Growing up, until I got to sixth grade or so, my older brother was the primary caretaker of our record collection. Whether due to having more money or more knowledge, when we got a new record, he was likely the one to buy it.
Otherwise for me, most of my exposure to music was limited to whatever was on AM radio or available at the public library.
Early on these records were often either a soundtrack (Saturday Night Fever) or K-Tel compilation (Wings of Sound), but once in a while an actual original album would show up. Which brings us to Duke by Genesis.
Genesis, with Peter Gabriel, was an album-oriented band, prog rock, not easily found on AM radio. Genesis without Peter Gabriel evolved into something else. Once Phil Collins was in the driver’s seat, Genesis started landing on the Top Forty chart regularly. (As a side note, the chart dominance of Phil Collins in the 80s is astounding. Between Genesis and his solo work, he had eight top ten albums and sixteen top ten singles, eight of which went to number one.) Duke from 1980 helped kick this off with the band’s first top twenty hit, Misunderstanding.
I’d often play deejay at home and put a record on just to hear one song, such as Misunderstanding, and ignore the rest of the album. But one day Duke was nowhere to be found, and its absence was noted.
Granted, this was not technically my record, so I couldn’t claim any real grievance over its disappearance. It was Mark’s and he could do what he wanted with it. But still, I wanted to listen to it, so I inquired as to its whereabouts.
“I traded it.”
Traded? Like you would a baseball card? I don’t understand. Can you do that with records?
“When are you getting it back?”
“I’m not. I told you, I traded it.”
Gone? Forever? I hadn’t yet developed a sense of either the impermanence of one’s attraction to hit songs or the ease of replaceability of records, should one wish to get it back.
“I got this instead,” and he handed me the somewhat goofy yet terrifying sleeve of the first Van Halen album.
Van Halen? Who are these people? They look like they’re on fire, the drummer certainly. Are they in a cave or something? It reminded me of the drawings on the ‘70s Lord of the Rings poster in my cousins’ basement –
– except with guitars. And that black and white guitar did look pretty cool, even if the guy holding it was a vampire or something. This was pre-MTV, so the album cover would be the first image I’d have of the band.
I listened to it, eventually. With the exception of Eruption, which I couldn’t believe was actually coming from a guitar and not part of some electronic sci-fi space odyssey soundtrack, it took a while before I really got into Van Halen, the band or the record. Diver Down and 1984 would come along and make that happen, and then I’d go back and fill in the gaps with the earlier albums. A few years later I’d even find myself in a band attempting to cover Ice Cream Man for a high school talent show. (I was playing bass and didn’t have to worry about not being able to pull off the guitar solo, which ultimately didn’t matter since the band broke up before the show, and good riddance.)
But it was certainly not love at first listen for me and Van Halen. That day I wanted to listen to Duke, but it was gone and I did not have the means to get it back.
The lesson here is that with great loss can come greater gain. Or maybe, trust in the musical sensibilities of older siblings. One thing for sure is that thirty years later I still rock out to Van Halen on a semi-regular basis, but for the life of me I couldn’t name one other song on Duke. But it’s probably available on iTunes if I ever really want to get that album back.
About the Author:
Doug Foster is a taco-loving slacker who plays guitar, even if sometimes it’s just for the cat, yet still hopes one day to realize his dream of taking over for Ron Wood in the Rolling Stones.
12 thoughts on “There Must Be Some Misunderstanding – Losing Phil and Finding Van Halen with Doug Foster”
I had no idea about Peter Gabriel and Genesis! Wow!
I LOVE LOVE LOVE your retelling of the discovery of Van Halen. I really felt like I was in the mind of a young child, hearing their thoughts as they mused over the cover art and contemplating a listen to the record.
Ah Van Halen. They stir so many memories. I think I may have even seen them in concert in Dallas exactly one million years ago. I’m almost positive. You’re probably thinking, who the hell could you not be sure if you saw Van Halen?!?!
I know. My memory is awful. I should be ashamed. Look away.
People traded music for other music? In other words, some people got rid of their music? Blasphemy. I own pretty much every CD Van Halen had. Genesis? No, though I do admit to doing the air drum solo on “In the Air Tonight” whenever it plays on our oldies station.
I was a big fan of Genesis via Peter Gabriel. The concept albums they created were quality vehicles that experimented with the mind and standard sounds of the time. Phil Collins was a Pop Artist. True, the band became more “popular”, but the quality of true musicianship suffered. “Selling England By The Pound”, in my simple estimation, was one of the best albums ever produced. Van Halen took the ferocity of Ted Nugent and added David Lee Roth vocals and star power to build their following. They rocked harder than Styx or Kansas, and basically paved the way for the hair bands of the 80’s. Well done!
Love Van Halen. Love Genesis. Love Phil Collins. Love Peter Gabriel. And I love bass players.
I grew up with four brothers who all had different tastes in music, but some of my very favorite memories are sitting in the garage turned den with my oldest brother as he played a new album. He had a way of removing it from the sleeve, almost a ritual that I loved to watch. He collected rock & roll albums, and he introduced me to so many greats. The above mentioned, plus Joan Jett & the Runaways, Led Zeppelin, Styx, just to name a few, and he would say, “listen to the bass line there,” or “listen to that rip.” One of my all time favorite bass lines is from a Van Halen song: Why Can’t This Be Love. (Don’t hate on Sammy.)
I frigging loved Van Halen, both versions (Hagar, Roth), but now they are just a complete joke…it’s actually kind of sad.
I don’t trade anything, video games, music, sports cards, etc…I just don’t do it.
Well-written and funny article! Loved it! And, though I would have to say I am more of a Peter Gabriel fan than Van Halen or Genesis these days, Van Halen WAS the first concert I ever attended, so they hold a special place in my heart. Thanks for sharing your story!
I just thank my lucky stars I’m the big sib. Not that I ever traded any of my sister’s music. She liked the Smurfs album, so I probably would have had to pay someone to take it away…
I’d like to know more details about the HS band breaking up prior to the big talent show.
Thank you all for reading and the fun comments. I’m really grateful to Jen for letting me contribute.
@Rich, I definitely simplified the difference in 70s vs 80s Genesis. Looking up the discography, they had a string of hit albums in the 70s albums in Britain.
@Sarah, come to think of it, I’m not sure there was another instance of us trading away albums. This was still a couple years before we got a tape deck, so we weren’t able to make a tape of a record for someone. That said, I really don’t know why the trade was permanent.
@Beth and @MJM, I didn’t end up seeing Van Halen live until 2012. Too young for Roth 1.0 and no interest in Sammy or Cherone. I think the latest, A Different Kind of Truth, is a pretty solid album, particularly for a late-in-the-game album. They played really well, though the sound wasn’t the best and Roth had some trouble staying in key. Yeah, he’s a bit of a clown, but to me he still feels like the right clown for the job. (Not hating on Sammy!)