Twenty years after the release of Van Halen III – the band’s 11th studio album – our friends at Ultimate Classic Rock hosted a roundtable discussion about the album most fans say is their least favorite. Featuring UCR writers and VHND’s Jeff Hausman, it focused on five of the biggest questions… answered in no-holds-barred fashion. Take a look…
After amazingly successful decade-long runs with both David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar ended in acrimony, Van Halen recruited Extreme singer Gary Cherone for their 1998 album Van Halen III.
For the first time in the group’s career, a record was widely panned and failed to catch on with the record-buying public. Cherone left the group the following year, and it would be more than a decade before the band released another full-length studio effort. So … what went wrong? After first making sure they couldn’t spend the whole day teeing off on Eddie Van Halen’s much-maligned lead-vocalist debut “How Many Say I,” we turned our writers loose on five big questions.
1) In a nutshell, why didn’t Van Halen III, and the band’s Gary Cherone era, work?
Michael Gallucci: The band had reached its expiration date by the late ’90s. Their previous couple albums weren’t very good, and nobody really needed another record with another singer at that point.
Matthew Wilkening: Nobody seems to have been steering. There are some cool riffs and ideas, but the concise pop sensibility that helped make the band so special was long gone. (To be fair, they had started to wander away from it during the later Hagar years.) Other than the two guitar solos, the shortest track on this album clocks in at 5:24. Cherone has also suggested it would have been better for them to tour together before recording an album, which seems wise. Oh, and where the heck are Michael Anthony’s vocals?
Matt Wardlaw: I really think that it’s all about how they rolled things out. I feel like if they would have done a tour prior to recording, the revised lineup might have had a fighting chance. They would have had time to jell as a band. Add to that the excitement that fans had as they were taking so many Roth-era Van Halen songs out of mothballs and it seems pretty likely that the Cherone era would have gotten a better reception once new music was presented. Instead, it felt rushed and half-baked, as if Cherone was stepping into an album of material that had largely been envisioned with Hagar in mind.
Eduardo Rivadavia: Not enough consumers bought copies of the album, bought concert tickets or bought into Cherone himself. And fans weren’t willing, yet again, to buy the Van Halen brothers’ line about their new singer being amazing while the last guy sucked. Eddie and Alex clearly underestimated Hagar’s popularity. They also made it way harder on themselves after the bait and switch tease of a reunion with Roth (at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards) that disappointed so many fans.
Michael Christopher: Fans felt hoodwinked by the whole David-Lee-Roth-is-back-no-he’s-not debacle in 1996 – no matter the real story behind it. Was Roth led on? It doesn’t matter, because the fans perceived it as one big sham when all was said and done. It certainly wasn’t Gary Cherone’s fault; he could’ve been Freddie Mercury reincarnated and it would’ve been a letdown because he wasn’t David Lee Roth.
Jeff Hausman (VHND.com and VanHalenStore.com): To me, there’s only one Van Halen III and that’s Women and Children First. I don’t blame Cherone for anything. He’s great in Extreme. He had the impossible job of following up the very successful decade with Sammy Hagar, and the incredibly exciting possibility of a reunion of the original lineup, which was what the entire world assumed we were going to get. As for the album, I think of it as being an Eddie solo project, with his friend Gary singing. And that’s really how it should have presented. It was not Van Halenesque. It wasn’t pop either. While it was an unexpected departure, it’s full of interesting guitar work, and remains the most unique and most unpredictable album the band has recorded, along with Diver Down. But I think it was doomed because everyone wanted either Roth or Hagar at the time.
Other questions answered:
2) Could Van Halen III, and Cherone’s time in Van Halen, have been saved?
3) What are the three best songs on this album?
4) Besides ‘How Many Say I,’ which song would be the first you would cut?
5) Which Van Halen III song would be the most fun to hear David Lee Roth attempt?