Van Halen – ‘Women and Children First Sessions’ (Bootleg) – Album Review

I was out for Record Store Day in September and while waiting in line to buy my RSD purchases, this was sitting at the top of the shelf staring at me. I swear I heard it calling my name…”John, buy me!”. I stopped, looked around, no one else in the store heard it, but it said it, I know it did!! Now who was I to argue. I grabbed it, give it a quick once over and when I saw that it was a bootleg of demos from the Van Halen album “Women and Children First”, SOLD!! I mean look at the cover. They took the original album cover and made it way cooler. And to match the cover, the vinyl is even red to go with the stripes. Sweet!

I took it home and couldn’t wait to hear it. Now, I just bought several record store day items and I was way more excited about this album then the RSD purchases. And after listening to it, I am still more excited. Being a bootleg, I was worried about the sound quality of the demos and let me tell you, it was fantastic. These demos have been floating around for awhile and they are normally very muddied down and a little rough. These have been cleaned up nicely. The sound is crisp and clear and though they do sound like demos, they are also pretty damn cool.

The album kicks off with “And the Cradle Will Rock…”. It has a similar opening to the original and although the guitar isn’t that crisp, it is still impactful. Dave’s vocals go in and out a little, but the cool thing is the line “Have You Seen Junior’s Grades” is absent and has Dave mumbling some mumbo jumbo. It doesn’t have the guitar solo or that full guitar sound at all and lastly it stops abruptly. And you know, it was still totally cool to see a very early version of this song and you can already hear how special this track was.

Then we get a couple instrumentals with “Romeo Delight” and “Unreleased Instrumental”. “Romeo” is heavy on the bass and drums which really adds another dimension to the song especially with no Dave doing lyrics and no massive solo, but still a total treat. The “Unreleased Instrumental” is also known as “Act Like It Hurts”. This is another that seems to have the drum and bass mix higher than the guitar and there are some cool elements plus cool to focus on Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen for a change. Eddie is a little low in the mix, but what you hear is still his typical magic.

“Everybody Wants Some” is up next and quite different. Starts off totally different but still has Dave’s swagger. It is missing the final Eddie tricks on the album version and Dave’s a little rough and not the same lyrics either as there is a little scatting, but it is a demo. You can already feel the energy and vibe that this could be something special. “Loss of Control” has some evil Dave cackling and more scatting. Eddie is ripping you a new asshole as they blow through this one. It feels heavier and darker. And lastly on this side we get an instrumental of “Take Your Whiskey Home” minus the acoustic bit at the front. With no Dave, the song still kicks ass and nice to have one with Eddie more front and center even if it is mostly the rhythm section although at times he goes a little wild.

Side 2 kicks off with “Fools” and it starts off with the little Dave moment at the beginning before Eddie kicks in and turns it up a notch, the cool thing here is the lyrics aren’t final and Dave is all over the place with them except the chorus is in good shape. Fun track. Then we get an instrumental of “In A Simple Rhyme”. It is another that is mostly the bass and drum mix with Eddie down low in the mix. It feels pretty complete. Nice track. And finally we get the intro part to “Take Your Whiskey Home” and with Dave, no instrumental. And that is all the Women and Children First demos.

Wait! There are three bonus tracks on this version of the demos. First you get a cover of Davie Bowie’s “Jean Genie” live from Pasadena in 1976. An early, early Van Halen track. It is pretty cool to have something from that far back. The second bonus is “Voodoo Queen”, but you might know at it as “Mean Street” off ‘Fair Warning’. It is a completely different song, lyrically, but it has the bones and sound of “Mean Street”. It is a definite highlight of this set. The final track on here is an extremely low-grade, rough as hell mix of “Bullethead” from the 2012’s ‘A Different Kind of Truth’. This version was from a New Year’s Eve performance in 1978 at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go in West Hollywood, Ca. It is pretty horrid. The worst song of the bunch

Man, this is a blast of a listen and as far as bootleg demos go, this is one of the best I’ve had. The sound is impeccable (except “Bullethead”). And I picked it up for only $25 so a pretty awesome value on top of that. This is easily one of my favorite bootlegs I own and I am starting to build up a nice collection of them and I hope I keep finding more. If I have to rate it, it is easy a 5.0 out of 5.0 Stars despite the one bad seed in the bunch because it is tough to get a bootleg that sounds so good. If you see this one, grab it fast as you won’t be disappointed.

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