Van Halen

  • Hard rock band formed in 1972, from Pasadena California. Brothers Eddie Van Halen (lead guitar, keyboards, backing vocals) and Alex Van Halen (drums) have been with the band from the beginning. Michael Anthony was the bass guitarist and backing vocalist from 1974 to 2006 – he was replaced with Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang in 2006. There have been 3 lead vocalists – David Lee Roth was the frontman from 1974 to 1985, and again from 2007 to today. Sammy Hagar was the frontman from 1985 to 1996, and again from 2003 to 2005. Gary Cherone handled lead vocals from 1996 to 1999. All of the members contributed to songwriting.
  • Brothers Eddie and Alex were born in Holland, and they moved to California when they were 7 and 9 years old respectively. They started playing music together, and they formed their first band, The Broken Combs, before they were teenagers. In 1972, going by the name Genesis, they rented a sound system from Roth, and then decided to save money by asking him to join as lead vocalist, even though Roth originally was passed up after an audition. In 1974, Anthony joined after an all night jam session. They changed their name to Mammoth after realizing that Genesis was already well known, and then finally, they chose Van Halen for their name.
  • They played at backyard parties and nightclubs in the Los Angeles area, and eventually were hired to play regularly at a club on the Sunset Strip, even though the owner thought they were too loud. A local DJ saw them perform, and he convinced Gene Simmons from Kiss to watch them perform. Simmons liked them, and he produced a demo tape for them. Ultimately, Simmons opted out of further involvement when the managers for Kiss told him that Van Halen had no chance of making it. In 1977, two record company executives saw them perform, and they were so impressed, they signed Van Halen to a record contract a week later.
  • They released their debut album, the self titled Van Halen, in 1978. The singles You Really Got Me and Running With the Devil barely charted, though over time, as the band became huge, these songs became classics. Ultimately, the album sold over 10 million copies in the U.S. – a rarity for a debut album to be certified diamond. Over the next 4 years, they released albums each year, and each were multi-platinum. They had their first #1 hit on the Mainstream Rock chart with a cover of Roy Orbison’s (Oh) Pretty Woman, as well as a top 20 hit on the Hot 100 with And The Cradle Will Rock….During this time, they established a reputation for their live performances, highlighted by Eddie’s guitar wizardry and Roth’s on-stage antics (which Eddie resented). In 1983, they were paid a cool $1.5 million for a single 90 minute set at a music festival.
  • Their sixth studio album, 1984, released that year, was their biggest success. Propelled with heavy airtime on MTV, the single Jump topped the Hot 100, and I’ll Wait and Panama both reached #13 on the Hot 100 and #2 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Despite the success, tensions grew in the band during their tour to support the album, and by April 1985, Roth left the group.
  • Eddie initially asked Patty Smyth of Scandal to replace Roth, but Smyth declined. In July, Eddie’s auto mechanic suggested Sammy Hagar, solo artist and former lead singer for Montrose – Hagar auditioned and was quickly hired (for more on Hagar’s career, see my post from February 14, 2018). With Hagar as frontman, Van Halen released 4 studio albums between 1986 and 1995. All 4 topped the Billboard 200 album chart, and each was multi-platinum. They had 17 songs during this time that were top 20 hits on the Mainstream Rock chart, with Why Can’t This Be Love and When It’s Love reaching top 5 status on the Hot 100 chart. They won their only Grammy award in 1992 for Best Hard Rock Performance With Vocal, for their For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge album.
  • By June 1996, Hagar and the Van Halen brothers were battling, and Hagar left. Roth returned temporarily, contributing to 2 songs for a compilation album and performing with the original band at the 1996 MTV Music Video Awards. The reunion was short lived, and Gary Cherone, former frontman for the band Extreme, was hired. Cherone contributed to 1 studio album, 1998’s Van Halen III, and he handled the vocals to the song Fire In The Hole for the soundtrack to the film Lethal Weapon 4. One song from the album, Without You, made it to #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart – their 13th song to top this chart, more than any other band until the summer of 2018, when the band Three Days Grace had their 14th #1 song on this chart. Cherone left amicably in 1999.
  • The band went on hiatus for several years. In 2003, Hagar started working with them again, and the following year, they released a compilation CD with 3 new songs with Hagar. They had a successful tour in 2004, and after the tour, Hagar left the band again. Another Roth reunion began in 2007, with Eddie’s son Wolfgang taking over bass guitar duties. They have toured on and off since then, with Roth participating in each tour. Their most recent album, A Different Kind of Truth, was released in 2012.
  • Van Halen was induced into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. Only Hagar and Anthony showed up for the ceremony.
  • Eddie Van Halen ranks #8 on Rolling Stone’s 2015 list of the greatest guitarists of all time. He died in 2020 of a stroke. You can easily make a case that Van Halen was the biggest hard rock band of the 80s. Their video of their hit Right Now won Video of the Year at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards. Here it is, with its observations on the social issues of 1992.

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