There are some questions in life which will never have a definitive answer, but will continue to inspire passionate feelings in those who debate them until the end of time. Which came first – the chicken or the egg? What is the meaning of life? Tastes great or less filling? And, of course, the most important, burning question of all…
Today marks the release of “A Different Kind of Truth,” the Van Halen album some have undoubtedly been waiting for since David Lee Roth sang the final notes of “House of Pain” on the band’s landmark “1984” project. Granted, Diamond Dave did come back for a couple of cuts on the group’s “Best of Volume 1” project (Curiously, no “Volume 2” has ever appeared…), but true fans would never be content with two throwaway tunes at the end of a greatest hits disc. They wanted their man back behind the mic, throwing roundhouse kicks and rocking a long-coat decked out with enough sequins to make Michael Jackson jealous.
Well, anyone who saw clips from the group’s pre-release concert at New York’s Cafe Wha? had to be a little disappointed with the attire, as Roth chose to ditch the sparkly pants and don some kind of Mr. Conductor outfit (Plus, the new album cover has a picture of a train on it. Has someone been watching too much “Thomas the Tank Engine” these days?). What he did bring back were the old hits – “Panama,” “You Really Got Me,” and “Jump,” just to name a few. They did debut one song from the new album – “She’s The Woman” – but that was actually an unrecorded, old song which had been reworked for the new record.
At one point in my life, I owned every Van Halen album that had ever been released. In fact, the only ones I never owned were the aforementioned “Best of Volume 1,” “III,” “Live: Right Here Right Now,” and “Best of Both Worlds,” which was actually just another greatest hits package. In the iTunes age, though, I’ve got at least one song from all of those projects in my possession now (Yes, even a song from “III,” which was the album that should’ve had a picture of a train on the cover – a train going over a cliff, that is.). I probably won’t buy the new album, but I’ll more than likely give it a listen on Spotify. I’ve been summarily unimpressed with any of the clips I’ve heard, but who knows? I may even download a track or two.
While many Van Halen fans could never get past 1984 (or ’85 or ’86 or whenever it was Roth left the band), however, I could never forget my junior year of high school. I had a friend who was (and still is) a fantastic piano player. He was also in the high school band, and he somehow wound up with this big, woofy, 15-inch speaker in his room. Of course, he immediately hooked it up to his stereo and proceeded to play anything he could get his hands on through it as loudly as was permissible, depending on the time of day. One day he started pumping “5150” (the song, not the album – although it was on the album, so I don’t guess it matters) through this thing, and I was gone.
That’s right, folks – I am a Van Hagar kind of guy.
I certainly don’t hate the David Lee Roth stuff. In fact, one of the first cassettes I ever remember buying was “1984” (Strangely, that purchase was coupled with Lionel Richie’s “Can’t Slow Down.” Apparently, my eclectic musical tastes were formed at a young age.). While I was a fan of Van Halen during the Roth days, though, I was a fanatic during the Sammy Hagar run, which was an odd thing since, outside of “I Can’t Drive 55,” I was never a big fan of the Red Rocker. Something about the combination of Eddie Van Halen and Sammy Hagar just clicked with me that day at my friend’s house, and I’ve never been able to let go of it.
With Roth’s return and the new album a reality now, I’ve tried to analyze just what it was about those Hagar albums that made me such a fan of the group. I think I can boil it down to one word – seriousness. Van Halen did some great work with Roth, but it never seemed to move beyond party music. Granted, there are some notable exceptions, such as “Mean Street,” but the Roth songs always seemed more about the performance than the song. Dave never sang all that well, and his range was fairly limited. The songs were more extended jams than crafted compositions.
With Hagar, on the other hand, it was like Eddie Van Halen finally found the instrument he needed to shape the rock/pop vision he had always envisioned. There’s no way Roth could pull off songs like “When It’s Love” or “Don’t Tell Me (What Love Can Do).” With Hagar, the band seemed to making music. I think this is probably why a lot of people don’t like the albums they did with Sammy. If you were a fan of “Light Up the Sky,” you probably hated “Can’t Stop Loving You.” Van Halen became more pop-oriented, but they also began making the arrangements a little more complex, the registers a little higher.
I’m definitely not saying Hagar was some kind of genius. I mean, this is the guy who wrote “Amsterdam,” for crying out loud. I always thought the lyric about aliens in “Love Walks In” was a neat metaphor until I heard Hagar say he was literally singing about aliens there. Sammy’s a hippy dude, though. Anyone with their own brand of tequila can’t be taken entirely seriously. His vocal talents, though, and arranging skills were a perfect mesh with the explosive six-string mastery of Eddie Van Halen. I hope they can come together again one day.
So, while Hagar is writing stupid lyrics but still sounding pretty spry with Chickenfoot these days, Dave returns to Van Halen, barking out lyrics to songs that were originally written over 20 years ago. I guess time will tell who’s heading in the right direction. In the meantime, we can all sit back, take a deep breath, and carry this debate on into eternity…