Rock and roll history is rife with intra-band family feuds, but perhaps none received quite as much publicity or caused a bigger fan base rift than Van Halen’s ugly divorce from singer David Lee Roth in 1985. Certainly, this was the battle royal of ‘80’s hard rock! After all, no other American band did quite as much as the Roth-fronted Van Halen to set the template later aspired to by future generations of bands. It therefore stands to reason that the debate over which of the first albums released by these warring factions — the Sammy Hagar-fronted Van Halen and hastily assembled David Lee Roth band — is better continues to polarize hard rock fans to this day. We asked two writers to each argue one side of this debate, and here’s what they had to say:
‘Eat ‘Em and Smile’ is Better Than ’5150?
by Eduardo Rivadavia
Sure, ‘Eat ‘em and Smile,’ also boasted a sugary sweet single in ‘Goin’ Crazy!’ (still better than ‘Dreams’!) and another pair of insufferable classic pop covers (‘I’m Easy,’ ‘That’s Life’), but it also packed a wealth of electrifying, athletic rockers in ‘Yankee Rose,’ ‘Shyboy’ and ‘Elephant Gun’ — all of them bursting with the sort of fleet-fingered guitar showboating and larger-than-life personalities Van Halen fans were hungering for. Heck, even the Roth band’s rare true experiments — namely the sultry cult favorite ‘Ladies Nite in Buffalo?’ — fared better than Van Hagar’s wholesale departure into synth-rock (not to mention the pointless avant-garde filler that was ‘Inside’).
’5150? is Better Than ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile’
by Matt Wardlaw
No question, the choice of Hagar as Van Halen’s new singer caused more than a few fans to scratch their heads. Remember, this was an era where vocalist swaps weren’t quite as common as today’s practice of finding a clone of your current singer on YouTube. But as Hagar — who had built a formidable resume of work both solo and with Montrose — would prove with his debut on ‘5150,’ his presence gave Van Halen the necessary tools to satisfy in a whole new way.
Of course, Van Halen had begun to explore more melodic pastures with the ‘1984’ album, bringing keyboards prominently into the mix on songs like ‘I’ll Wait’ and ‘Jump.’ But they were now able to take those ideas even further on ‘5150? with songs like ‘Why Can’t This Be Love’ and ‘Dreams.’ There was even — yikes! — a power balled, ‘Love Walks In.’
You can read both writer’s entire argument on Ultimate Classic Rock.com.
So, which album is your favorite? Does one hold up more than the other, or are both equally great in their own way?