Van Halen: my Guitar Hero Band! Two different eras, two incredible front men, who did it best?
1974-1985 lead: David Lee Roth
This is “classic VH” with Roth’s flamoyance and powerful vocals. Add in Eddie’s classic “finger-tapping style” and some of the greatest guitar riffs of all-time and those early Van Halen records define 70’s classic rock. The raw energy on those first 3 albums demonstrated their roots from their down and dirty bar band days on the L.A. Sunset Strip. “The Pocket” formed by Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen created, arguably, the greatest rhythm section of the modern rock era.
“Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love”
My favorite Van Halen song of all-time: Hard rocking, dramatic vocals, and a killer guitar solo! When David slows things down and whispers “…..I’ve been to the edge, stood and looked down, you know I lost a lot of friends there baby, got no time to look around,” you just get chills. David Lee Roth brought a sexual element to the band in songs like “Everybody Wants Some” and “Beautiful Girls”.
The last studio album with David Lee Roth before the break-up, 1984 captured the lighter side of the band. The synthesizers on “Jump”, the youthful lust on “Hot For Teacher”, and the pop hit, “I’ll Wait” showed the band was in a transition period. “Panama” maintained a nasty guitar solo and one of those epic grooves that defined Van Halen’s legacy. This song was the band’s finest ode to a car. Who doesn’t love that line: “reach down between my legs, ease the seat back”
1985-1996 Sammy Hagar Years
These were Van Halen’s most successful years in terms of chart success, MTV exposure, and Grammy Awards. Van Halen’s music became a little more commercial but still maintained that classic Van Halen sound thanks to Eddie’s guitar work and that blazing rhythm section. Incidentally, Patty Smyth of Scandal was first asked to be the new lead singer!
From 5150, an inspirational song that Sammy has said is his favorite song from the Van Halen years. The uplifting track brought a new audience to Van Halen. Since appearing on their 5150 album, “Dreams” has become a concert staple for Van Halen and Sammy’s solo tours. Here’s a video for “Dreams” filmed with the Blue Angels Air Team
“DON’T TELL ME WHAT LOVE CAN DO”
Van Halen with Sammy Hagar took on “message” songs during this time period. “Don’t Tell Me What Love Can Do” appears on their 1995 Balance CD. The powerful lyrics about universal love were “inspired” by Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Lyrics like “I seen the damage, I heard the shotgun.” and “Is it right to take the easy way” were timely and relevant. Roth-era Van Halen didn’t tackle issues like these.
1996-1999 Gary Cherone’s one CD experiment
2003-2010 back and forth Roth/Hagar, no new full CD’s, just singles for Greatest Hits compilations
2012 Back to David Lee Roth
Oh, my excitement for a NEW Van Halen CD this year! But times have changed, David Lee Roth is now a lounge singer with a weakened voice at this point in his career. “A Different Kind Of Truth” simply doesn’t stand up to Van Halen’s amazing catalog of rock classics. In fact, I can’t remember being more disappointed by a new CD in so long. This was the original Van Halen line-up (less Michael Anthony) reunited after about almost 30 years. This CD should have been epic. The lead single “Tattoo” is cliche, weak, and a poor choice for their comeback. “Big River” has Eddie’s best guitar work on the CD, “She’s The Woman” is a vault gem reworked for the new CD, but overall it is a weak effort from this legendary band.
So who’s the ultimate Van Halen lead singer? The original line-up and those first four CD’s are unbelievable. They set up Van Halen as one of the all-time modern guitar rock bands. Sammy had enormous shoes to fill, replacing a rock legend. But Sammy, not only kept the band together, those Hagar-driven CD’s are loaded with amazing singles. As much as I Love Sammy Hagar, I do think he saved his best work for his own solo records. Although Van Halen’s new CD has damaged my opinion of David Lee Roth, I’m ultimately still choosing Roth over Hagar.
Who knows where the future lies, maybe one day we’ll get an epic reunion where BOTH Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth team up with their bandmates. Their 40th anniversary is just around the corner!