Which Songs Have Van Halen Played the Most in Concert?

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May 22, 2020 at 9:26 am Quote #61845

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Which Songs Have Van Halen Played the Most in Concert?
Matthew Wilkening
May 21, 2020

Counting down the songs Van Halen has played the most in concert offers an interesting perspective on the band’s two distinct main eras.

Songs from the band’s early years with original singer David Lee Roth dominate the ranking. But Sammy Hagar earns more spots than you might expect, sometimes even with songs that come from his solo career. Even Gary Cherone’s brief time in the band affected how high certain songs wind up on the chart.

Seventeen of the 25 songs Van Halen have performed most frequently are taken from the six albums they recorded with Roth between 1978 and 1984, including 14 originals and three covers. Another five come from the four records they released with Hagar over the next 10 years; three more were drawn from Hagar’s solo career.

Unsurprisingly, nothing from 1998′s Van Halen III, the band’s only album with third singer Cherone, made the list. But the 86 shows he played with the band add an extra and occasionally unexpected boost to the totals for several Roth- and Hagar-era songs. Set lists from the Hagar years had even more impact on the fate of several Roth songs. You’d expect Van Halen’s lone No. 1 single “Jump” to be the most played song from the band’s 1984 album, but Hagar’s early and continued support of “Panama” flips that race on its head.

The song counts are courtesy of Setlist.fm and represent Van Halen’s live appearances through their 2015 North American tour. Guitar, bass and drum solos are not included in the ranking unless they boast an actual song title.

25. “I Can’t Drive 55″ (304)
Sammy Hagar’s career-defining anthem “I Can’t Drive 55″ was barely a year old when he joined Van Halen. The song’s momentum and popularity could not be denied, so Van Halen kept it in their set lists throughout Hagar’s original decade-long tenure with the group, though it was left behind when he came back for an ill-fated reunion tour in 2004.

24 (Tie). “Little Guitars” (310)
One of only a handful of new original songs on 1982′s hastily assembled ‘Diver Down,’ “Little Guitars” has raced up this chart in the 2000s. The 2007 return of Roth brought the unexpectedly sincere and sweet track back into the show, where it has remained for two of their three new-century tours.

24 (Tie). “Feel Your Love Tonight” (310)
Seven of the 11 songs on Van Halen’s 1978 debut album have earned a spot on this list, and if Eddie Van Halen’s guitar solo “Eruption” was credited as a stand-alone track, that number would be eight. The importance of Michael Anthony’s background vocals are on full display here, as he punctuates every one of Roth’s verses and serves as a near-equal partner on the choruses.

22. “Dreams” (313)
The second single from 1986′s ’5150′ is the first of five songs from the “Van Hagar” era to appear on this list. Depending on your perspective, this is also either the textbook example of a song that could not or would not happened if Roth had remained in the band. Hagar’s fans will contend that Roth could never hit those soaring high notes so smoothly, while Roth’s fans would counter by asking exactly why the world’s greatest hard-rock guitarist wanted to pretend he was the keyboard player in Journey.

21. “Eagles Fly” (328)
In order to break his recording contract and join Van Halen, Hagar had to promise to make one more album for his record label. Because his bandmates already took extended bass, drum and guitar showcases every night, Hagar would instead perform an acoustic version of this song from that farewell album as his solo spotlight.

20. “Bottoms Up!” (331)
Frequently used as the encore number on Van Halen’s 1978 tour, “Bottoms Up!” is one of three songs from ‘Van Halen II’ to make this list. That ties the album in second place alongside ’5150.’ They stand just ahead of “Women and Children First,” “1984″ and “Diver Down,” which each place two songs on this list.

19. “Oh, Pretty Woman” (341)
After releasing four albums in as many years, and touring all over the world practically every second in between, Van Halen wanted a break. So, they agreed to record a stand-alone cover of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” to get their label off their back for a few months. The plan backfired when the song became an unexpected big hit and the label forced the band to quickly assemble a corresponding album. Frustrated by this loss of control, Eddie Van Halen built a recording studio at his house and vowed to fail or succeed with his own material from that point on. This move yielded the band’s next big step forward with the ’1984′ album, but it also kicked off a turf war that contributed to Roth’s departure.

18. “Right Now” (345)
After releasing three increasingly keyboard-heavy albums to close out the ’80s, Van Halen went back to basic hard-rock guitar on 1991′s ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge’ … with one exception. The album’s big hit single was a piano-based anthem, made even more popular by an innovative, text-heavy video. While the group had previously performed the keyboards live on songs like “Jump” and “Love Walks In,” they performed “Right Now” with the help of backing tapes, to allow Eddie Van Halen to focus on his guitar parts.

17. “There’s Only One Way to Rock” (387)
Hagar’s 1982 solo celebration of all things “rawk” earned itself more Van Halen stage time than “I Can’t Drive 55″ by serving as the home for a nightly guitar duel between himself and Eddie Van Halen. You might picture Hagar putting on a Washington Generals jersey before each match, but Van Halen was always quick to praise his bandmate’s playing. “He gets the point across very well,” he said of Hagar in a 1987 ‘Guitar World’ interview. “He’s a soulful player.”

16. “When It’s Love” (388)
The only entry on this list from 1988′s ‘OU812′ may also be Van Halen’s most traditional power ballad, right down to the ending “nah nah nah”s. It was the second biggest chart hit of the “Van Hagar” era, receiving an extra boost on this list by being performed nightly on the band’s only tour with their third singer, Gary Cherone.

15. “On Fire” (404)
It’s not accurate to say vocals are incidental on the closing track from ‘Van Halen,’ but it’s fair to say they’re mostly along for the ride. The song exists primarily as a showcase for Eddie Van Halen’s arsenal of guitar tricks. It was used as the opening number for the group’s 180-show tour in support of the debut album and remained in the set list throughout David Lee Roth’s original tenure in Van Halen.

14. “Best of Both Worlds” (428)
This song was the emotional and creative centerpiece of Van Halen’s first album with Sammy Hagar and was accordingly performed on every one of this lineup’s tours, except for the 1995 run in support of what would become the breakup album, ‘Balance.’

13. “Romeo Delight” (483)
“He saws his guitars in pieces and glues them back together and gets these strange sounds out of them,” David Lee Roth said of Eddie Van Halen’s creative methods in a 1980 interview with ‘Rock Stars’ magazine. “Romeo Delight” sounds like the result of one particularly inspired round of experiments and served as the band’s opening number on both the 1980 World Invasion and 1982-83 Hide Your Sheep tours.

12. “Somebody Get Me a Doctor” (555)
Van Halen built a wealth of original material during their years of performing in Los Angeles clubs before securing a record deal. “Somebody Get Me a Doctor” appeared on both the 1976 demo they recorded with assistance from Gene Simmons and the 25-song tape they made with producer Ted Templeman. Before the song appeared on ‘Van Halen II,’ the group would occasionally preview it for audiences on the 10-month world tour mounted in support of the 1978 debut LP.

11. “Everybody Wants Some!!” (571)
After burning through the best of their backlog of original songs on their first two albums, Van Halen proved they could also turn around new material quickly, releasing ‘Women and Children First’ just five months after their 1979 tour ended. This song’s tribal-drum introduction and spoken interludes made it a live favorite. Hagar and Cherone never went near it, but it’s been featured on every tour with Roth, including the three they’ve taken since his return in 2007.

10. “Why Can’t This Be Love?” (585)
This was the first Sammy Hagar-fronted song Van Halen shared with the world. It was a resounding hit, peaking at No. 3, below only “Jump” in the band’s singles chart history. They’ve played it on every tour with Hagar, as well as on their 1998 shows with Cherone. Roth has never performed a “Van Hagar” song live with Van Halen, though in the group’s early days, it covered “Make It Last’ by the Hagar-fronted Montrose.

9. “Ice Cream Man” (604)
After “Ice Cream Man” appeared on their debut album, Van Halen’s cover of Chicago blues guitarist John Brim’s song has become one of the most dependable parts of any Roth-fronted show. Like Hagar’s “Eagles Fly,” it serves as Diamond Dave’s solo showcase each night. Roth plays acoustic guitar and tells stories over an extended version of the song’s opening section before being joined by his bandmates for the electric finale.

8. “Dance the Night Away” (606)
The only song written in the studio for ‘Van Halen II’ became the band’s first Top 20 hit. It stayed in their set list until being dropped for the 1984 tour, reemerged with Cherone in 1998 and returned for all reunion tours with Roth.

7. “Jamie’s Cryin’” (612)
Long before it was sampled for Tone Loc’s 1989 mega-hit “Wild Thing,” “Jamie’s Cryin’” was one of Van Halen’s most popular songs, appearing on their debut LP and on the tours in support of the band’s next five albums. It vanished during the Hagar and Cherone years but returned for two of the reunion treks with Roth.

6. “Unchained” (679)
Many of the songs on this list got a four-tour head start. Still, the most popular live cut from 1981′s ‘Fair Warning’ has made some serious gains. In addition to appearing at every Roth-fronted show since its debut, it was featured as the opening song on the Cherone-fronted III tour. Even Hagar sang a version on Van Halen’s 80-date 2004 summer tour.

5. “Jump” (680)
Hagar tried to avoid singing his predecessor’s biggest hit on his first tour with Van Halen. After he spent early shows on the 5150 run recruiting audience members to take lead vocals on “Jump” for him, the band dropped the song from its set. Hagar handled the singing when the band brought the song back for 1991′s ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge Tour,’ and it hasn’t left their shows since.

4. “Runnin’ With the Devil” (816)
In addition to being a staple at each Roth show, the opening track from Van Halen’s debut album got some stage time during the Hagar years: He sang it on the OU812 and 2004 runs. On the latter tour, bassist Michael Anthony would sometimes take over lead-vocal duties. Even after leaving Van Halen, Hagar and Anthony have occasionally performed the song together at Hagar’s solo shows.

3. “Panama” (860)
Like “Jump” before it, ’1984”s “Panama” overcame a relatively late start by earning unanimous support from all three Van Halen singers. Hagar started performing it at his first show with the band, though, as far as we know, neither he nor Cherone ever swung across the stage with a boombox in his hand while doing so.

1 (Tie). “You Really Got Me” (1224)
Although Eddie Van Halen told ‘Guitar World’ “it bummed me out” that his label chose a cover as Van Halen’s first-ever single, the group certainly didn’t hold anything against the Kinks classic when it came time to perform the song live. It has appeared on every Roth and Hagar tour, serving as the opening number on the band’s 2007-08 reunion shows with Roth.

1 (Tie). “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” (1224)
One of only two Roth-era originals (along with “Panama”) that earned a permanent spot onstage in both the early Hagar years and on the Cherone tour, “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” is described by longtime producer Ted Templeman as “the perfect rock song, in a way. The guitar part is timeless. You can’t get a better riff, Roth’s lyrics about disease and standing on the edge are so good.” Hagar would live on the edge during performances of the song on the 5150 tour, singing it while dangling high above the crowd on the scaffolding above the stage, as seen in the ‘Live Without a Net’ home video.


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