Sunday, May 06, 2018

Songs from '78: "Runnin' with the Devil"

No tricks here, folks: Van Halen's second single, "Runnin' with the Devil," released 40 years ago today off of their debut album, Van Halen, was the first heavy metal/hard rock song I can remember hearing, and it scared the crap out of little 10-year-old me. Why? At one point or another in those early radio-listening days of mine, I heard the Rolling Stones, Journey, Cheap Trick, and more; why were these power chords and guitar pyrotechnics so unnerving? Heck, I'd probably already heard Van Halen's blistering cover of "You Really Got Me" by the time I heard this song, and despite Eddie Van Halen's amazing fingerwork, I probably didn't even put it together in my head that they were the same band. Why not? Duh--because the "Runnin' with the Devil" people were obviously Satanists, that's why. 

I mean, of course they aren't. But while my Mormon home and Mormon parents were never as freaked out by rock music as many other conservative Protestant and Catholic families were (it was Dungeons and Dragons, rather than stuff on the radio, that caused the most contention over church standards in my teen-age years), still, it was pretty clear to only-barely-adolescent me that long-haired men with no or open shirts singing about "the Devil" were obviously working for Beelzebub. The fact that the lyrics to the song itself provided no evidence for such whatsoever was, of course, something that I only realized years later.

When, exactly? Maybe four or so years later, by which time anyone who paid any attention to "Entertainment Tonight" or read People magazine or were one of the early adopters of MTV--which I probably first watched at a summer debate camp which included staying in dorm rooms which had cable television--already knew that there were tensions in the band (I have no way of proving it, but I swear my memory tells me that some Boy Scout on a campout around 1983 or so told me and a bunch of others that Sammy Hagar was auditioning to replace David Lee Roth--all this before 1984 was even out!). I don't know--maybe just I figured that any band which could record such a rocking, wonderful, and (from the perspective of today) ridiculously crude version of "Pretty Woman" can't be all bad. Going back and appreciating the power of those late 70s songs made me feel like a mighty grown-up 14-year-old. I don't feel the same today, obviously...but "Runnin' with the Devil" still rocks.

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