Van Halen's '5150' Vs. David Lee Roth's 'Eat 'Em and Smile' — Great Rock Debate

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October 24, 2013 at 8:43 am Quote #30373


Van Halen’s ’5150′ Vs. David Lee Roth’s ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile’ — Great Rock Debates
by Ultimate Classic Rock Staff October 23, 2013 4:47 PM

Rock and roll history is rife with intra-band family feuds, but perhaps none received quite as much publicity or caused a bigger fan base rift than Van Halen’s ugly divorce from singer David Lee Roth in 1985. Certainly, this was the battle royal of ’80′s hard rock! After all, no other American band did quite as much as the Roth-fronted Van Halen to set the template later aspired to by future generations of bands. It therefore stands to reason that the debate over which of the first albums released by these warring factions — the Sammy Hagar-fronted Van Halen and hastily assembled David Lee Roth band — is better continues to polarize hard rock fans to this day. We asked two writers to each argue one side of this debate, and here’s what they had to say:

‘Eat ‘Em and Smile’ is Better Than ’5150′
by Eduardo Rivadavia

Here’s the thing you have to understand about this argument: no one — or at least no one who actually cared about Van Halen prior to ‘Jump”s unprecedented crossover into the pop charts — sided with Roth when his departure from the band became official that summer. Between the undoubtedly amusing but unnervingly kitsch cover tunes heard on Roth’s 1985 solo EP, ‘Crazy from the Heat,’ and the singer’s sheer egotistical overexposure, most Van Halen fans (including yours truly) were nearly as fed up with Diamond Dave’s antics as Eddie, Alex and Michael. “Good riddance,” we said!

But when the newly minted “Van Hagar” unveiled their first collaboration, ’5150,’ in March of 1986, its synthesizer-drenched, thoroughly modern contents veered so radically from Van Halen’s beloved old blueprint that diehard fans couldn’t help but question their loyalty. And when the surprisingly formidable David Lee Roth band (complete with a guitar hero of its own in the inimitable Steve Vai), surprised most everyone that July by appealing to that nostalgic VH aesthetic with ‘Eat ‘em and Smile,’ the battle lines were formally drawn.

Sure, ‘Eat ‘em and Smile,’ also boasted a sugary sweet single in ‘Goin’ Crazy!’ (still better than ‘Dreams’!) and another pair of insufferable classic pop covers (‘I’m Easy,’ ‘That’s Life’), but it also packed a wealth of electrifying, athletic rockers in ‘Yankee Rose,’ ‘Shyboy’ and ‘Elephant Gun’ — all of them bursting with the sort of fleet-fingered guitar showboating and larger-than-life personalities Van Halen fans were hungering for. Heck, even the Roth band’s rare true experiments — namely the sultry cult favorite ‘Ladies Nite in Buffalo?’ — fared better than Van Hagar’s wholesale departure into synth-rock (not to mention the pointless avant-garde filler that was ‘Inside’).

So while ‘Eat ‘em and Smile’ is anything but perfect, you have to admit, wherever you stand on the still far-from-settled Roth vs. Hagar debate, that the red-hot parts of ‘Eat ‘em and Smile’ share a lot more in common with ‘Unchained’ than anything found on the calculated, cold and clinical ’5150.’

’5150′ is Better Than ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile’
by Matt Wardlaw

David Lee Roth is never at a loss for words — and he chose them well when taking stock of his vocal arch-nemesis Sammy Hagar’s work in comparison to his own. As the pair were preparing to launch an unlikely co-headlining tour in 2002, Roth quipped, “Sam throws a party. I am the party.”

But which party was better? In 1986, both Van Halen and Roth were at a crucial crossroads as they prepared their first post-breakup releases. Roth appeared to have one clear advantage — he was moving forward with the recognizable multi-platinum voice, which can be a big hole for a band to fill.

But most bands don’t have the luxury of having Eddie Van Halen in their arsenal. Since he was clearly established as one of the genre’s most important guitar players, there was little doubt that there would be interested eyes and ears waiting to hear what he and his bandmates would do next in the recording studio.

No question, the choice of Hagar as Van Halen’s new singer caused more than a few fans to scratch their heads. Remember, this was an era where vocalist swaps weren’t quite as common as today’s practice of finding a clone of your current singer on YouTube. But as Hagar — who had built a formidable resume of work both solo and with Montrose — would prove with his debut on ’5150,’ his presence gave Van Halen the necessary tools to satisfy in a whole new way.

Of course, Van Halen had begun to explore more melodic pastures with the ’1984′ album, bringing keyboards prominently into the mix on songs like ‘I’ll Wait’ and ‘Jump.’ But they were now able to take those ideas even further on ’5150′ with songs like ‘Why Can’t This Be Love’ and ‘Dreams.’ There was even — yikes! — a power balled, ‘Love Walks In.’

Hagar also helped the band to score their first-ever No. 1 album (the first of several) with ’5150.’ Many can lament that Van Halen with Roth was more of a “party” band, but future tequila billionaire Hagar certainly brought his own good times into the mix. Van Hagar concerts often felt like close and personal — okay, maybe drunken — family reunions.

David Lee Roth is the party? Fair enough — but Hagar brought songwriting consistency and more importantly expanded range to Van Halen. Most of ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile’ depended on old tricks to succeed, and sometimes relied too heavily on flash and Roth’s personality instead of substance. As his 1988 follow-up ‘Skyscraper’ proved even more clearly, even if you assemble the absolute best army of players — and Bissonette, Sheehan and Vai certainly fit that description — a strong songwriting chemistry needs to be in place in order to achieve career longevity.

But there’s no need to look ahead. Song for song, ’5150′ is ultimately a better album than ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile.’ Against all odds, lightning struck twice for Van Halen as the combination of Hagar, Eddie and Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony built a collaborative brotherhood that in 1986 felt pretty special. Today, even though that partnership is regrettably long fractured, ’5150′ still holds up.

October 24, 2013 at 1:11 pm Quote #30375


I loved both albums, sure there were crappy songs on both albums but there were also great songs. I guess I give a slight edge to Eat Em And Smile but 5150 is great too … just my opinion.

Which is better album … Skyscraper or OU812?

October 24, 2013 at 3:53 pm Quote #30377


As a huge CVH fan I was super disappointed they broke up and not thrilled with the follow-ups. I like the rockers on both 5150 and Eat ‘Em and Smile, but that’s about it. If I had to pick one, I think I’d go with 5150 due to Best of Both Worlds. I love DLR as much as anyone, but his solo stuff, especially after Skyscraper, is pretty bad imo. In fact, for both bands, I bought their first 2 post-breakup releases, then gave up on them.

I’m really glad they finally got back together!

October 24, 2013 at 5:50 pm Quote #30380


I really wish the drums were real on 5150, but still love the album. I can’t really compare the 2 albums though, I am not a big fan of DLR without VH, although EEAS is a good album.

October 24, 2013 at 7:22 pm Quote #30381


I love both albums. I probably prefer 5150, but EEAS is damn great.

October 24, 2013 at 7:31 pm Quote #30382


5150 does it for me..It has that great summer time feel to it.Brings break great memories.
I still to this day watch LWAN and get pumped from watching it.Eds guitar work and the energy and band love is unmatched.

EDDIE’S fingers aren’t fingers they are muscle-powered pistons that hammer guitar strings to the fretboard with the force of a rivet gun”.

October 25, 2013 at 12:35 am Quote #30384


5150 but the way songs sound live like summer nights,best of both world and 5150 is far superior then on the album.The production is not that great and does not stand the test of time like say Balance,FUCK or the first 6 VH albums.I always thought the production was not great on OU812 either.

I’m also a big fan of the keyboard songs especialy Dreams and love walks in great solos on those also.

I like the Roth Album but 5150 means more too me thats what got me into Van Halen.

October 25, 2013 at 7:01 am Quote #30390


EDDIE’S fingers aren’t fingers they are muscle-powered pistons that hammer guitar strings to the fretboard with the force of a rivet gun”.

October 25, 2013 at 9:15 am Quote #30399


This is where I get jumped on :lol: I actually didn’t like the 5150 and ou812 albums!!! at the time I thought Roth’s new band was fresh and Dave played a blinder getting Sheenan and Vai, the first 3 albums were great and Showtime is one of my all time fave songs guitar wise, smokin’.

I do have to say that my major dislike of 5150 and ou812 is the production and the digital drums. Ed’s tone got hammered into a safe sterile ‘made for radio’ tone imo and what rescued the songs for me was the release of LWAN, that put the raw ‘live’ sound back into those tracks that was sadly missing (although the digi drums were still there!). Fuck brought on a whole new change, way better production and Balance was top notch.

Just my 2p

October 26, 2013 at 11:56 am Quote #30414


5150 has 5150 which I think is an awesome song, Best Of Both Worlds which I like a lot as well as Summer Nights (all great songs) I even like Dreams (as cheesy as it is).

Eat ‘Em and Smile has Yankee Rose, Elephant Gun, Big Trouble and Bump And Grind (all which I love), I even like Goin’ Crazy (as cheesy as it is)

In my opinion both are great albums. In 1986 I thought it was the best of both worlds, a great Dave album and a great Van Halen album.

October 26, 2013 at 10:54 pm Quote #30421


EEAS all the way. It’s funny a few people mentioned the electronic drums on 5150 as a disappointment – and that’s one of the things on EEAS that i love. See – I was disappointed in 1984 (I have since definitely changed my mind). So when DLR came with the new band, I loved it and still do. Still love 5150, but EEAS wins in my book.

October 31, 2013 at 5:43 am Quote #30554


5150 for me as I am not keen on a few of the songs on EEAS but then again some of the tracks were brilliant. Thought 5150 was too short and Inside sucked but 5150 wins. Agree with Nick that Balance was top notch.


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