This is the ultimate rock debate of the ’80s. David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar. David Lee Roth was a flashy rock star showman, and Sammy Hagar was a more conventional musician.
Van Halen released their debut album Van Halen in 1978. It became one of the most successful debuts in rock history, and featured the hit “Runnin’ With the Devil”, and and the guitar solo “Eruption”. Van Halen II was released, and they had a hit single with the song “Dance the Night Away.”
Women and Children First was released in 1980, and had the hits “And the Cradle Will Rock…” and “Everybody Wants Some!!“. Fair Warning was released in 1981. At that time, tensions were beginning to rise between Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth. Eddie wanted to produce more serious and complex songs, and David had more of a poppy fun style. The only song of note from that album was “Unchained“. The following year, Diver Down was released and performed better. There were a couple of pop remakes that were on the album that contributed to the success – “(Oh) Pretty Woman” and “Dancing in the Street“. “Where Have All the Good Times Gone!” also went to #17 on the mainstream rock charts. Then the band peaked in 1984 with their mega-successful album 1984. “Jump” was the bands first and only #1 pop hit. You couldn’t watch MTV for more than a half hour without seeing it. The first song on the album was a short keyboard instrumental called “1984“, and it led into “Jump”. “I’ll Wait” reached #7 on the mainstream rock charts. “Panama” was another huge success, and another song that got a lot of airplay on MTV. This was followed by the hit “Hot For Teacher.”
Even though 1984 was a very successful album, it brought the band to their breaking point. There were artistic and personal issues. The reason for the breakup was different, depending on who was interviewed. Roth was upset about Eddie playing music outside of Van Halen without checking with the band, as well as alleged drug abuse by Eddie that affected the band’s practice sessions. Eddie was sick of Roth’s flamboyant behavior and stage persona. Meanwhile Roth was developing a successful solo career with his hits “California Girls” and “Just a Gigolo”. On April 1, 1985, Roth left Van Halen.
Eddie invited Patty Smyth of Scandal to replace Roth but she refused. Eddie was then introduced to Sammy Hagar, who just came off of a successful album VOA, which had the huge hit “I Can’t Drive 55.”
In 1986 the band released the hugely successful album 5150 with Sammy as the new lead singer as well as guitar player. 5150 became the band’s first #1 album on the Billboard charts, and had the big hits “Why Can’t This Be Love” (#3 U.S.), “Dreams”, and “Love Walks In”, as well as “Best of Both Worlds”, and the title track “5150”.
Their follow up album was OU812, which produced the hits “When It’s Love”, “Feels So Good”, and “Finish What Ya Started”. The album title was a play on David Lee Roth’s solo album “Eat ‘Em and Smile.” (OU812 translates to “Oh, you ate one too?”).
The following album in 1991 was For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. I am going to try to keep this blog somewhat clean for now, so I won’t spell out the acronym. This album went more to the band’s hard rock roots, and it had some good songs on it such as “Poundcake”, “Runaround”, “The Dream is Over”, “Right Now”, and “Top of the “World”. In 1995, Van Halen released their final studio album with Sammy Hagar – Balance. It did not sell as well as the previous Hagar albums, but it did have the hits “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You”, “Don’t Tell Me (What Love Can Do)”, and “Not Enough”.
Tension was arising between Hagar and Van Halen. They were recording songs for the Twister soundtrack. They recorded the song “Humans Being.” Eddie said that he had to write all the lyrics since Hagar’s were “too cheesy”. This obviously upset Hagar. Then the band was recording another song for the soundtrack. Hagar did not want to record more songs for a soundtrack because it would not be as accessible to fans. Also, the band was compiling a greatest hits album, and Hagar did not agree with this decision since he felt the band had many more years ahead. Hagar claimed that he was fired; Van Halen claimed that he quit. Most accounts confirm that Hagar technically quit, but only upon finding that Van Halen had secretly been recording with David Lee Roth.
David and Eddie were discussing which tracks to include on the greatest hits album called Best of Volume 1, and they began to get along again. They recorded two new songs for the album “Me Wise Magic” and “Can’t Get This Stuff No More”.
But, Van Halen was continuing to audition for a new lead singer, and then Roth was out of Van Halen again.
In the summer of 2002, David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar teamed up in the Song For Song, the Heavyweight Champs of Rock and Roll tour (also known as the ‘Sans-Halen’ or ‘Sam & Dave’ Tour). The joint tour headlining both former lead singers attracted media and audience fascination because it seemed more improbable than even a Van Halen tour with Roth or Hagar could be. The tour drew large crowds and featured no opening acts, Roth and Hagar alternating opening as the first act during the tour.