Simply put, Van Halen is one of the greatest American rock groups of all time. Built on Eddie Van Halen's powerhouse guitar abilities, Alex Van Halen's show-stopping drumming, Michael Anthony's expert bass lines, and the vocal talents of David Lee Roth and later, Sammy Hagar, Van Halen raised the bar for every hard rock band that followed. From the early 1980's to the late 90's, it was understood that nobody rocked harder than Van Halen.

Dutch-born brothers Edward and Alex Van Halen immigrated to Pasadena, California in 1967. The sons of a bandleader, Eddie showed phenomenal talent with the guitar, while Alex's instrument of choice was the drums. The duo formed Mammoth, a hard rock group, in the early 1970's. Mammoth's lineup solidified with the addition of vocalist David Lee Roth, then singing for the local band Redball Jet, and bassist Michael Anthony, who was a member of the metal group Snake. In 1974, while playing West Coast clubs and searching for a record deal, the band learned that another music group already owned the rights to the name Mammoth. The artists formerly known as Mammoth scrambled for a new name, and finally settled on Van Halen at Roth's insistence.

In 1977, Van Halen attracted the attention of KISS front man Gene Simmons. Simmons bought studio time for the recording of a 25-song Van Halen demo tape, the strength of which eventually got the group signed to Warner Brothers. While several of the songs on the demo later came to light on Van Halen albums, many others faded into obscurity. These demos have never been released to the public, although an alleged track listing has made the rounds on the internet.

The group's aptly titled debut, Van Halen, was released in 1978 to rave reviews. Word was out about the group and their fun, pop-tinged brand of hard rock, and the album's sales soared. The follow-up, 1979's Van Halen II, gave the band its first Top 20 radio hit with "Dance the Night Away" and eventually went platinum several times over. With two multi-platinum albums and a dedicated following under its belt, Van Halen closed out the decade as headliners on a massive world tour.

The 1980's were a great time for Van Halen. Women and Children First was released in 1980 and was another huge hit, despite having no charting singles. Fair Warning, featuring the concert staple "Unchained", was issued the following year. Fair Warning received a more tepid critical reaction than any previous Van Halen effort, but still sold in high numbers. 1982's Diver Down, while often considered the original group's weakest release, still sold millions of copies and produced a radio hit with an excellent cover of Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman". In addition to brisk record sales, Van Halen made a name for themselves with a frantic live show that drew tremendous crowds at every stop. By 1983, Van Halen was one of the top rock acts in the world, but superstardom still evaded the quartet. All that changed with one year and one record: 1984.

Debuting on December 31st, 1983, 1984 was Van Halen's most experimental album to date. Although the basic style of catchy, guitar-based rock hadn't changed, the album broke new ground with Eddie's heavy use of synthesizers. 1984 was a runaway success for the group, giving them a number one radio hit with "Jump", while the singles "Hot for Teacher" and "Panama" broke into the Top 15. The record sold 4 million copies within a year of its release and the videos accompanying the album made Van Halen the darlings of MTV. It was now official: Van Halen was the band of the 1980's.

Despite their continued good fortune, tension began building between "Diamond" David Lee Roth and the other members of the band. During the supporting tour for 1984, the band members were physically separated on stage, hinting at the problems below the surface. Roth was unhappy with the band's increased reliance on synthesizers and was upset when Eddie played guitar on Michael Jackson's "Beat It". Eddie, on the other hand, was sick of Roth's antics, both on and offstage. In 1985, Roth recorded a successful solo record, giving strength to rumors that the vocalist had parted ways with his band mates. Although the rumors proved to be false, Diamond Dave was finally ousted from the group after he hesitated to record the follow-up to 1984.

When it was released, Van Halen's debut album drew comparisons to Montrose, a 1970's rock group fronted by a young Sammy Hagar. Fittingly enough, the band announced in 1985 that Hagar had been selected to replace Roth.

5150, the first album from the new lineup, was released in 1986 and outperformed 1984 in some respects. 5150 was the band's first album to debut at number 1, and featured the hits "Dreams", "Why Can't This Be Love", and "Love Walks In". The album was almost universally applauded by fans and critics alike, proving that the new "Van Hagar" could go on without Roth's showmanship. 1987's Live: Without a Net, a typically festive live set filmed in New Haven, Connecticut, was Van Halen's first video release. Also in 1987, Eddie (sans the rest of the group) was the musical guest on "Saturday Night Live", playing instrumental pieces alongside G.E. Smith and the Saturday Night Live Band. OU812 came out in 1988 to an even warmer reception than its predecessor, with "When It's Love" and "Finish What Ya Started" becoming the album's trademark tunes. Winding up the 1980's on a high note, Van Halen carried their reputation and high sales into the next decade.

The 1990's showed promise for the hottest band of the 1980's. Despite raising a few eyebrows with the mischievous acronym that its title made, 1991's For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge was another strong showing and gave Van Halen their third consecutive number 1 album. The album also scored the group their first Grammy. Live: Right Here, Right Now was released as a video in 1992; the double-length soundtrack album followed in 1993. This double album was another triumph and was the group's first live record. The popularity of 1995's Balance restored Van Halen to the top of the sales charts and proved that they, unlike most of their '80's colleagues, had not been outmoded by the rise of grunge and indie rock.

In 1996, The Best of Van Halen, Vol. 1 debuted atop the Billboard chart, a rarity for a greatest hits album. Despite the success of the latest album, the relationship between Hagar and Eddie began to decay. Hagar was unhappy with the release of the greatest hits compilation, and was further enraged when two new tracks recorded for it featured vocals from David Lee Roth. The tensions between Hagar and the rest of the group came to a head in late 1996 when Hagar parted ways with his band mates of 10 years. (According to Eddie, Hagar was fired, while Hagar maintains that he left under his own volition.) For the second time in its life, the Van Halen juggernaut was without a lead singer.

Soon after Hagar's messy departure, the band announced that Gary Cherone, lead singer of 80's Van Halen clone Extreme, would take over the vocal duties on the group's next album. Fans and critics were kept waiting for two years before the third incarnation of Van Halen made its recording debut.

1998's Van Halen III was a critical and (relative) commercial failure. Despite entering the charts at number 4, sales of the album quickly plummeted and Van Halen III remains the band's only album that has failed to go platinum. The album's poor sales, coupled with the paltry attendance on the accompanying world tour, were caused in part by the public's rejection of Gary Cherone as Van Halen's lead singer. Despite having a voice that was very similar to Sammy Hagar's, Cherone simply failed to connect with the band's fans. Realizing this, Van Halen gave Cherone the boot in 1999.

The first years of the 21st century were not kind to the three remaining members of Van Halen or their loyal fan base. In the summer of 2000, the three core members of Van Halen briefly rejoined David Lee Roth in the studio. The reunion resulted in several new songs, the nature and titles of which are still unknown. Despite the fact that Roth went public with this information in early 2001, Eddie himself said that the songs were never intended for release. Shortly thereafter, Eddie reported that he had been diagnosed with a highly-treatable form of tongue cancer. Despite being a life-long smoker, Eddie's recovery was remarkably fast. With the search for a new vocalist going nowhere and no new album on the horizon, Warner Brothers dumped Van Halen in 2002.

Aside from being released from their contract, things were mostly quiet in the Van Halen camp from the end of 2001 to 2004. During the band's hiatus, Eddie insisted that the labeless Van Halen had not stopped searching for a lead singer, and rumors persisted that either Roth or Hagar would front a reunion tour. Michael Anthony lent his talent to successful tours of David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar, both of whom included Van Halen songs in their repertoire. If Eddie's claims were to be believed, the three remaining members of Van Halen wrote several albums worth of new material during this time. Although unsubstantiated, this claim gave many fans renewed hope that the band would somehow rise from the ashes.

In March of 2004, Van Halen shocked the world by coming out of retirement and announcing that Sammy Hagar had returned to the fold. The group's summer reunion tour coincided with the release of The Best of Both Worlds, a 2-disc greatest hits collection that sold over a million copies within three months of its release. In addition to compiling the best songs of Van Halen's career, the record featured three new songs recorded with Sammy Hagar. Van Halen's 2004 North American tour sold out major venues all over the country and testified to the group's enduring popularity. Van Halen was back in a big way, although the band remained mostly quiet about the prospect of a new album.

To say that Van Halen reshaped the face of modern rock is an understatement. The standards for any type of guitar-oriented rock were raised single-handedly by Eddie Van Halen, and every act that followed in the band's wake placed emphasis on lengthy and technically challenging guitar solos. In many ways, Van Halen's debut instigated a rebirth of the rock genre; over 25 years later, many music critics still see the success of Van Halen as one of the final nails in the disco era's coffin. The band's back catalog remains a treasure trove of hard rock gems, and a devoted fan base promises that any new output will sell well. As they pass their 30th anniversary of existence, only time will tell what the future holds for one of the greatest rock bands the world has ever known.


The Complete Van Halen Discography and Videography, with year of release and certified sales to date

Van Halen...1978...10 million
Van Halen II...1979...5 million
Women and Children First...1980...3 million
Fair Warning...1981...2 million
Diver Down...1982...4 million
1984...1983..10 million
5150...1986...6 million
Live: Without a Net...1987
OU812...1988...4 million
For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge...1991...3 million
Live: Right Here, Right Now (video)...1992
Live: Right Here, Right Now (album)...1993...2 million
Balance...1995...3 million
The Best of Van Halen, Vol. 1...1996....3 million
Video Hits, Vol. 1...1996
Van Halen III...1998...500,000
The Best of Both Worlds...2004...1 million


Sources:
Album sales info: www.van-halen.com/newsite/music.html
Various info: www.allmusic.com, www.music.lycos.com
Special thanks to my best friend Matthew for insisting that I listen to "Eruption" one day in the summer of 1998. I was never the same.

I bought Van Halen I
It was the best damn record I ever owned
TG&Y, 1978

Two-hand tapping guitar technique
Really got me off
Eruption, yeah
Ain't talkin' 'bout love
I'm on fire

Tomorrow may come
Tomorrow may never come again
Can't you hear
Jamie cryin'?
She's
runnin' with the devil
Oh lord, oh lord

I bought
Women and Children First
Fair Warning
And
Van Halen II
Dance the night away

1984, my favorite record, yeah, I wore it down
Might as well jump (x 2)

Tomorrow may come
Tomorrow may never come again
Can't you hear Jamie cryin'?
She's runnin' with the devil
Oh lord, oh lord


Is this what you wanted,
Sammy Hagar?
Sammy Hagar, is this what you wanted, man?
Dave lost his hairline,
But you lost your cool, buddy
Can't drive 55
I'll never buy your lousy records again
Again (x 2)
Never again (x 13)
No, no, no!


Tomorrow may come
Tomorrow may never come again
Can't you hear Jamie cryin'?
She's runnin' with the devil
Oh lord, oh lord


Jump (x 7)
Might as well jump
Jump (x 6)
Might as well jump


"Van Halen" is a 1996 single by Nerf Herder, taken from their self titled, debut album. The song ostensibly describes both the band's initial enthusiasm for Van Halen, then their disillusionment after Sammy Hagar was chosen to replace vocalist David Lee Roth. The song not only serves as a tribute to Van Halen's early works, but due to its lyrics, which heavily reference classic Van Halen albums, lyrics, and song titles, is also a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of Van Halen's discography. Furthermore, it is darn catchy! In fact, it's widespread radio circulation managed to secure Nerf Herder their first (and only) major record deal, with Arista Records signing the band and re-releasing their first album.

Yes, before Nerf Herder was known as "that band that did the Buffy theme song", they were known as "that band that did that Van Halen song".

As the song proliferated, Nerf Herder was thrust into the limelight. Parry Gripp, guitarist and vocalist, seemed the natural choice as spokesman for the band. In an Entertainment Weekly article published in November of '96, Parry was given the floor, an opportunity to voice his thoughts and the thoughts of his band mates. Not much surprise then, the article opened with the quote: "Everyone hates Sammy Hagar -- who doesn't?"(1).

Of course, it would require a special kind of person to take Nerf Herder seriously. After all, in "Sorry" (listed two songs prior to "Van Halen" on the album) Parry bemoans the apparent loss of a girlfriend, and, in hopes of reconciliation, serenades: "Sorry I saw you and I heard birds sing / Sorry I touched you and I heard bells ring / Sorry I jacked off outside of your window / While you were sleeping / I thought you'd never know". In concluding the article, Parry added, "We're riding the rock-star train right now''(1).

In response, Sammy Hagar called Parry, Charlie and Steve "faggots"(4). Later, the band asked Hagar to appear in the "Van Halen" music video. He replied, "After your 13th platinum album, sure, I'll be glad to," seemingly advising the fledging band to postpone production until they had enough cred in the music industry to be equally as overblown and pompous(2). On the other hand, word was both Alex and Eddie Van Halen liked the song.

And regardless, Parry and crew were hardly alone in their opinion; Hagar's alleged talent and charm was failing to click with the critical community as well. After catching a Van Halen show, for instance, Joel Selvin of the San Francisco Chronicle remarked bluntly that "(Hagar) kinda fucked up the band, now this is mundane as hell"(3). The Red Rocker, not one to leave a slight unavenged, retaliated by leaking Selvin's personal phone number during the following night's performance. As Selvin recalled: "for weeks afterwards, I got these obscene, profane messages...'Fuck you, you cocksucker,' beep. 'You slimy shit,' beep."

Cut to 1999, three years later. Nerf Herder's mainstream success was waning, and when their attempts at a follow-up album failed to impress the folks at Arista the way "Van Halen" had, they chose to leave the label before the label could leave them. They instead settled in with Honest Don Records, a subsidiary label of Fat Wreck Chords, who would go on to produce Nerf Herder's two subsequent albums, How to Meet Girls and American Cheese. However, while our trio basked in the freedom of an indie label, a spectre still loomed over Sammy Hagar.

May 26th, 1999, the San Francisco Weekly published an article about Hagar by one Jack Boulware, entitled "The Red Menace". While it appears quite flattering (I say 'appears', because at five pages in length, the article exceeds my tolerance for Sammy Hagar nostalgia by four and a half pages), this belated valentine to Hagar's tenacity remains gloriously germane, if but for a moment, to our topic. With about as much sport as sixteenth century bear-baiting, the subject of "Van Halen" is broached; Boulware writes that Hagar first sat up in his chair, "chewing his gum more furiously", then fired off the following:

What dumb-ass fuckers would come up from nowhere and make fun of one of the biggest bands in the world? And to sit there and fuckin' make fun of them, or make fun of Sammy Hagar, 'I Can't Drive 55,' Number 1 records and stuff -- uh uh. That ain't the way to make a livin'. Especially, here you are, tryin' to be in the same business. These fuckers! What'd they expect me to do? How in the fuck do they expect to make it by makin' fun of somebody that everyone loves? It's silly to me.(3)

As for Parry Gripp, the loyal opposition? "He actually referred to us as 'fuckers,'" Parry recollects. "That's a pretty cool thing. But I don't remember feeling really bad about it. I don't think Sammy Hagar sucks. It was some sort of lame-ass thing that I said. Flippant"(3).


Song Name: "Van Halen"
Artist: Nerf Herder - Parry Gripp (Vocals, Guitar), Charlie Dennis (Bass), & Steve Sherlock (Drums)
Album: Nerf Herder
Release Date: November 26th, 1996
Length: 3:38
Video Link: (10)


Sources

  1. "Why This Can't Be Love: How Hating Sammy Hagar Spawned a Hit" Entertainment Weekly (November 29th, 1996)
  2. "Let the Music Do the Trash Talking" Rolling Stone (August 1st, 1997)
  3. "The Red Menace" by Jack Boulware, the San Francisco Weekly (May 26th, 1999)
  4. "Laughing Matters" by Andrew Miller, the Phoenix New Times (March 18th, 2000)
  5. "11 Fun Facts About Nerf Herder" Chicks With Guns Magazine (May 27th, 2008)
  6. "Van Halen - Nerf Herder" Lyricwiki
  7. "Nerf Herder" Wikipedia
  8. "Nerf Herder (album)" Wikipedia
  9. "Nerf Herder" MySpace
  10. "Nerf Herder - "Van Halen"" Youtube

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