|Van Halen - Van
Originally released: 1978
Remaster released: 1998
by Greg Smith
Warner Bros W2-3075
Best Of Volume 1
Warner Bros 9 46332-2 (1996)
As the legend goes, Eddie Van
Halen would turn around during early concerts when playing particularly complicated guitar
parts so that nobody could see exactly what playing technique he was using. It's no wonder
he was so protective of his style, because when Van Halen was released in 1978,
nobody else sounded quite like them. That's certainly not the case today, as the band has
spawned countless imitators, despite Eddie's attempt at propriety.
While Van Halen fans argue about the relative merits of original-era Van Halen vs.
later "Van Hagar" releases, I suspect almost all of them agree that the band's
first release is their best. But it certainly hasn't made for a particularly good-sounding
CD before. There are significantly better versions of some tracks on the recently released
Best Of Volume I collection. That one I picked up after hearing "Me Wise
Magic" on the radio and being totally confused. It was obviously a recent Van Halen
tune, yet David Lee Roth was on vocals; I hadn't heard about the short-lived reunion they
went through. But if you want remastered versions of all the classic tunes on the original
album, you'll need to turn to the new DCC release.
"Running With the Devil"
- Original: I don't think the unique opening noises were supposed to have such
nasty, harsh transients to them. Tinny cymbals and barely any bass are the main
impressions I get from this track. I liked this one better when I had a crappy stereo and
couldn't tell how bad the CD sounded.
- Best Of : First off, this is recorded way louder than the original. The bass
guitar actually has some real growl to it now, and cymbals are considerably better.
- DCC: Now the low-frequency notes actually follow a musical envelope, instead of
being just thuds. Michael Anthony plays better than I had thought! The reverb on Roth's
singing is really pulled up front, but the background vocals are still a bit weak and
indistinct. The biggest difference is in the guitar solos. I don't know that I've ever
heard Eddie Van Halen wail away quite so clearly before.
- Original: More unpleasant edges around all the notes here, along with some
hard-to-take resonances that build up inexplicably in spots. And I dare you to identify
the recording location; there's this weird pseudo-space that is just plain disconcerting.
- Best Of : A night-and-day improvement, the guitar parts in particular are
- DCC: While not a huge difference from the hits collection, the rough spots are
smoothed out a bit.
"Ain't Talking About Love"
- Original: More of the same old junk here. The ill-defined top-end is joined by
considerable compression of the louder parts.
- Best Of : The guitar distortion really comes through on this version, but there's
still some missing body to the drums. The compression of the louder parts exists here as
well, but now it sounds like the overall volume of the CD has been pushed up so far it's
hitting some sort of dynamic-range limitation.
- DCC: This one is recorded at a level partway between the other two, and unlike
the others there's none of the compression that had bugged me. There's an amazing
improvement in how the guitar during the opening sounds, even over the Best Of
version. And the drums finally sound right as well.
My original Van Halen CD is a pretty sparse package. The liner notes tell you the basic
information about the band, but that's about it. The Best Of collection gives a
discography, including what tracks appear on each album, but other than that there's not a
whole lot there either. DCC's release includes sweaty pictures of every band member, and
the artwork restoration by Complete Color lets you count every hair on Roth's chest.
Whether that in particular was a worthwhile effort is debatable to me, but maybe you'll
find it exciting. A picture of the original LP sides are included as well.
If you listen to Van Halen and you care about sonics, you need the DCC version of their
first album. It wildly exceeded my expectations for how good a Van Halen recording could
sound. Just remember to turn around when you're playing air guitar if you want to recreate
the original Van Halen concert experience.
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