Each and every Sunday night when the clock hits eight, The Strombo Show celebrates the spirit of radio over on CBC Radio 2. It's music for music lovers by music lovers. To kick off the program, we always tip our hats to the legends, the noisemakers and the ground-breakers in a segment that we like to call: Nod to the Gods.
The opening is unmistakable: that shrieking sound of car horns wired together backwards, followed by Michael Anthony's bass plucks, before Eddie chimes in with his brother Alex and Diamond Dave finally hollers "Yeah." "Runnin' With The Devil" was the first track on the band's self-titled debut record, Van Halen.
Gene Simmons of KISS famously discovered the band at the L.A. club Gazzarri's, and produced a demo tape (he also suggested the carn horn intro and unsuccessfully proposed a name change to "Daddy Longlegs"). Simmons soon bailed on the band, however, after KISS's management declared they had no chance of making it big. A few months later, Van Halen was spotted by producer Ted Templeman playing The Starwood Club — where the likes of the Ramones, AC/DC, Mötley Crüe, Quiet Riot and Black Flag performed — in West Hollywood, and signed with Warner Bros. 24 hours later. Soon after, they dropped the bomb of their self-titled debut.
Like Led Zeppelin's eponymous debut, it received its fair share of negative reviews from rock critics. Robert Christgau wrote: "the term 'bar band' becomes honorific when the music belongs in a bar. This music belongs in an aircraft carrier." And then there was Charles M. Young of Rolling Stone, who wrote: "Mark my words: in three years, Van Halen is going to be fat and self-indulgent and disgusting, and they'll follow Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin right into the toilet. In the meantime, they are likely to be a big deal." The record has since been certified Gold in four countries, four-times Platinum in Canada and 10-times Platinum in the United States.
"Runnin' With The Devil" teases Eddie's trademark finger-tapping on his Frankenstrat guitar, which launches full-gear in the album's next track, "Eruption." That guitar, a modified Fender assembled by Eddie in his parents' garage, has become so iconic that a replica is now housed in the Smithsonian. Despite the outer-worldly sounds, however, the lyrics had a decidedly more down-to-earth source: they were inspired by the funky Ohio Players track, "Runnin' From The Devil."
The song later became the theme music of professional wrestler Davey Richards. Let's admire the shear drunken power of Roth's vocals.
And finally, something that should be essential to every hardcore Van Halen fan's collection: David Lee Roth's isolated vocals from "Runnin' With The Devil" by the Roth Scream Box:
For further musical musings, new and old, join the collective for The Strombo Show on CBC Radio 2, every Sunday night at 8PM. And if you'd like to catch up or relisten, all of the episodes are archived here.