riffs are pure gold and I just can’t but think of Eddie as some sort of an alien who came to this world to hypnotize us with his guitar… In addition, I really enjoy the brilliant lyrics and the message behind them – even when society wants you to follow and obey all the rules, people have personal desires and dreams that might not fit into the predetermined picture. Different people are good at different things – why should we hide our ambitions?
“They say I’m crazy from the wrong side of the tracks
I never see them but they’re always so far back”….
“My teachers all gave up on me
No matter what they say, I disagree”
In addition to the heavy sounds and dynamic guitar riffs, the album offers a few low-key, acoustic country-blues feelings with song such as “Could this be Magic” and “Take Your Whiskey Home”. I have to say, those two songs are most certainly not in my “greatest Van Halen songs of all time” list – I find them a bit too silly and frivolous. However, they do provide the necessary balance in the album.
By the way, “Could This Be Magic” features the only female backing vocal ever to be recorded on a Van Halen song. Nicolette Larson – an American country/pop singer who worked with musicians such as Neil Yong sings during some of the chorus.
Van Halen’s first attempts at a power-ballad resulted in the closing song of the album, titled “In a Simple Rhyme”. Their desire for a more graceful and soft melody however is quickly cut off by their rock driven nature, though. It took Van Halen a few more years before they finally refined their perfect rock ballad sound, at least in my opinion.
This is a life performance from last year…David’s voice might not be what it used to be, however we still appreciate it!
The album’s other two songs – “Romeo Delight” and “Tora! Tora!”, also deserve an honorable mention. Those high-speed metal sounds are the reason why I said that the album has a bit of a “black hart” situation. Just listen…
Well, this is it for now. I hope my readers got the chance to remind themselves of this brilliant album which features some of the most unforgettable Van Halen tunes ever. In conclusion, I would say that if you are a Van Halen fan, this album is a must for your record collection. “Women and Children First” is the album with which Van Halen gloriously stepped into the 80s – it was a perfect statement that the decade is theirs to conquer. With a more refined and original sound, the band proved that they matured and got more serious about their music. I hope you guys love and appreciate it as much as I do!
Cheers! …And the cradle will rock!