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Friday, April 29, 2011

Van Halen: 30 Years Since The Release Of "Fair Warning"

On April 29th, 1981, Van Halen unleashed their darkest album. From the opening out-of-this-world sounds of “Mean Street” to the insane fade out of “One Foot Out the Door” this album is nothing short of a masterpiece. Although it’s the worst selling album ever made with Dave or Sammy (though it did go double platinum), it’s always been one of the favorite albums of many fans. It’s one of those few albums that can still give you goose bumps the thousandth time you hear it.

Much of this album was written in the early morning hours when Ed and Donn Landee would retreat to the studio after the rest of the band had gone home. This practice signaled a turning point in Van Halen’s career, Edward was becoming increasingly frustrated about not being able to express himself the way he wanted to; he felt he was growing musically but was being suppressed by Ted Templeman and Roth. Tensions between the guitarist and the vocalist increased, and Edward briefly considered quitting the band. Alex convinced him to stick it out, and "Fair Warning" was the result. However, the anger and unhappiness comes through in the music, giving the album its dark undertones. The "Fair Warning" sessions were also the seed for Edward’s desire to have his own studio, and in fewer than three years, 5150 Studio became a reality in his own backyard.

Fair Warning was one of the first albums to reflect the rift in the Van Halen power structure; David Lee Roth wished to emphasize the pop influence that emerged on the previous two albums (which brought the band increased attention and a wider appeal), while guitarist Eddie Van Halen  preferred to explore darker, longer and generally more complex song-structures that emphasized his innovative guitar work. Edward clearly prevailed, as the album in fact featured longer, darker, more aggressive guitar-oriented material. Fair Warning also ushered in the first appearance of synthesized keyboards on a Van Halen record, played by Edward. Despite the synthesizers, Fair Warning contained no radio hits (although "So This Is Love?" charted briefly) and included one instrumental, the synth-heavy "Sunday Afternoon in the Park".


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