by Curtis Lanclos
One of the biggest age-old debates centers around the greatest American hard rock band of all time, the Mighty VAN HALEN. The original lead singer, David Lee Roth, recorded 6 albums with the band from 1978 – 1984, and assisted them with essentially dominating the American rock scene during those years. Then, after recording what was reportedly only intended to be a flash in the pan EP of 4 songs, Roth departed from the fold (or was fired, depending upon whom you ask) in the summer of 1985 to begin a solo career.
Eager to continue his own namesake, Edward Van Halen began looking for potential new lead singers for the band. After considering Mr. Big’s Eric Martin and Scandal’s Patty Smyth, he gave former Montrose singer Sammy Hagar a call. The rest is history, as Sammy was offered the job after a jam-session/audition or two.
The band continued to new heights of success with Hagar at the helm, including four #1 albums on the US Billboard 200 chart. However, the band’s sound changed considerably with Sammy; in fact it was very much a completely different band, in my humble opinion. Thus, the band’s success with the new singer was not enough to squelch any Dave vs. Sammy infighting among the listeners of all of this music. The Van Halen fan base quickly became divided into three camps (and it pretty much remains this way today):
- Those who like Roth-era and hate Hagar-era
- Those who hate Roth-era and like Hagar-era
- Those who like both eras, but consider them to be different bands
I fall into the third camp, although I must say I prefer the Roth-era. To me, that is Van Halen. The rest is “Van Hagar.” I liked Van Hagar, but only when Sammy stayed in his wheelhouse. When he tries to channel Roth in songs like “Good Enough,” “Poundcake” or “Up for Breakfast,” it just doesn’t work in my opinion. Rather, VH with Sammy really shines the brightest on tracks like “Dreams,” “Love Walks In,” “When It’s Love,” etc.
I had the honor and privilege of being a guest co-host on three recent episodes of the Ridiculous Rock Record Reviews podcast (aka the R4 podcast) wherein the Roth vs. Hagar discussion came up quite a bit due to the VH/Roth/Hagar albums I was discussing with my friends Aaron Martel, Ray Zimmer, Mike Cortis, Shannon Fleming and Ray Perme. For your convenience, those episodes can be accessed right here:
Despite my preference of Roth-era VH over Van Hagar, Sammy will always have a special place in my heart since he mixed me a drink at 80s in the Sand 2019 last fall! Here’s a YouTube video containing audio from a letter I wrote to the Dave and Dave Unchained VH Podcast (wherein I discuss this special event further) along with photos and video of that amazing night:
Additionally, my friends Steven Michael and Sonny “Hollywood” Pooni at the Growin’ Up Rock podcast recently engaged in an episode with musician/actor Joey Cassata wherein the three each talk about their favorite Van Halen and Van Hagar songs:
Finally, this post wouldn’t be complete without a couple of Retro-tastic Faux Music Videos created by myself and my friends Mike Radford, Matt Lester and Gene Gamblin “back in the day”:
So what say you? Roth or Hagar? Or neither? Or both? Please leave your comments below.