Van Halen are a hard rock band from Los Angeles, California, innovative in the world of both hard rock and heavy metal. They are best known for their hit songs “Jump,” “Hot For Teacher,” “Panama,” “You Really Got Me,” “Runnin’ with the Devil,” “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love,” “Unchained,” “Right Now,” “Dreams,” and “Why Can’t This Be Love.” Van Halen formed in 1972, with vocalist David Lee Roth joining in 1974. Van Halen became one of the prime influences of bands that followed, like Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crue, Quiet Riot, Bon Jovi, and Extreme. Their debut album changed the face of rock n’ roll in the late 70’s, and sold a staggering ten million copies in the process.
Van Halen are also well known for their high profile drama between band members, specifically between the brothers Van Halen, David Lee Roth, Sammy Hagar, and Michael Anthony. The original lineup of Van Halen consisted of David Lee Roth (vocals), Eddie Van Halen (guitar), Michael Anthony (bass), and Alex Van Halen (drums).
In 1974, playing under the name “Mammoth,” the band frequently played clubs in Southern California. Later that year, they officially changed their name to “Van Halen,” an idea of Roth’s. Though the band amassed a major following and sought out a record deal, they were unsuccessful. That would change when the band was signed to Warner Bros. in 1977. They would work on their debut album in mid 1977, to be released the following year.
The debut album by Van Halen, like 1984, achieved RIAA Diamond Certification Status. By the time their eponymous album was released in 1978, the band had been growing a stage reputation on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles for years. The debut album from Van Halen was unlike any other album in hard rock or heavy metal, introducing the world to Eddie Van Halen’s finger tapping style in “Eruption,” as well as the harmonizing vocals of Michael Anthony, the often underestimated drumming of Alex Van Halen, and the flamboyant wales of singer David Lee Roth.
Van Halen charted at #19 in the US upon its release, with help of the singles “You Really Got Me,” “Runnin’ with the Devil,” “Jamie’s Cryin,” and “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love.” It continued to sell well throughout the 80’s, 90’s, and into the 2000’s, making an appearance on the Billboard Top 200 in 2012.
The band would rush in to record their follow up album that same year, releasing Van Halen II in 1979. The songs “Beautiful Girls,” “Dance the Night Away,” and “You’re No Good” received radio airplay. It went five times platinum. There wasn’t much time between Van Halen II and the next album, Women and Children First, which was released in March 1980. The single “And The Cradle Will Rock…” was its sole single, however the song “Everybody Wants Some” turned out to be a rock radio hit as well. The album sold three million copies in the USA.
Van Halen released their heaviest album in 1981, Fair Warning. The album features the songs “Mean Street,” “Unchained,” and “So This is Love.” The album went double platinum. Fair Warning also introduced keyboards which would be used later to much success on their album 1984.
At the beginning of 1982, the band released the single “(Oh) Pretty Woman,” a cover of a Roy Orbison song. It was not initially supposed to be attached to any album, but due to record company pressure, the band recorded the album Diver Down, which consisted of five cover songs. It contained the hit cover “Dancing in the Streets” and “Where Have All the Good Times Gone.” Eddie Van Halen has mentioned that this is his least favorite album that they had recorded.
Van Halen were well into their career at the time their acclaimed favorite album 1984 was released. It was the band’s swan song with David Lee Roth as the frontman, and gave the MTV era some excellent videos to chew on. The first single was “Jump,” the most popular song Van Halen ever released, which, like so many other mid 80’s hits, has a keyboard synthesizer riff and solo. It was a #1 song on the Billboard Top 200 for five weeks, making it by far their most popular song.
Unlike Van Halen’s debut album, the music videos, which received constant rotation on MTV, particularly “Panama,” “Jump,” and the hugely popular “Hot For Teacher,” propelled this album to #2 right behind Michael Jackson’s unstoppable Thriller album (which also featured Eddie Van Halen on guitar). 1984 left a long lasting mark on the world of rock, with the four singles still receiving heavy rock radio exposure today.
In the midst of touring for 1984, tensions reached a pinnacle within the band, with Roth’s onstage behavior annoying Eddie Van Halen, and the Van Halen brothers’ recording outside of the band irritating Roth. In 1985, Roth released his debut solo EP, Crazy From the Heat, which featured the frequently played cover songs and videos “Just a Jigolo” and “California Girls.” Roth left the band shortly after, with the story differing as to why depending on the band member.
Sammy Hagar was announced as the new Van Halen vocalist in 1985, and the band immediately started writing new songs. In 1986, the band released 5150, which featured “Dreams,” “Love Walks In,” and “Why Can’t This Be Love.” 5150 was the band’s first number one album, selling six million copies. Their next album, OU812, would feature the songs “Finish What Ya Started,” the power ballad “When It’s Love,” and “Black and Blue.”
In 1991, the band released For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, and contained the Sammy Hagar era of Van Halen’s best known song, “Right Now.” It was critically and commercially well received, and featured the songs “Poundcake,” “Runaround,” and “Top of the World.”
The final of four Sammy Hagar Van Halen albums (or Van Hagar as many dubbed the second incarnation of Van Halen) was Balance, released in 1995. The album contained the hit “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You,” as well “Amsterdam” and “Don’t Tell Me What Love Can Do.” It went triple platinum. Following the tour for Balance, Sammy Hagar left the band amidst tensions over songs on the Twister soundtrack. Eddie Van Halen replaced Hagar’s lyrics on the song “Humans Being,” while the Van Halen brothers recorded an instrumental in place of a second Van Halen track. The band were also planning on releasing a “best of” album, which Hagar opposed, since it would feature the work of both Roth and Hagar. Secretly, the rest of Van Halen had been recording with David Lee Roth for two new tracks on the “best of” collection, and rumors were abound that David Lee Roth was rejoining the band.
Roth made an appearance live at the MTV Music Awards in 1996, and all signs pointed to a full-on reunion. It was the first time the original lineup appeared in public in eleven years. This publicity led to the “best of” album reaching #1 on the Billboard 200, though the band was still searching for a replacement for Hagar, unbeknownst to Roth. The reunion fell through, and Van Halen began to work with ex-Extreme singer, Gary Cherone.
The album Van Halen III, featuring Gary Cherone on vocals, was released in 1998 to mostly negative reviews. It spawned the single “Without You,” and the album as a whole was seen as more experimental than their previous works. It was certified Gold, which was regarded as a commercial disappointment for a band that was used to going multi platinum. In 1999, Gary Cherone parted ways with the band. Roth, once again, reunited with the band to start working on new material, but it fell through again.
In 2006, communication began between David Lee Roth and the Van Halen brothers for a reunion once again. Plans were in the works for a tour, which slowly materialized. In the fall of 2007, the band toured with Roth on lead vocals, however, Michael Anthony was replaced by Eddie Van Halen’s son, Wolfgang, on bass.
The band with Roth on vocals began to work on material for a new studio album, which was released in 2012 as A Different Kind of Truth. It was met with critical and commercial success, reaching #2 on the Billboard 200. The album featured some hooks and demos of material from the early days of Van Halen that worked into brand new songs.
- Van Halen (1978)
- Van Halen II (1979)
- Women and Children First (1980)
- Fair Warning (1981)
- Diver Down (1982)
- 1984 (1984)
- 5150 (1986)
- OU812 (1988)
- For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991)
- Balance (1995)
- Van Halen III (1998)
- A Different Kind of Truth (2012)