Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Van Halen

Van Halen was my first favorite group.

People who knew me growing up probably will argue that they were preceded by The Beatles and not exactly be wrong.

But The Beatles were always around. My parents and aunts and uncles all had Beatles records. They were everywhere and so it's more like the world chose them.

Van Halen was the first band I heard on the radio and thought, "Yeah, these guys are awesome!" And while now, time and age having come, I've long since joined the world in its preference, I must admit to a certain special affection.

As such, it was with some interest that I read Everybody Wants Some: The Van Halen Saga by Ian Christe, although I'm not entirely sure how much I gained outside mere entertainment value.

It did get me to examine in my mind, the event. The 1985 split up.

I have to note and emphasize. I was 14. I had a wall in my bedroom dedicated to Van Halen posters. But it was all about Eddie Van Halen. There was no question in my mind where my loyaty lay.

Sammy Hagar? No strong opinion. His stuff can be solid. Sure. I mean, isn't that almost his lot, rock utility player. Talented enough. Catchy enough songs. But it seemed like it could work. Didn't it? Not without skepticism, but the important part was that Eddie was at the guitar, right?

Who was David Lee Roth? Just the loudmouth singer, right? He'd do something like his barely amusing Crazy From the Heat EP and descend further into self-parody.

But then he grabbed up Steve Vai and Billy Sheehan and recorded Eat 'em and Smile. The, wholly justified, cultural dismissal of the music of the 1980s...

(and here you must realize that I'm in not disregarding, but including "'80s Radio" stations as a major part of that dismissal, limiting themselves, as they do, to songs that specifically play to the most banal and overproduced sound that the public, rightly, associates with the music of the 1980s, as a part, a major part even, of that dismissal)

... has left that as one of the albums left in the dust, but at the time, it certainly kicked ass. It was certainly more what I, as a Van Halen fan, wanted to hear than 5150 was.

Why didn't the Sammy version work?

I've been trying to listen to Live: Right Here, Right Now. I thought perhaps without the bizarre and awkward overproduction that they always seemed to do to Sammy's voice and perhaps some energy that I'd get it. But I'm not sure I get why.

My best guess is that the band never really gelled. They tried to create a kind of medium rock thing that certainly grabbed a group of the mainstream with banal hits like "Right Now" and "Why Can't This Be Love?", but those don't add up to a "sound", do they? And when the band tries to really let loose, they go back to the formula created to back David Lee Roth, and that never quite works. They end up as a Frankenstein monster band.

But then, in the end, my loyalty does remain with Eddie, even after all the time of poor albums. Honestly, I've at least listened to all the late-era Van Halen albums. I can't say that about Dave. I don't think I even got around to listening to Skyscraper all the way through, but I have listened to Van Halen III, with world class dumbass Gary Cherone as the third official vocalist, all the way through.

If Sammy seemed like a hack, I guess, get someone even hackier. Not even a hint of talent there, but oddly... perhaps for that very reason... I'd almost like to go back to that one one day. Perhaps with a less willful, and successful, vocalist, one could come closer to gleaning what an Eddie Van Halen solo album might have sounded like.

Obviously, not completely. Once again, the temptation to be the classic L.A. Party band of the past and the continuing stadium rock heroes is just too big. There remains no newly defined sound and too much leaks in that was clearly developed around Dave's vocal stylings. No matter how hard anyone tries, every version has suffered that comparison, and not just because it's better or first, but simply the band themselves never quite move on to create a new band, a new group of four.

But then I suppose that's why I never quite cottoned to this last tour. A reunion tour with Wolfgang Van Halen replacing original bassist Michael Anthony is no reunion. Hell, he may be as good or better a bassist. He may be a better companion for the band. But on a tour that served no purpose other than a reunion, it somehow didn't feel right.

Of course, if my life hadn't been utter chaos and poverty, I might have been coerced into making an exception. Here, literally what I missed...

Such is life, I suppose.

Evidence suggests things may be going well for the newly reunited/formed grouping, and I wish them well. I hope they record a kick ass new album and that I get a chance to see them blow the house down on their next tour... 20-however many years after spending a week pouting and screaming because I wan't allowed to see them.

But my advice, such as it is, to everyone involved, if this doesn't work out, give up Van Halen. Create something new. Solo stuff. A strange new band. If it's still Eddie, Alex and Wolfgang, just be The Van Halen Family Players and develop your own new sound. That's not to suggest that pulling "Romeo Delight" when you play live...

But create something new and original. If you need, start with darker edges of your existing sound, but preferably just go crazy. Jam a lot, see where it goes.


Jonathan Lapper said...

A Van Halen post. Thanks for breaking the ice. When I was a youngin' I wore out the cassette (yes, cassette) of their debut album. I couldn't get enough of the "Eruption" lead in into "You Really Got Me." In fact, they were the group that introduced me to the Kinks.

By the time Sammy took over I had left them anyway so I didn't really care but I still have an affection for that debut. I even upgraded to the CD years later. But then that's me. I spend all my time Running with the Devil.

Neil Sarver said...

Thanks for your comments. Their first album is indeed an easy one to wear out. For what its worth, I actually did have an 8-track, although it was already a moot point by then and a backup copy, because my dad had (most likely has) an undying love for 8-track and held on to having and buying 8-track systems as long as second-hand stores and flea markets carried any sort of quantity of them.

As it goes, I'm kind of overflowing with thoughts for this post, so I'll probably be back just for some kind of addendum thoughts, if anyone cares to watch this space...

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