Tribute albums are normally reserved for those artists whose contributions have had a lasting influence on the industry. However that criteria doesn’t exist anymore. If you undertake a cursory investigation you will find tribute albums afforded to any and every artist nowadays regardless of influence or longevity. The fact that Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync all have tribute albums is a travesty; they’ve proven nothing. Until the fall of 1997, Van Halen, one of the most influential rock bands of the past 25 years had not been bestowed such an honor. Unfortunately for Van Halen fans, the two tribute albums that were released were a major disappointments.
Everybody Wants Some and Hot For Remixes were more of a parody of Van Halen’s music than a bone-fide tribute. Everybody Wants Some featured a ridiculous array of underground bands from every style of music imaginable, performing renditions that sounded nothing like the original songs themselves. It reminded me of Richard Carpenter’s laughable Carpenters Tribute, If I Were a Carpenter, that featured acts like Sonic Youth and 4 Non Blondes systematically destroying classic cuts from the Carpenters catalog. Hot For Remixes fared no better as it housed brutal electronica versions of the band’s material.
On the other hand, Little Guitars: A Tribute to Van Halen is the quintessential Van Halen tribute album. For Van Halen purists, the disc’s most outstanding attribute is that it totally bypasses the Sammy Hagar/Gary Cherone periods, focusing instead on the only incarnation of the band that really mattered, which was the original lineup of David Lee Roth, Michael Anthony, Alex and Edward Van Halen.
Instead of employing the services of various established bands, producer Bob Kulick puts together a unique collection of artists to cover the material while maintaining the spirit, energy and integrity of the original versions. The pairing of musicians for each song is in itself interesting. “Unchained” features vocalist Jack Russell (Great White), drummer Eric Singer (Kiss), bassist Marco Mendoza and guitarist Dweezil Zappa while Stephen Pearcy (Ratt), Jake E. Lee (Ozzy Osbourne), Tim Bogert (Vanilla Fudge) and Frankie Banali (Quiet Riot) torch “Running With The Devil.” The album’s most stunning moment comes courtesy of “Light Up the Sky” which combines the powerful vocal chops of Doug Pinnick (King’s X) with Yngwie Malmsteen’s searing guitar licks and Billy Sheehan’s driving bass lines. Other outstanding performances include vocalist Jeff Scott Soto and guitarist Blue Saraceno on “So This Is Love,” David Glen Eisley (Guiffria) and guitarist Mitch Perry on “Little Guitars” and Fee Waybill (Tubes) with guitarist Brad Gillis (Night Ranger) on “Atomic Punk.”
Little Guitars: A Tribute to Van Halen without question is the only Van Halen tribute album on the shelves worthy of being deemed a true tribute record. So if you purchase any of the other counterfeits, don’t say you weren’t warned!