Band names are difficult. Some of them are naturally iconic and sound instantly classic, like U2, Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath. Others sound legendary only because the bands transcended them (yesterday, Chris Jericho pointed out that Audioslave really doesn’t work without those particular band members, and is there really a sillier band name than the Beatles?). Still others never quite get there (no matter how many records they sold or big-time shows they headlined, Limp Bizkit will always sound kind of dumb; same goes for you, Stone Temple Pilots). When Eddie Van Halen and his brother Alex got together to form a band, they luckily didn’t have to look past their surname for any further inspiration. Sure, there was a bit of ego in it, but David Lee Roth always liked to point out that “Van Halen” also sounded like some sort of hydrogen bomb, which was appropriate for the group’s brand of explosive, stadium-filling metal that made them the biggest band in the world for a few years.
Eddie Van Halen turns 55 years old today, and he’s really just moving into the prime of his life. His band is back together (featuring original singer Roth and son Wolfgang Van Halen on bass), he just got married to longtime girlfriend Janie Liszewski last year, the truly amazing “Guitar Hero: Van Halen” was recently released and supposedly the reunited group is going to have a go at new music following their ultra-successful tour. Like Hendrix and Clapton before him, Van Halen’s guitar playing completely redefined what could be done with the instrument (just listen to all the different sounds he is able to make on “Eruption,” from the band’s self-titled 1978 debut). He also made it cool for serious rock bands to dabble in keyboards (there’s no better synthesizer jam on the planet than “Jump”). But he mainly trafficked in big molten slabs of riffage, like the line on “Unchained,” one of the group’s signature shout-alongs.