With their 1978 eponymous debut, Van Halen simultaneously rewrote the rules of rock guitar and hard rock in general. Guitarist Eddie Van Halen redefined what the electric guitar could do, developing a blindingly fast technique with a variety of self-taught two-handed tapping, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and effects that mimicked the sounds of machines and animals. It was wildly inventive and over the top, equaled only by vocalist David Lee Roth, who brought the role of a metal singer to near-performance art standards. Roth wasn't blessed with great technique, unlike Eddie, but he had a flair for showmanship derived as much from lounge performers as Robert Plant. Together, they made Van Halen into the most popular American rock & roll band of the late '70s and early '80s, and in the process set the template for hard rock and heavy metal for the '80s.
 
Throughout the '80s, it was impossible not to hear Van Halen's instrumental technique on records that ranged from the heaviest metal to soft pop. Furthermore, Roth's irony-drenched antics were copied by singers who took everything literally. One of these was Sammy Hagar, an arena rock veteran from the '70s who replaced Roth after the vocalist had a falling out with Van Halen in 1985. Hagar stayed with the band longer than Roth, helping the group remain a fixture on the top of the charts through the late '80s and early '90s. Halfway through the '90s the group's sales began to slide, just as tensions between Hagarand Eddie began to arise. As the group prepped a greatest hits album,Hagar was fired (or quit) and Roth was brought back on to sing two cuts on the compilation. He was subsequently replaced by Gary Cherone, a former member of Extreme, who lasted through one album before departing. After a half-decade hiatus, the band mounted a reunion tour with Hagar, who left in 2005 only to be replaced by Roth, with this reunion leading to a new album called A Different Kind of Truth in 2011.
 
Through all the upheaval over lead vocalists, Eddie Van Halen and his prodigious talent remained the core of Van Halen. The son of a Dutch bandleader, Eddie and his family moved from the Netherlands to Pasadena, California in 1962, when he was seven years old and his older brother, Alex, was nine. As their father supported the family by playing in wedding bands, Eddie and Alex continued their classical piano training. Soon, both boys were enraptured by rock & roll. Eddie learned how to play drums and Alex took up the guitar, eventually switching instruments. The brothers began a hard rock band called Mammothand began playing around Pasadena, eventually meeting David Lee Roth. At the time, Roth, who had been raised in a wealthy Californian family, was singing in Redball Jet. Impressed by the Van Halenbrothers, he joined forces with the group. Shortly afterward, bassist Michael Anthony, who was singing with Snake, became a member of Mammoth. After discovering that another band had the rights to the name Mammoth, the group decided to call themselves Van Halen in 1974, rejecting the proposed Rat Salade.
 
For the next three years, Van Halen played throughout Pasadena, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles, in both clubs and hotel bars. Their repertoire covered everything from pop and rock to disco, but they eventually worked in their own original material. Within a few years, they had become the most popular local band in Los Angeles, and Eddie became well known for his groundbreaking technique. In 1977, Kiss'Gene Simmons financed a demo recording session for Van Halen after seeing them at the Starwood Club. On the strength of Simmons' recommendation, Mo Ostin and Ted Templeman signed Van Halen to Warner Bros., releasing the band's debut the following year.
 
Van Halen became a hit due to strong word of mouth, constant touring, and support from AOR radio. Within three months the album had gone gold, and five months later it went platinum. It would eventually sell over six million copies, thanks to the album rock staples "You Really Got Me," "Jamie's Cryin'," and "Runnin' with the Devil."Van Halen II, released in 1979, continued the band's success, as "Dance the Night Away" became their first Top 20 single. Women and Children First (1980) didn't have any charting singles, but was a success on the album charts, reaching number six. The band supported the album with their first headlining, international arena tour, and were quickly on their way to being superstars. Released in 1981, Fair Warning wasn't quite as popular as their previous records, yet it still peaked at number six. Diver Down, released in 1982, was a huge hit, spawning a number 12 cover of Roy Orbison's "(Oh) Pretty Woman" and reaching number three.
 
While all of their previous albums were successful, Van Halen didn't become superstars until 1984, when their album 1984 became an across-the-board smash. Released on New Year's Day, 1984 rocketed to number two on the strength of the number one single "Jump." Like many songs on the album, "Jump" was driven by Eddie's new synthesizer, and while Roth was initially reluctant to use electronics, the expansion of the group's sound was widely praised. Throughout 1984, Van Halen gained steam, as "I'll Wait" and "Panama" became Top 15 singles and "Hot for Teacher" became a radio and MTV staple.