In the late winter or early spring of 1979 I was sitting on a bus returning from a school field trip when I heard a sound that would change me forever.
A classmate on the other side of the bus had a boom box with speakers the size of dinner plates. The sound that blasted out of those speakers nearly gave me whiplash as I spun around and asked, “what the hell is that?”. da nananana chunka nanana, chunka nanana… It was the opening 15 seconds of Van Halen’s “You Really Got Me“.
I was stunned. I had never heard a guitar make that sound before. I made him play it over and over again.
You see, as a child of the seventies, I was raised on AM radio. FM had yet to make a serious dent into the music universe of Junior High schoolers. It was still mostly the domain of audiophiles and jazz music fans. I don’t even think my radio even had an FM receiver.
As I grew up listening to such hits as the Osmonds, “One Bad Apple“, Tony Orlando and Dawn’s, “
In addition to AM radio, my pop music education was shaped my such TV shows as Sonny & Cher, the aforementioned Osmonds and the Captain and Tennille, never realizing that most of the songs performed were originally recorded by other artists.
You can imagine how I must have felt when News of the World by Queen and Point of Know Return by Kansas entered my consciousness in 1977. I had finally found some music that spoke to me in a way that AM radio failed to.
Then in 1978, we moved to Iran where radio was a vast confusing wasteland of Europop, American Top 40 and “cultural” music.
So when we ended up in Germany in 1979, I was ripe for something new. Little did I know…
What I heard on that bus was a custom built guitar, nicknamed Frankenstein, played through a Marshall amplifier turned up to 10. Eddie Van Halen wasn’t the first guitar player to play at full volume, but he was the first one that I heard. That coupled with his unique, classically influenced playing gave me entry into a world of music that I didn’t previously know existed.
Through Eddie, I discovered Angus Young, Jimmy Page and Ted Nugent. 1979 was also the eve of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, which brought Iron Maiden, Saxon, Def Leppard and Judas Priest.
You see, Eddie Van Halen made me a Metalhead!
What Eddie was saying with that simple riff, a riff I would later discover he didn’t even write, was “I can and will do what I want”.
A sentiment as old as rock n’ roll, and it informs my entire personal philosophy.