In the summer of 1996, Van Halen parted ways with Sammy Hagar, leaving Eddie, Alex, and Michael without a frontman as the band reached out to original singer David Lee Roth to record two new tracks (“Me Wise Magic” and “Can’t Get This Stuff No More”) for the band’s first greatest hits compilation.
Even though Roth wasn’t officially back in the band, it seemed everyone assumed he would be. In fact, the Van Halen shake-up had the whole rock world paying attention. MTV interviewed several music artists and here’s what they have to say about the exit of Sammy Hagar and the (likely?) reentry of David Lee Roth:
- Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins): “Let’s face it – Van Halen was it when David Lee Roth was with them.”
- Lars Ulrich (Metallica): “Seeing Van Halen with Dave again would be the ultimate. I think it would do as well as KISS. I hope they want to do it. And, more power to them and good luck.”
- Chris Cornel (Soundgarden): “I think it’s almost like KISS coming back with full make-up.”
- Kim Thayil (Soundgarden): “I like the Roth incarnation, the original one. That’s when I was turned onto them.”
- Tom Salmoria (Psychotica): “I am very excited that David Lee Roth is back in Van Halen.”
- Jerry Cantrell (Alice in Chains): “I love Sammy and I don’t know Dave, but I would have to say I prefer VH with Dave. I’m sorry Sammy.”
It was exactly 23 years ago today (Sept. 4th 1996) that the three members of Van Halen appeared with David Lee Roth on the MTV Video Music Awards to promote their upcoming greatest hits album. The band was to presents the award for Best Male Video. The reunited quartet received a “rapturous standing ovation” from the shocked and delighted crowd, according to MTV.com.
David Lee Roth was darn right to break away from the cue cards for a minute and point out the fact that it was their first public appearance together since their 1985 breakup, 11 years ago. (It also happened to be—almost to the day—12 years after their final concert together in Nuremburg, Germany).
He wrote about that night in his Crazy From The Heat memoir:
We walk out on stage and the place goes ballistic, nuclear, off the map. Eddie and his brother are astonished. They had no idea. Well, I see those smiles… so I go to work. It’s not something I think about. For me this is natural, this is freewheeling. I smiled. Well, everybody is suitably ecstatic but not quite fucking ecstatic enough for a VH gig, so let me put the hip swivel on you, boom! Now you’re standing up, aren’t you? Yeah, that’s what you came for, isn’t it? T-shirts in the foyer!
Everybody in the audience stands up. Every alternative rock or, every three-piece suit or from the record companies, all the MTV people, everybody on their feet. And everybody’s having a ball. … And of course I interjected a few things besides the plain old banal libretto that’s being read on a cue card.
The people from MTV had said to me, “You know, Dave, you could freestyle on this a little bit if you want.” “That’s why I’m here, guys, ‘cuz you can depend on me,” and they were looking forward to it. I was the one guy out of the whole show who did it.
The first thing I said to the audience, “God, a lot has changed. For starters, whoever thought that we would be standing on stage here again ten years after the fact?”
From Everybody Wants Some: The Van Halen Saga, by Ian Christe:
Against what all parties involved later said was their better judgment, the original Van Halen bowed to record company pressure and MTV’s enticements. In a move that could only be construed by anyone watching as evidence of a reunion, David Lee Roth and Van Halen agreed to appear together onstage at the MTV Video Music Awards. A montage promo spot featuring footage of the old band and the “Welcome Back, Kotter” theme hammered home the misconception with a sledge.
As the four men walked onstage, the crowd shot out of its seats. While front-row celebrities like comedian Chris Rock applauded wildly, Roth embraced Eddie before an ecstatic audience. “This is the first time we’ve actually stood onstage together in over a decade,” Roth needlessly reminded the crowd, ad-libbing during the tightly scripted event. Eddie yanked Roth away from the microphone after the ovation so Michael Anthony could read his lines, but the bedazzled singer danced in the background while hapless winner Beck attempted to accept the award they were supposed to present him.
The next few hours were a painful struggle between Roth’s natural push for full-fledged spectacle and the band’s extreme caution. Interviewed by Kurt Loder, the others squirmed uncomfortably while Roth waxed nostalgic. Roth later described the tense demeanor of the others that night as “balled up like angry pill bugs.” During a press meeting, Eddie insisted almost angrily that the band was still looking for singers. Roth piped: “But they’re not going to find anyone better than me!”
By the way, it turned out Beck wasn’t annoyed at all by Dave’s antics that night. He thanked Van Halen as he received the award, and later admitted that he was very excited to see the four original members on stage, and had no issues whatsoever with Roth’s shenanigans that night.
Watch the full Van Halen appearance above.
Photo slideshow below.