What’s the deal with Growth?
What I found when looking into the history of outro track on Women and Children First
I love a good Van Halen mystery. One of the most persistent mysteries of the past two years has been the origin of the track “Growth.”
Maybe it’s because no one else cares. Maybe it’s because it’s such a tiny mystery when compared to the details of band breaking up…multiple times, or the seemingly unsolvable chaos that was 1996.
I think it’s because the origin of a 15-second track on an underrated Van Halen album seems graspable — perhaps even solvable by comparison.
I’m going to attempt here, in public, to edit the Van Halen Encyclopedia entry for this weird little track — I call it a track here mostly, because I’m not sure it qualifies, in the world of Van Halen, as a song, a riff, or anything else.
Here’s the original entry in the last version of the book:
Growth - (Women and Children First [:15]) Although not officially credited on the album as a song, this little piece was meant to be followed up on the next album, but never was. It fades out on the vinyl and tape versions, but the full 15 seconds can be heard on the CD version. Alternate title: “Tank.”
On 8/15/86 at the Centrum in Worcester, MA, Van Halen performed a full-length version of this song in concert with Sammy Hagar on rhythm guitar.
Side note: I hate my old writing. I was 22 when I wrote those words, and they were edited by a big publisher/editing house who I would have pushed back on if I had a little more confidence and experience. I definitely would have pushed harder for references and footnotes.
The start of the mystery
In July 2020, I was listening to Dave and Dave Unchained podcast. A little over an hour into the show (listen here), a listener named Eric Frasier (unsure of the spelling — it was a podcast) submitted a comment about how he had asked Siri to play Women and Children First, but a different album of the same name from a different band popped up. A song started playing from that other album that sounded a lot like “Growth.”
The album was by a band named Ancient Grease and the song was “Freedom Train.”
This is the Van Halen version:
This is the Ancient Grease version:
The similarities were striking, but the fact that album was titled Women and Children First, and came out in 1970 (a full decade prior to Van Halen’s album) was what started the mystery.
Was this a fake album, uploaded to streaming services and just labeled as a 1970 album?
Was this a well-known album, and Van Halen was paying homage to it after naming their album the same title?
Were the members of Van Halen even aware of this other band’s existence?
Was this track a cover all along? Was it a demo, recorded in the studio for some other purpose?
Did Van Halen ever mean for it to come out as it did on Women and Children First? How much say did the brothers have in 1980 about what ended up on albums? We know Eddie had a lot of say, starting in 1981, and Dave did a lot of the deciding on artwork for Women and Children First. But what was the division of power on choosing tracks and track positioning in 1980? Just Ted Templeman?
I had a lot of questions. Some I was able to answer well enough to edit the entry for “Growth.”
Yes, the 1970 version was on a real album by a real band. It was released by Mercury. The band’s real name was Strawberry Dust, a well-known act in the Wales club scene. Their name was changed for the album without their knowledge.
Yes, Eddie and Alex may have known about the musicians in Ancient Grease. I have no proof the brothers knew of Ancient Grease or owned their album, but the members of Ancient Grease definitely lived in the orbit of musicians that the Van Halen brothers were inspired by in the late 60s and early 70s. They were considered a prog rock group (a favorite genre of Eddie and Alex’s at the time). There were comments I read in articles (that I couldn’t confirm) claiming Eric Clapton was a big fan of the guitar player in the group, Graham Williams. We all know how much Eddie idolized Clapton. By 1977, Williams was well-known for a hit song he recorded with his more popular band, Racing Cars.
The other questions remain unresolved.
So, after a few months of looking into it, I’ve rewritten the entry for “Growth” as follows. Please feel free to help me out with your own research. I’ll keep updating as I learn more.
Although not officially credited as a song, this 15-second outro track from the Women and Children First album was originally used by the band as an intro to “Atomic Punk” on the Van Halen II “World Vacation” tour. The first known recording of this intro was on September 10, 1979, in Osaka, Japan.
In an interview in the July 1985 issue of Guitar World magazine, Eddie said this outro track was added to the album “just for the hell of it,” and to “possibly start the next record with.” But it wasn’t revisited for Fair Warning.
On August 15, 1986, at the Centrum in Worcester, MA, Van Halen performed a full-length version of this song with Sammy Hagar on rhythm guitar. It’s unknown whether this was a jam, or a planned and arranged version of the song.
An alternate title for this track was, “Tank.”
“Growth” fades out on the original vinyl and tape versions of the album, but the full 15 seconds can be heard on the CD and subsequent digital releases. It also fades out on the 2009-2010 Chris Bellman remastered vinyl version, but doesn’t fade out on the 2015, 2019-2020, and 2022 vinyl releases.
“Growth” sounds similar to the intro of the song, “Freedom Train” by the band Ancient Grease from their 1970 album Women and Children First (Mercury – SR 61305). Ancient Grease was also known as Strawberry Dust, a prog rock and covers band from Wales featuring vocalist Gareth Mortimer and guitarist Graham Williams. The pair would later form the band Racing Cars and score a hit in 1977 with the song, “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?”
CJ, would you ever consider annotating ‘The Van Halen Encyclopedia’? I think it is really of utmost importance that each entry have a list of references and supporting evidence in order for the book to be a credible source of reference.