Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Van Halen - Complete Zero

Van Halen
Complete Zero

Released 1976&7 on Bootleg
Reviewed by IanB, 03/04/2006ce

As noted by our host elsewhere in these pages the VH Mark One bootleg industry has thrown up some gems over the years. From the by turns thrilling and hilarious 1974 covers band relic 'Gazaris Dance Contest' to the Sabs-slaying sprint through the first album at Hammersmith Odeon four years later there is enough balls-out, mid-air, crotch seam splitting excitement in those pre-platinum VH performances to solidify a place for the makers of Van Halen 'I' & 'II' in the same pantheon as the first Montrose lp, 'Hotter Than Hell'. 'Heaven Tonight' and 'Toys In The Attic'.

And that's just the live stuff.

The difficult thing with parlaying the genius of VH Mark One to resolutely Post-Punk company is not Diamond Dave's soft shoe Iggy-in-spandex persona but the musical misanthropes his band inadvertently spawned -Motley Crue (who could have maybe turned out ok if they had signed up Joan or Lita instead of Mick Mars), G'n'R, Poison and a host of Warrants, Wingers and Nelsons. Need I go on?

Barring a few songs on 'Appetite', none of this phoney, mono-cellular, tooth-rotting, Jim Beam mouth-wash was going to hang around in anyone's collections for too long. Even so these wig-wearing charlatans kept an army of vari-lite operators in serious quantities of Mandarina Duck and Mag-Lites for the best part of a decade as a host of poodle haired, Eddie imitating, Paganinis of piffle pillaged their loveless way across America via a road to hell marked out in hockey arenas.

Yet the sins of the sons shall not be visited upon the fathers and the first two Van Halen records (which really have to be viewed a-piece) are peaks of power trio achievement that should by rights be enshrined in the standard rock-crit pantheon along side 'Exile', 'Blood on the Tracks', 'Fun House', 'Marquee Moon' and 'Live at Leeds'. When it came down to the noble task of inspiring an army of late 70s teenaged apathists to pick up their guitars and play 'VH I' & 'II' punched their weight with 'The Ramones' and still had something to spare.

I accept "Jamie's Crying" is not everyone else's "Thief Of Fire" or "Cosmic Slop" and that some folks find metal an idiom that can only be safely viewed from across a vast chasm of ironic distance. This merely serves to deny oneself one of the very few genuinely righteously unmediated experiences in the corporatised rock era. These are rare thrills indeed, the purity of which maintain not least because those first two VH records were recorded as close to live in-the-room on-the-day as it is possible to get in the post-Pepper major label recording industry. (Warsaw Pakt's made-in-one-day-released-the-next debut not withstanding).

The VH story does not get better than this as it moves forward. The four 80s records with DLR at the helm have their thrills and spills but if you join the Van Halen convoy at the very beginning of their Warner career then the route gets increasingly scenic with each release, the band hitting a series of stylistic twists, turns, hairpins and chicanes rather than continuing to gun furiously along horizon-impaling electric ley lines.

No, if 'I' and 'II' leave you hungry rather than sated then the only way forward is back and that inevitably leads to this compilation of studio bootlegs that couples the ten songs demo'd up with Gene Simmons at the helm in 1976 and the whopping 26 tunes recorded in three days for Warner Bros in late 77.

Apart from the semi-cut gems that would soon surface fully formed on official releases there is another two albums worth of VH originals here that never made it on to Warner Bros vinyl plus a couple of tunes that resurfaced remade, renamed and remodelled in the 80s ('Mean Street' and 'Hang' Em High'). Big Trouble (not the "Eat 'Em & Smile" song) , Baby Don't Leave Me Alone, Lets Get Rockin. Put Out The Lights, She's The Woman get two run outs a piece and, discarding two comedy pieces (a dispensable 'Gonna Take A lot Of Drugs' and the "have we passed the audition" acapella of 'Happy Trails'), this is a band cutting diamonds before your ears at a level where even the cast-offs make crowns fit for princes.

Gene Simmons Demos (May 1976)
On Fire 3:35
Woman In Love 3:23
House Of Pain 3:33
Runnin' With the Devil 3:22
She's the Woman 2:51
Let's Get Rockin' 3:00
Big Trouble 3:32
Somebody Get Me a Doctor 3:01
Babe, Don't Leave Me Alone 2:52
Put Out the Lights 3:34

Warner Bros Demos (late 1977)
Let's Get Rockin' 3:11
We Die Bold 3:05
Voodoo Queen 3:41
Little Dreamer 3:12
House Of Pain 3:31
Runnin' With The Devil 3:24
On Fire 4:03
Babe Don't Leave Me Alone 3:05
Bring On The Girls 3:49
Young & Wild 2:35
Last Night 3:30
Light In The Sky 4:39
Get The Show On The Road 2:59
D.O.A. 3:59
Somebody Get Me A Doctor 4:01
Show Your Love 4:08
She's The Woman 3:05
Put Out The Lights 3:41
Big Trouble 3:42
I Wanna Be Your Lover 3:02
Feel Your Love Tonight 3:59
In A Simple Rhyme 4:44
Piece Of Mind 3:56
You Really Got Me 2:43
Happy Trails 1:10

Reviews Index