Somewhere along the way, it became very easy to slag Sammy Hagar. Sure, he ventures too close to Bon Jovi territory for comfort. And sure, the whole "Red Rocker," "VOA" and "Mos Tequilla" thing reeks of corporate marketing and Gene Simmons-type condescension but... taken in the context of the times, minor infractions indeed. What's maybe most offensive about Sammy is how successful and well-adjusted he is. It's just plain annoying that one man can have it all and enjoy it so much. But I digress, allow me to take a moment and give Sammy Hagar some credit where credit is long overdue. At least among my peers. A couple pro Hagar thoughts.
- One record EVERYBODY agrees is amazing is the debut Montrose record. Prog-rockers, metal heads, dandy hipsters and punks can all dig on Bad Motor Scooter and Space Station #5. Guess who sang lead and wrote most the lyrics on that? Our pal Sammy. Ever notice Ronnie Montrose never did anything after Sammy took his talents to mountain biking?
- And if you could afford it, Sammy's booze was life-changing. Hell, I thought gagging and holding your nose was just part of the tequila experience until some folks bought us some Cabo Wabo at a club in Marquette, MI. I remember my first sip like seeing KISS for the first time on the Paul Lynn Halloween special. "Wait a minute, tequila can actually taste good?" ($90 a bottle though)
- Dude could write a mean power-pop hook. Sure, he was dolled up as the Red Rocker, but songs like "I've Done Everything For You," "Two Sides of Love" and "I'll Fall in Love Again" are songs Hall & Oates can only dream of and Nick Lowe surely cranks up with a fat J late at night on occasion. Dig this.. (editor's note: Colin, the next time you mention Nick Lowe and Sammy Hagar in the same breath and/or sentence, sanctions WILL be imposed.)
--- And when, after a decade of struggling to find an audience his career shifted into - ahem - high gear on the strength of "I Can't Drive 55," Sammy left his deal, and took a pay cut to join Van Halen.
Let that sink in for a minute. Sammy Hagar walked away from a platinum record to follow a frontman who was considered impossible to follow. In his excellent memoir, RED, Sammy recounts his label boss David Geffen telling him, "Let me get this straight, you are going to break your contract with me, go from getting paid as a solo artist, selling out arenas, to join a band taking the place of David Lee Roth and getting a 1/4 split of everything?" Sammy also went from 100% of publishing to 25% share in V.H. That might be the literal definition of putting your money where your mouth is. Oh, he also insisted the band keep the name Van Halen even though Diamond Dave had left and there was big pressure for a change to be made.
Sammy said, "I'll give it all up and sign everything away to play in this band. We are that good." David Geffen, for all his faults, deserves credit for basically tearing up Sammy's deal and allowing him to sign with Van Halen and Warner Brothers. Paraphrasing...."I would never stand in the way of an artist who felt that strongly, even though I disagreed. I let him go and asked for one more solo release to complete the deal. I could have held out for a piece of Van Halen, but I didn't."
OK, before all you Diamond Dave followers start barfing at the thought of Sammy taking over, let's take a long hard look at what Van Halen had become by this time.
I know it hurts to say it, but V.H. was running on fumes by 1984. Sure, the band could still rock it live, but between the song Jump and Dave doing his Just a Gigolo and California Girls thing and it was getting kinda lame. And when my little sister put up a smiling Eddie Van Halen poster on her wall, Van Halen were officially NOT COOL. I even traded my copy of 1984 for Steve Miller's Greatest Hits with a kid down the street. Sure, I'd miss Drop Dead Legs, but I could watch Van Halen anytime on MTV and The Stake was kind of groovy.
Doubt me? watch this..
Enter Sammy Hagar the spring before my senior year of high school. I bought my copy of 5150 on both album AND cassette. Why both? Well duh, I had to mow the lawn right when I got home from Buzzard's Nest and I couldn't wait that long to crank up the new tunes. And mind you, at this point in time, earbuds were just a gleam in some future nerd's Dad's eye. I had to CRANK that SONY Walkman past 11 to Pete Townshend headphone levels to hear the music above the noise of our green Lawn Boy. And crank I did. From the first notes of "Good Enough" to the final strains of "Inside," 5150 became the official record of my senior year of high school. If you drove past my Pinto, Summer Nights was coming at you. I wanted the best of both worlds. Whatever those worlds were. Biggie and I even willed 5150 to each other in our senior yearbook. If that's not rock n roll, I don't know what is. Though in full disclosure, despite it's promises, Van Hagar didn't seem to do it for my stalled romantic life. Love never walked in. I only beat out one infield hit to reach "first base" my entire senior year. One goddamn hit. Goes to show a Red Rocker may never be a Gigolo, but as long I had the beer and rock n roll, I could make do without the sex. Though the following Van Hagar records slowly declined in both novelty and quality, I still have a copy of Van Halen 5150 in my 1999 model car today. And yes, it's a cassette. And yes, it's still my favorite Van Halen Record. - Colin G.
Yeah , you heard him, Colin Gawel likes 5150 better than any other Van Halen record. He plays in Watershed and The League Bowlers and founded Pencilstorm while standing behind the counter at Colin's Coffee.
Just because 5150 is my favorite Van Halen record doesn't make it the best Van Halen record. I'm just one dude who liked to crank Get Up cruising to his job at Bill Knapps in high school. If forced to argue the best Van Halen records I suppose I would say:
#1 - Van Halen - Groundbreaking, mind-blowing debut. Musicality smashes head on into showmanship. Like Queen on piles of blow.
#2 - Van Halen II - Proves they are no one hit wonder and Dance the Night Away is a pop gem
#3 - 5150 - Replacing a frontman such as David Lee Roth is a historic achievement and the single Why Can't This Be Love is perhaps the strongest single in the Van Halen catalog.
#4 All the David Lee Roth Van Halen records. Except that new one. And that awful Live in Tokyo disaster. Gawd.
In fact, hold on.... watch this..
In fact, that is so bad, I should have led the story with it. I buried the lead.
#5 All the other Van Hagar records. I like OU812 and Unlawful fine. Some fat, but some good tunes too.
#6 That one where the guy from Loverboy sang. Or was it Don Dokken... whatever.
But forget best. What Van Halen records am I going to play in my driveway today? Right here, right now? I'm writing this on the 4th of July. Yes, I'm a loser but I just read the excellent Van Halen Rising by Greg Renoff and the less excellent but still fun Running With the Devil by Noel Monk and I've got V.H. on my mind. And the driveway will rock. .
I am now going to listen to Van Halen in this order.
5150 and then Van Halen II (light the grill) and then... Diver Down...(put brats on) and then Fair Warning and then Van Halen I (take off burnt brats and throw in the trash, put on more brats) and then that one new song Tattoo and then Hot For Teacher and then Poundcake and the new Cheap Trick record.
Colin Gawel really did write this on the 4th of July. Flag.