Best of Both Worlds: Van Halen has given us great music with both Sammy and Dave

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June 26, 2015 at 9:27 am Quote #46337


The Dean’s List
Best of Both Worlds: Van Halen has given us great music with both Sammy and Dave
By Dean Pilling, Calgary Sun
First posted: Friday, June 26, 2015 06:00 AM MDT

Van Halen

Last week in entertainment drama, we discovered that (surprise, surprise) Eddie Van Halen doesn’t really get along with David Lee Roth. We also saw the guitarist upset that other former VH lead singer, Sammy Hagar, after making some disparaging comments about Michael Anthony, the group’s former bassist and, as Sammy says, “the greatest f***ing guy on the planet”.

These stories got me thinking about how much great music we may have missed out on due to this bands inability to get along.

But then I quickly came to my senses and realized that this band has given us tons of great music. 12 full-length studio albums worth to be exact. (Although the one with Gary Cherone is questionable).

I guess you can’t really ask for more than that.

So why all the drama? Why do we continually pit the guitarist against the singer(s)?, the old singer against the new singer? or guitarist against bassist even.

Probably because no band in history has ever replaced their frontman at the peak of their success only to go to achieve even greater success. (AC/DC doesn’t count because Bon Scott died and they hired a sound-alike)

I think both singers want to claim their status at the top and the guitarist wants to be known as the one that made it all happen.

Back in 1972, Van Halen was formed by brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen, bassist Michael Anthony and vocalist/rock star extraordinaire David Lee Roth. Together they released 6 studio albums including their most successful ’1984′, which reached #2 on the Billboard charts. The lead single from that album ‘Jump’ was the band’s only #1 single. It was also the last full-length album to feature original frontman David Lee Roth (until their reformation in 2012 for ‘A Different Kind Of Truth’).

In 1986, Van Halen released the album ’5150′ with ex-Montrose frontman Sammy Hagar on vocals thus beginning a new era of softer, keyboard driven songs nicknamed ‘Van Hagar’.

All four Van Halen studio releases with Sammy Hagar (5150, OU812, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge and Balance) reached number 1 on the Billboard charts.

So does that mean that VH is better with Sammy? Well, not so fast…

He’s not called Diamond Dave for no reason. Two Van Halen albums with DLR (‘Van Halen’ and ’1984′) have been certified Diamond status, meaning 10,000,000 (yes, that’s 7 zeros) copies sold. No small feat for sure.

Does that mean that VH is better with Dave?

Who knows.

What I do know is that this band has given us over 40 years of great songs and great live shows and for that I am eternally grateful. I hope that all these stories about the band’s internal battles never cast a shadow over the music that made it all possible.

So, all drama aside, I give you my top 10 Van Halen songs. But to be fair, I’m choosing 5 with David Lee Roth and 5 with Sammy Hagar.


David Lee Roth

5. Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love

This, to me, is the quintessential Van Halen song. It’s got the killer phase 90 guitar intro, a driving bass line, Dave’s trademark breakdown with some stadium ready ‘hey, hey, hey’s’ that you can pound your fists to. Really, what more could you ask for? Released as a single in 1978 from the bands debut album, this song still gets as much airplay today as it did in it’s heyday.

4. And The Cradle Will Rock

The opening track on the ‘Women and Children First’ album, ‘And the Cradle Will Rock’ was Eddie’s first foray into recording keyboards. Although the intro sounds like a guitar, it was actually recorded using a Wurlitzer piano with a phaser effect. The band made bassist Michael Anthony play the keys live so it wouldn’t take away from Eddie’s guitar-god image. I guess the battles started early.

3. I’m The One

Another one from the debut album, ‘I’m the One’ was originally titled “Show Your Love” on the band’s early demos. The uptempo boogie-styled track really showcases Eddie’s intense skills as a lead player and of course had to incorporate some of Dave’s humour with the barbershop quartet inspired breakdown. This song is so good that they re-used a lot of it on ‘Hot For Teacher’.

2. Jump

Go ahead and mock me. I know you will but as I said earlier this is the only Van Halen song to make it to #1 so I can’t be totally wrong putting it on the list. Sure the keys are a little soft but it’s ridiculously catchy right? This song is way heavier than you remember though. The bass punches through the mix like no other. The guitar solo is awesome and the keyboard solo proves that Eddie is more than just a guitar hero. C’mon – give me this one. Just close your eyes, listen and imagine Dave standing with his back against the record machine.

1. Unchained

Easily one of the heaviest Van Halen songs, probably due to the dropped Db tuning, Unchained was released on the 1981 album, ‘Fair Warning’. This is a dark album compared to the other normally jubilant VH albums and ‘Unchained’ is the undeniable highlight. A guitar-driven rock classic, it has all the elements that helped make this band great. From the flanger-soaked guitar riff right down to the pounding drum track, this is as close to an anthem as you’ll get from Van Halen. The breakdown on the song features producer Ted Templeman, presumably having had enough of David Lee Roth’s antics saying, “C’mon Dave, gimme a break”, with DLR responding “One break coming up!”, as the band kicks back into the chorus. Love it.

Sammy Hagar

5. Humans Being

This song was written for the ‘Twister’ movie soundtrack and included on Van Halen’s greatests hits album ‘Best Of… Volume I’. It definitely wasn’t a fan favourite but it did manage to reach #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Rumour has it that the lyrics were written and the vocals recorded with an hour to spare before Sammy boarded a plane (Probably why the verse vocals are buried in the mix). I think that the transition from the aggressive verse into the laid-back chorus is why I like this song. As well, the single note climbing guitar solo is not what you’d expect from a typical EVH lead. Unfortunately, this would be the last Van Halen recording with Sammy Hagar.

4. Top Of The World

One of the more ‘pop’ oriented songs the band has ever done, ‘Top Of The World’ actually takes the outro riff from the classic song ‘Jump’ and re-hashes it for the intro on this song. You can definitely hear a heavy dose of ‘Dance The Night Away’ in here as well. There’s a slight break from the melody on the initial guitar solo where Eddie use a wah to play off Alex’s drum fills but he gets back to into character pretty quickly. This was the only song from ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge’ to break into the Billboard Top 40

3. Judgement Day

From the 1991 album ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge’, this song was a bit of a return to a harder sound for the band. Eddie’s signature guitar sound was changed dramatically after he began using a prototype for what would become his classic Peavey ’5150′ amp – which was released along with the album. A straight up rock song with a catchy chorus, Eddie holds back by chugging along to the groove (although he makes killer use of the whammy bar) until he unleashes into a frenzied two-hand tapping solo that he is so well known for.

2. Best Of Both Worlds

Released as the 4th single from the ’5150′ album, this song peaked at #12 on the billboard chart. Eddie moves seamlessly between distorted and clean guitars creating a tension that basically explodes into the chorus. Sammy sounds as good as he ever has on this song and the rhythm section of Michael and Alex keep things tight so the guitars can shine. ‘Best Of Both Worlds’ is a smart song that put VH fans at ease with the transition to the ‘Van Hagar’ era.

1. 5150

I’m going to be totally up front about this one. This is probably my all-time favourite Van Halen song.

The title track from the band’s first album with Sammy Hagar, ’5150′ is a showcase song for each member of the band.

Eddie spends the first minute of the song mesmerizing us with a wicked arpeggiated riff that only he could pull off. Later in the song he breaks into a guitar solo that made thousands of young guitarists question his status as a human.

Alex plays with amazing precision and all of his drum fills are more memorable than Phil Collins could have ever hoped for. He even manages to throw in some double kick parts that make ‘Hot For Teacher’ look easy.

Bassist Michael Anthony is solid as ever and proves once and for all what a great singer he can be.

This song is Sammy Hagar grabbing the VH emblem and firmly taking hold for himself. Dave who?


As you can see, Van Halen has given us some amazing music with both David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar.

It’s impossible to say which one is better – and we shouldn’t have to – because they are two completely different entities. Both will go down in rock n’ roll history as being great in their own way.

So hopefully we can finally put to rest the battle of Roth vs. Hagar or Eddie vs. Michael and each member can go on playing and recording music with or without each other until they can’t do it any longer.

I look forward to hearing new music – just please, don’t call it Van Halen anymore.


If any of you die-hard VH fans think I’m completely off-base with my list of top songs I’d love to hear from you. I’m always up to talk good music.

You can contact me via the links below.

Twitter: @SUNDeanPilling


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