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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Rock > Compilation > Van Halen Story - The Early Years

The Van Halen Story: The Early Years


Picture: B     Sound: B     Extras: D     Main Program: C+



On the face of it, The Van Halen Story: The Early Years should rock your face off.  For nearly 20 years — with a brief reprise in the mid ‘90s — Eddie and Alex van Halen have wanted you to forget all about the David Lee Roth years of Van Halen.


After the success of their album 1984 and the inflated egos, Eddie and Diamond David Lee Roth acrimoniously split when Dave released his solo EP Crazy from the Heat.  Exit Dave; enter the Red Rocker Sammy Hagar. And, despite a number of hits that are catchy and listenable, Van Halen had changed with the ousting of Roth and the entrance of Hagar.


The songs became ballad-y.  The albums contained tracks that were less party anthems and more odes to being an adult “in love.”  Gone were the booze-and-sex of “Somebody Get Me a Doctor,” “Everybody Wants Some!!,” “I’ll Wait” and “Hot for Teacher.”  In vogue with the band that at one time was the epitome of party rock were songs like “Top of the World,” “Finish What Ya Started,” “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You” and “Why Can’t This Be Love?”.


Coinciding with this change was the entrance of Van Halen on the — gasp! — Adult Contemporary charts and every effort humanly possible to erase the Diamond Dave era from people’s minds. The two authorized concert videos available, Van Halen — Live Without a Net and Van Halen: Right Here, Right Now — Live and the only legit live album (Right Here, Right Now), are from the Hagar days.


“Where Have All the Good Times Gone,” indeed.


So a video that comes along called The Van Halen Story: The Early Years that boasts “rare footage and never-before-seen photos” from arguably the best years of Van Halen is something to get excited about.


But oh how the ball was dropped.


The 70-minute documentary, presented in a full-frame aspect ratio with the most over-the-top narration possible, begins slowly with details on how Dave, Eddie, Alex and Michael Anthony came into this world and where.  What follows is a breakdown of how the band ultimately formed, what smaller bands the VH boys were in first, where they played their first gigs and how they erupted into the national consciousness — while pissing off Journey and catching the eye of Gene Simmons.  It’s an interesting story to be sure, and any casual fan of the band will take a ton away from it.  But for us diehards, this is nothing new.  We know Eddie and Alex were in a band called Mammoth and we know how they met Dave and blah blah blah.


What we want to see is the promised rare footage.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t really exist.


Sure, there is footage there.  But we are never able to see more than a few seconds of it.  And there’s little to no sound from the concert.  And the footage is just recycled over and over through the rest of the program, which is an all-too-brief glossing over of the band’s first six albums, Van Halen, Van Halen II, Women and Children First, Fair Warning, Diver Down and 1984.


Making things worse here is that the story is only occasionally told through the voices of the band. The other 90 percent of the time, the people telling the story are middling rock journalists, old-time roadies, friends and former bandmates. One such character, the former guitarist of Michael Anthony’s band Snake, can’t seem to get out of his I-grew-up-in-California-in-the-‘70s mindset, dropping curse words like they’re going out of style. The other participants might not be all that interesting, but they are at least respectful and, to some extent, eloquent — this dude totally, like, ruins that, man.  Bogus.


Many of the problems with this disc, though — the almost non-existent concert footage, the utter lack of extras (there’s not one), the participants, the utter lack of any of Van Halen’s music — surely comes from this disc not being issued by Warner Bros., Van Halen’s label. The disc looks nice and sounds fine — it’s a documentary, it’s hard to screw that up — but the filmmakers try to cover up this lack of content with snazzy digital graphics, like smoke coming off Eddie’s guitar in a still photo, and super-cliché guitar riffs that would make Dave to a high jump off a bridge.


The question you have to ultimately ask about this disc, though, is would I get anything out of it if I picked it up.  If you only know “Best of Both Worlds,” “Humans Being” or “Right Now,” then yeah, do yourself a favor and school yourself on what real Van Halen is and where it comes from. Then go out and track down a copy of Dave’s unreal autobiography, “Crazy from the Heat.”  If you’re a diehard that probably knows the VH story backwards and forwards, then don’t waste your time or money.


I’d say save it for the next album, but who knows when — or, better yet, if — that will ever hit, and who will be at the mic, trying to imitate Diamond Dave.



-   Dante A. Ciampaglia


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