Speaking with Rock Royalty
written by Michael Oshust
Van Halen is known for its energetic live shows and the guitar playing of Eddie Van Halen. The band started with Edward Van Halen, Eddie’s brother, drummer Alex Van Halen, vocalist David Lee Roth, and bassist Michael Anthony.
The recording of their debut album began in October 1977 and lasted only three weeks, with most of the songs recorded live. Michael Anthony said, “We didn’t have a ton of material, so we basically just took our live show and all the songs we knew and went for it. The whole album took a couple of weeks. Ted Templeman wanted to make a big, powerful guitar record, and he had all he needed in what Eddie was doing.” The first single was “You Really Got Me” which was a remake of The Kinks hit. The album charted at No.19 on the Billboard Charts in 1978.
Van Halen went back into the studio less than a year after the release of their debut album and recorded Van Halen II. Recording of the album began in December 1978 and completed within a week. Van Halen II peaked at number 6 on the Billboard 200 charts, and the album produced three singles - “Dance the Night Away,” “Beautiful Girls,” and “Somebody Get Me a Doctor.”
Women and Children First was released on March 26th, 1980. The album is somewhat different from the band’s first two albums in the way that it features more studio overdubs and less emphasis on backing vocals. The album produced only one single” “And the Cradle Will Rock...” which was No.55 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1980. Reviews for Women and Children First were generally favourable.
Fair Warning was released on April 29th, 1981, and was the band’s slowest-selling album. Reviews for the album were average, “a competent or mildly interesting record that will usually feature at least three worthwhile cuts.” The album produced one of the band’s signature songs, “Unchained.” The album reached No.5 on the US Billboard 200 chart in 1981.
Diver Down released on April 14th, 1982. Five of the twelve songs on the album are covers, and the record executives thought an album had a higher chance of being a “hit record” if the collection was composed of songs that were already successful by other artists. Diver Down was a forgettable album by the band. Eddie stated, “I’d rather have a bomb with one of my own songs than a hit with someone else’s.” The album reached No.3 on the US Billboard 200 chart in 1982.
Van Halen introduced synthesizers on the album 1984, which was released on January 9th, 1984. David Lee Roth and Ted Templeman discouraged Eddie from making keyboards a prominent instrument in the band’s music. Eddie compromised, and 1984 is a mixture of keyboard-heavy songs, and the intense rock for which the group was known for. The album produced four singles, including “Jump”, which was Van Halen’s only number-one single. The album reached No.2 on the US Billboard 200 chart in 1984. During the 1984 tour Roth dominated, as the other band members shrank ever more into the background. At each venue, four limos were lined up, one for each member of Van Halen.
David Lee Roth released Crazy from the Heat in January 1985. It was his debut solo recording, while he was still lead singer for Van Halen, though he parted ways with the band several weeks later and launched a solo career. When David Lee Roth released Crazy from the Heat, there was no official word from Van Halen if he was still the lead singer. Eat 'Em and Smile was the debut full-length album by Roth which was released in July 1986.
5150 is the first of four Van Halen albums to be recorded with Sammy Hagar. Van Halen went to work on the album in November 1985; it would be finished in February 1986, just one month before its release. The album had softer songs, a contrast of the straightforward rock stylings of the Roth era. The album hit No.1 on the Billboard 200 chart in 1986, surpassing the band’s previous album, 1984, which had peaked at No.2.
Van Halen began recording their eighth album OU812 (pronounced “Oh You Ate One Too”) in September 1987 and completed it in April 1988. following the 5150 tour, Eddie had some riffs, and Sammy had some lyrics, so they decided to work on another album. Singles from the album included “When It’s Love,” “Finish What You Started,” and “Black and Blue.” The album reached No.1 on the US Billboard 200 chart in 1984.
For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (also known as FUCK) is the ninth studio album by American hard rock band Van Halen, released in 1991. The album was the return to Van Halen’s guitar-driven rock roots, with most songs being guitar-oriented, and the synth sounds being replaced by pianos. “Right Now” was the biggest single from the album and was later used in Pepsi commercials between 1992 and 1993. The album reached No.1 on the US Billboard 200 chart in 1991.
Balance was the tenth studio album Van Halen released on January 24th, 1995. During recording sessions, there was internal fighting between Sammy Hagar and Eddie and Alex Van Halen. Eddie went on stating, “There had been a variety of conflicts brewing between manager Ray Danniels, Sammy, and the band since I quit drinking on October 2nd, 1994... It got so bad that I actually started drinking again.” The album reached No.1 on the US Billboard 200 chart in 1995.
Van Halen released “The Best Of, Volume 1” amid a lot of tension. The album itself, while not controversial, sparked a great deal of in-band controversy because of the personnel issues surrounding the band at the time. Sammy Hagar Hagar was dissatisfied with the decision to issue a “greatest hits” collection and was instead more inclined to do an entirely new album of new material. The single “Humans Being” is the last recording to feature vocalist Sammy Hagar before his departure from the band in June 1996. The song is featured on the Twister Soundtrack.
Van Halen seeking a new singer, recruited Extreme singer Gary Cherone for their 1998 album Van Halen III. It is the band’s only studio album to feature Gary Cherone, and the last to feature bassist Michael Anthony before he was replaced with Wolfgang Van Halen. Michael Anthony only played bass on “Without You”, “One I Want” & “Fire In The Hole” as Eddie Van Halen recorded bass for the rest of the album. Reception for Van Halen III was mostly mixed to negative. The album reached No.4 on the US Billboard 200 chart in 1998.
Van Halen released their second greatest hits package “The Best of Both Worlds” in July 2004. The double album features material recorded with lead vocalists David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar but omitted Gary Cherone’s tenure with the band. Tensions with the Van Halen brothers continued as Sammy Hagar recorded three new tracks to include on the release, but Michael Anthony did not play bass guitar on any of the three new songs as bass parts were played by Eddie Van Halen. There were problems while negotiating with Roth, which led to the tracklisting on the released album.
A Different Kind of Truth was released by Van Halen on February 7th, 2012. Seven of the album’s 13 songs were re-worked songs that had been demoed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Eddie Van Halen stated, “We’re doing this album for us.” The album was promoted with an arena tour and a live recording in Japan. The album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200.
In April 2015, Eddie Van Halen indicated that the band will "probably hunker down and do a studio record" after their A Different Kind of Truth tour. On September 30, 2019, while promoting an upcoming 2020 solo concert, Roth expressed uncertainty towards the band's future, stating "I think Van Halen is finished."
As of March 2019, Van Halen is 20th on the RIAA list of best-selling artists in the United States; the band has sold 56 million albums in the States.
Since his departure in Van Halen, Hagar has been the voice of Rock and Roll. Hagar has, of course, been doing that for a long time, with his own Waboritas and with bands such as Montrose, Van Halen, Chickenfoot and most recently with The Circle which includes his longtime guitarist Vic Johnson, founding Van Halen bassist and Chickenfoot bandmate Michael Anthony and drummer Jason Bonham. The Circle released “Space Between” in May 2019. Hagar says, “The ten chapters on the Space Between are not just a bunch of new songs grouped together on an album. They were sewn together conceptually for complete mental, emotional and physical experience. The album is really about money, greed, enlightenment and truth.”