Radio personality Eddie Trunk has called Van Halen “America’s Led Zeppelin.” He specifically praised early Van Halen, saying the David Lee Roth-era Van Halen recordings sound as fresh and groundbreaking today as they ever did.
And now, from his book Eddie Trunk’s Essential Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, we feature his thoughts comparing Van Halen’s Dave Era to their Sammy Era:
“When Sammy Hagar replaced Roth in 1986 for Van Halen’s next album, 5150, I was actually thrilled. I was already a fan of Hagar’s old band, Montrose, as well as his solo work, and I was excited to see what a singer of his range would bring to the band and how his writing would work with Eddie’s. I loved 5150 and many of the Hagar Era releases – they’re definitely different from Roth’s over-the-top approach, but equally cool and, to me, more musical. David Lee Roth is a great frontman for sure, but no one would necessarily call him a great live singer. Sammy, on the other hand, is a powerhouse vocalist-his capabilities widened the musical possibilities for Van Halen, allowing them to evolve in a way they wouldn’t have been able to with Roth’s vocal limitations.
“I saw VH countless times with Hagar, and even had the chance to meet and interview them. I loved when the band would let Sammy do some of his solo material or even jam on old Montrose songs. Hagar related to the audience in a much more down-to-earth way, and Hagar Era Van Halen was more about the music and less about the circus act. These days, however, I prefer the Van Halen albums from the Roth Era. Back then, the band may have been limited by Roth’s voice, but they were more consistent as a band and the albums have held up over time. Yet, I’m not someone who thinks the Hagar Era should be brushed over—For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge and 5150 are great albums.
“I’ve only met Eddie Van Halen once, during the tour for Van Halen III—which featured the short-lived and much-maligned lineup with former Extreme singer Gary Cherone on vocals. The guys were playing Madison Square Garden, and ticket sales were not strong. The program director at the radio station where I was working told me Eddie would be calling in to my show in thirty minutes to plug the Garden show live. I didn’t have much time to prepare, but I didn’t need it. This was Eddie Van Halen! On the air, Eddie encouraged the fans to come out and see Gary as the new singer. I was a fan of Gary’s old band, Extreme, and knew his history well. Eddie seemed generally impressed that I knew my stuff and wasn’t just reading from some provided bio. So he asked me if I would come to the show and meet him.
“I went to the Garden that night not really expecting to meet the legendary Eddie Van Halen. I thought he was just being nice to the local radio guy and would leave me some tickets at the door. But I got there to find front-row seats and backstage passes in an envelope under my name. Shortly after I sat down, a road manager came to my seat and said, “Ed wants to say hi.” Sure enough, the man had kept his word. I walked back to the Madison Square Garden dressing rooms and into a room marked “Tuning.” There, standing alone, fiddling with a guitar, with a cigarette hanging from his mouth, was the one and only Eddie Van Halen! I played it cool, as I always would, but inside I was saying “Holy shit!” We chatted for a bit, he complimented me on the interview and talked about the band’s new album and tour, and I left him to prepare for the show that night. I’ve made a rule to never ask musicians to take photos with me, since I think it changes the dynamic of the potential relationship, but that was one night I wish I had broken my own rule! (Years later, I was told by Eddie’s wife that the two of them watched That Metal Show at home and got a kick out of it, which made me proud.)
“Now that a Van Halen reunion with David Lee Roth has taken place, I think it’s also time for a Hagar Era reunion. There would be a huge demand to hear Hagar sing those songs again. For me, the Roth reunion was lacking because I missed the Hagar Era songs and also because of the exclusion of Michael Anthony on bass. Eddie’s son, Wolfgang, did an admirable job, especially considering his age, but I missed Michael big-time. He was left out of the reunion because of his allegiance to Sammy Hagar. I was most thrilled for Michael, who is such a cool guy, when Hagar’s new supergroup, Chickenfoot, was formed with Michael on bass, because it gave him a real band again.”
Eddie Trunk’s Van Halen Playlist—His favorite VH Songs:
1. Hear About It Later
2. Judgement Day
3. Good Enough
4. Somebody Get Me A Doctor
5. Love Walks In
6. Atomic Punk
7. On Fire
8. In A Simple Rhyme
9. Romeo Delight
10. Light Up The Sky
11. Little Dreamer
12. Girl Gone Bad
—This is an excerpt from Eddie Trunk’s first book, Eddie Trunk’s Essential Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. Eddie Trunk is an American music historian, radio personality, talk show host, and author, best known as the host of several hard rock and heavy metal-themed radio and television shows, including That Metal Show.