Without going into all the soap opera antics that is Van Halen, (the hiring, the firing etc...), I would like to break down the history of the band into four distinct eras.
The Roth Era (1978-85,96,2007-present)
The band was formed in 1972 in Pasadena California and was comprised of guitarist Eddie Van Halen, vocalist David Lee Roth, drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony.
What made Van Halen so special, was that all the members of the band had something to bring to the party, so to speak. Michael Anthony’s bass playing and backing vocals, Alex Van Halen’s solid drumming and David Lee Roth’s flamboyant Vegas styled showmanship was only enhanced by Eddie Van Halen’s revolutionary guitar playing. It made the band a force to be reckoned with since Van Halen injected that much needed “party” element that was lacking in the hard rock scene at the time.
But as time went on and Van Halen got more and more successful, tension in the band rose as well. Eddie Van Halen’s need to expand musically didn’t mix with Roth’s “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. In 1985 the band imploded and David Lee Roth was fired and leading to the second phase entitled…
Van-Hagar Era (1986-1995, 2003-06)
Sammy Hagar was a successful solo artist and former lead vocalist of a band called Montrose. Montrose was often called the “American’s answer to Led Zeppelin”, some even cited Montrose as a prototype of Van Halen.
Roth’s over the top antics were replaced with Hagar’s more disciplined approach with an emphasis put on song structure and writing. Sammy Hagar made and kept Van Halen relevant from the late 80’s to the mid-nineties, giving Van Halen four number one albums and numerous hit singles.
But all good things must come to an end and Sammy Hagar left or was fired, from Van Halen, bringing us to the next phase…
Gary Cherone Era (1996-1998)
Former Extreme lead vocalist takes over in the third incarnation of the band. Eddie Van Halen wanted to really try new lyrical and sonic approaches to their songs. For some reason or another it just didn’t work, making the album with Cherone the poorest performing Van Halen album to date.
Needless to say, Gary Cherone was dismissed after one album. Perhaps with two or three stronger rock songs this album might have performed better.
WTF Era (1999-2007)
Both David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar had brief reunions with VH after the Cherone era. Most fans were not sure as to what was really going. In 1996 Roth recorded two new songs for a greatest hits record but nothing more came out of that.
In 2004 Sammy Hagar returned to Van Halen and recorded three new songs for another greatest hits package and tour dates. Tensions mounted again while on tour and Sammy was gone again.
Then in 2007 with Van Halen’s induction to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, rumours ran ramped of David Lee Roth’s return to the fold. The rumour was confirmed with one minor change, bassist Michael Anthony was replaced by Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang.
The debate has been going on for years as to which incarnation of Van Halen is the best? My answer: why choose, just enjoy the songs.
So here, in my opinion are some of the best albums from all eras of Van Halen. Please do send me your list, I really would like to see it.
Van Halen (1978) – The album that started it all. With stellar tracks like, Runnin’ With the Devil, Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love and a great cover of the Kinks’, You Really Got Me, made this a must have for all rock fans. And who could forget Eruption….it made Eddie Van Halen a guitar god.
Van Halen II (1979) – At first glance their second album seems like a carbon copy of their debut album however due to the monstrous success of Van Halen their confidence shows through more.
Women and Children First (1980) – Their third album where Eddie and the boys sound a little heavier and slightly darker than their first two party albums.
Fair Warning (1981) – Not sure as to why but this album seems to get overlooked, maybe because it lacks the fun element of their first three albums. Although a dark and gloomy album, it is still a solid piece of work.
1984 (1984) – Everybody got worried when VH incorporated synthesizers into their sound but once the dust settled, all that was left standing was a great album….maybe their best.
A Different Kind of Truth (2012) – David Lee Roth returns to VH after 28 years and delivers the album that VH fans were hoping for.
5150 (1986) – The first album with new vocalist Sammy Hagar. He replaced David Lee Roth’s animal magnetism with his own more disciplined approach to singing and song writing.
OU812 (1988) – The second album with Hagar on lead vocals. This album is a little more diverse then your traditional VH album and that’s not a bad thing.
For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991) – This is simply the heaviest “rock” album with Hagar.