After the party-hearty feel-good vibes of 1979's Van Halen II, Women and Children First would arrive in 1980 with an entirely different--and heavier--agenda.
"The '80s is it, it belongs to Van Halen," singer David Lee Roth crowed to Rock Stars magazine that year. "We're the youngest and we're the newest and we're coming on real strong. I like all kinds of music, but by and large Van Halen is the youngest, newest, and biggest thing coming on."
Album opener "And the Cradle Will Rock" would more than back up his boasts. Featuring Eddie Van Halen playing keyboards for the first time on a Van Halen record, the lurching tempo and ominous atmosphere backed up David Lee Roth's lurid tale of youth gone wild and out of control. A far cry from the upbeat mood of "Dance the Night Away," "And the Cradle Will Rock" still managed to make a respectable chart run, peaking at #55 on the Hot 100. The band would deliver a spirited (albeit hilariously lip-synced) rendition of the song on German TV.
A similar raunchy vibe would permeate "Everybody Wants Some," Featuring jungle drums and David Roth going full David Lee Roth during an extended breakdown, the track was a fast fan favorite on record and in concert.
The song would later be used to comedic effect in 1985 John Cusack comedy, Better Off Dead.
Released on March 26, 1980, Van Halen's Women and Children First was an immediate hit, flying up the charts to peak at #6 for the week of May 17, 1980. The #1 album in America that week: Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band's Against the Wind.
While never a single, high-energy track "Loss of Control" would get a wild music video treatment, featuring the group playing in an abandoned hospital, complete with scrubs and nurses. Filmed with the band was on tour in Europe, the clip finds Van Halen at the band's most unhinged. It's pretty great.
Women and Children First marked the first time a Van Halen track featured a female background vocalist, with Nicolette Larson of "Lotta Love" fame lending her voice to the bluegrass-tinged romp, "Could This Be Magic?"
The first million copies of the album would be shipped with a huge black and white poster of David Lee Roth chained to a fence. It was shot by photography legend Helmut Newton, who Roth cornered at a hotel and convinced to do the shoot.