Fair Warning (Van Halen album)

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Fair Warning
Van Halen - Fair Warning.jpg
Studio album by Van Halen
Released April 29, 1981
Recorded Early March – Early April 1981
Genre Heavy metal,[1] hard rock
Length 31:11
Label Warner Bros.
Producer Ted Templeman
Van Halen chronology
Women and Children First
Fair Warning
Diver Down
Singles from Fair Warning
  1. "So This Is Love?"
    Released: June 1981
  2. "Unchained"
    Released: July 1981
  • Depending on the country, "Unchained" was backed with either "Sinner's Swing!" or "Push Comes to Shove."

Fair Warning is the fourth studio album by American hard rock band Van Halen. Released in 1981, it sold more than two million copies,[2] but was still the band's slowest-selling album of the David Lee Roth era. Despite the album's commercially disappointing sales, Fair Warning was met with mostly positive reviews from critics.[3]

The cover artwork features a detail from The Maze, a painting by Canadian artist William Kurelek which depicts his tortured youth.[4][5] The album was listed by Esquire as one of the 75 Albums Every Man Should Own.[6]

Background and production[edit]

Fair Warning was one of the first albums to reflect the rift in the Van Halen power structure; David Lee Roth wished to emphasize the pop influence that emerged on the previous two albums (which brought the band increased attention and a wider appeal), while Eddie Van Halen preferred to explore darker, longer and generally more complex song-structures that emphasized his innovative guitar work. Eddie apparently prevailed, as the album in fact featured longer, darker, more aggressive guitar-oriented material.

The album's cover artwork is accompanied by an insert of a black-and-white picture of the band, as well as a view of a ghetto drywall. This drywall has a wire running across it, cracked windows at the top and a Roth-era Van Halen logo with plaster cracked over the left wing. Also on the wall is a lyric from the album's opening song, "Mean Street".

In the band's licensed game, Guitar Hero: Van Halen, four of the nine tracks of this album are available for play: "Mean Street", "Hear About It Later", "Unchained" and "So This Is Love?"


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[3]
Robert Christgau (B-)[7]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 2.5/5 stars[8]

The Village Voice's Robert Christgau rated Fair Warning a B-, signifying "a competent or mildly interesting record that will usually feature at least three worthwhile cuts." He stated that it featured "not just Eddie's latest sound effects, but a few good jokes along with the mean ones and a rhythm section that can handle punk speed emotionally and technically." He also explained that "at times Eddie could even be said to play an expressive – lyrical? – role. Of course, what he's expressing is hard to say. Technocracy putting a patina on cynicism".[7]

A retrospective review by Allmusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine found the album fairly positive. In the review, he initially stated that "it's a dark, strange beast, partially because it lacks any song as purely fun as the hits from the first three records" and that "whatever the reason, Fair Warning winds up as a dark, dirty, nasty piece of work." He went on to say that "dull it is not and Fair Warning contains some of the fiercest, hardest music that Van Halen ever made. There's little question that Eddie Van Halen won whatever internal skirmishes they had, [...] even with the lack of a single dedicated instrumental showcase". He concluded that "nastiness is the defining characteristic of Fair Warning, which certainly doesn't make it bunches of fun, but it showcases the coiled power of Van Halen better than any other album, which makes it worth visiting on occasion."[3]

The Rolling Stone Album Guide, however, gave the album two-and-a-half stars out of five, stating that "the most significant musical development is the synthesizer introduced at the end of Fair Warning, which would be exploited to greater effect on later albums."[8]


Of all of the songs on the album, "Unchained" is arguably the most familiar and the one most frequently still heard on rock radio stations. However, other singles such as "Mean Street" and "So This is Love" continue to receive occasional airplay as well.

Track listing[edit]

All music and lyrics written by Edward Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, Michael Anthony and David Lee Roth. On the original LP and cassette versions, side two begins with "Unchained".

No. Title Length
1. "Mean Street"   4:58
2. ""Dirty Movies""   4:08
3. "Sinner's Swing!"   3:09
4. "Hear About It Later"   4:35
5. "Unchained"   3:29
6. "Push Comes to Shove"   3:49
7. "So This Is Love?"   3:06
8. "Sunday Afternoon in the Park" (instrumental) 1:59
9. "One Foot Out the Door"   1:58




Region Certification Sales/shipments
Canada (Music Canada)[9] Platinum 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[10] 2× Platinum 2,000,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone



Billboard (North America)

Year Chart Position
1981 Pop Albums 6


Billboard (North America)

Year Single Chart Position
1981 "So This Is Love?" Mainstream Rock 15
1981 "Mean Street" Mainstream Rock 12
1981 "Push Comes to Shove" Mainstream Rock 29
1981 "Unchained" Mainstream Rock 13


  1. ^ http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/van-halen/biography "Most meaty metal album"
  2. ^ "Recording Industry Association of America". RIAA. Retrieved February 24, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. Fair Warning - Van Halen at AllMusic. Retrieved October 12, 2011.
  4. ^ "The Maze by WILLIAM KURELEK - Peter Nahum At The Leicester Galleries". Leicestergalleries.com. Retrieved March 22, 2012. 
  5. ^ British Journal of Psychiatry (2001)
  6. ^ "Best Music Albums Ever - Top Album List with Covers". Esquire. Retrieved February 24, 2012. 
  7. ^ a b Christgau, Robert. "CG: Van Halen". The Village Voice. Retrieved October 12, 2011. 
  8. ^ a b "Van Halen: Album Guide". Rolling Stone. Retrieved November 25, 2012. 
  9. ^ "Canadian album certifications – Van Halen – Fair Warning". Music Canada. 
  10. ^ "American album certifications – Van Halen – Fair Warning". Recording Industry Association of America.  If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH