The other day on Twitter someone retweeted an article from Ultimate Classic Rock. This article was a list of the Top 10 American Rock Bands. The Top 3 were Aerosmith, Van Halen, and ZZ Top. Noted Van Halen enthusiast and author of an upcoming book on them, Greg Renoff had VH number one ahead of Aerosmith. His reasoning, not biased in the least I’m sure, was that the first 6 LP’s of VH outweighed the first 6 from Aerosmith. At first glance I agree but started thinking how many great Aersomth songs there are and how padded some of the Halen albums are. So in an excuse to listen to those albums again let’s put them head to head.
Aerosmith’s self titled debut is only 8 songs but it contains arguably their biggest song “Dream On”. Ironically the song was not a hit when the album first came out, it took a couple years later for the public to discover it. That’s why you will see some versions that has “featuring Dream On” on the cover. Another highlight is “Mama Kin” a song that is still in their live set. The rest of the album is good but you can tell that it is a first album but the potential is obvious.
Van Halen’s debut is a mother trucker. You know every song on this album. From “Runnin With The Devil” to “You Really Got Me” to “Ain’t Talking About Love” they are all classic rock radio standards. Add in what “Eruption” and the immeasurable influence of Eddie’s playing on the next generations and it’s a no-brainer.
Winner: Van Halen by QUICK KO
On Get Your Wings you are starting to get more of a sense of what Aerosmith would become. It has a couple more classics with “Train Kept A Rollin’” and “Same Old Song and Dance”. The sex theme shows up on “Lord Of The Thighs” along with underrated track “Seasons Of Wither”.
On the imaginatively titled II, Van Halen does not ease up with “Dance The Night Away”, “Somebody Get Me A Doctor”, and “Beautiful Girls”. The band starts flexing its’ personality more with a heavy dose of Diamond Dave on “Bottoms Up” and more guitar greatness on “Spanish Fly”.
Both albums are great but the Van Halen one is deeper.
Winner: Van Halen by late round stoppage
Now this is where it gets interesting. On the third album both bands have had a chance to record and tour so they know who they are. At this point of their careers Van Halen is a bigger band. Toys In The Album is a true classic with 3 monster songs in “Walk This Way”, “Sweet Emotion”, and the title track. Add in “Big Ten Inch”, “Uncle Salty”, “You See Me Crying” and this album that will live on your turntable.
Women And Children First is no slouch though. “And The Cradle Will Rock” and “Everybody Wants Some!!” are two Van Halen staples. There are a couple of other tracks that everyone knows in “Take Your Whiskey Home” and “Romeo’s Delight”. However when push comes to shove, I think Toys is a much better album.
WINNER: Aerosmith by late round KO.
At this point in their careers both bands are pretty big. Aerosmith released album #4 with Rocks. It’s a pretty solid offering. Kicks off with “Back In The Saddle” and “Last Child”. One of my favorite tracks on here is “Nobody’s Fault”along with another underrated track “Sick As A Dog”. Almost forgot about “Lick and A Promise” one more Steven Tyler track dripping with raunchiness.
Van Halen brought us Women and Children First. The biggies here are “So This Is Love?”, “Unchained”, and “Mean Streets”. All three of those are songs any band would kill to have created. What is interesting is Van Halen’s albums are becoming shorter. The first had 11 tracks now we’re down to 9 with two of them being under two minutes and one of those an instrumental. In a match up between the two albums I think that is a big factor.
Winner: Aerosmith by unanimous decision
So by the time we get to album #5 both bands are still huge and if you read Aerosmith’s book you know how far gone the whole band is. The Toxic Twins moniker has clearly been earned. Van Halen is still the party band of their time but don’t seem to be showing the cracks Aerosmith does. The band from Boston released Draw The Line and just like Toys the title track is a killer. The other big track is “Kings and Queens” but “Milk Cow Blues” should not be ignored. Plus it has “Get It Up” a highly ignored rocker.
The fifth offering from VH was Diver Down. This is kind of an odd album in that it has 12 tracks but 5 of them are covers. And 4 of the remaining are instrumentals. Normally this would be seen a screw job to fans but it’s Van Halen. “Pretty Woman” and “Dancing In The Streets” are pretty iconic covers. As is “Where Have All The Good Time Gone” even though this is another Kinks cover. I guess if it worked once try it again. Right Quiet Riot?
Anyway. Those are all keepers as is the instrumental “Little Guitars”. I must point out that the original songs are stinkers. I don’t know what was going on in the VH camp but this seems like a rush job. I could see someone choosing Draw The Line since they are originals but I got to to with VH.
Winner: Van Halen by split decision
There is something interesting about the first 6 albums from these bands. 1 through 5 came out a year apart but there was a 2-year gap in between 5 and 6. Plus album number 7 had big lineup changes for both. The mighty Aerosmith were in full drug hell by this time. They were a mess and it is kind of evident here. Night In The Ruts is not a bad album but there is not a hammer here. The band seems to have wanted to get back to the blues rock/Zeppelin influence. “Cheese Cake” and “Reefer Headed Woman” are perfect examples. The best track might be “Bone To Bone” but there’s no definite one.
I can still remember when 1984 came out. During lunch break at high school some classmates ran out and bought it and were listening to it before 4th period. It was the first Van Halen that took advantage of MTV. “Jump” was a big hit but “Hot For Teacher” knocked it out of the park. Add in that it has “Top Jimmy” “Drop Dead Legs”, and “Panama” and the last album by the original 4 was just as gi-normous as their first.
Winner:Van Halen by QUICK KO
Depending on how you scored the 5th album, you either have a draw or 4-2 in favor of Van Halen. I had an idea of how it would go before I wrote this but am kind of shocked how close it ended up being. I love Aerosmith but I think Van Halen is the bigger band. Even if you include the sober Aerosmith you then have to include the Van Hagar years and those were pretty good for them. The first and last album for Van Halen are just monstrous. So many classic songs. However in the middle ones, Aerosmith’s were a lot deeper. I don’t know why Van Halen coasted.
Either way that is a quality catalog that any band would be happy with.
How did you score it?
I had the top 3 American rock bands as KISS, Van Halen, Aerosmith.