The podcast (which you can listen to below) asks, “Why the hate for Van Hagar? Am I missing something?”
In 1985, Van Halen shocked fans when they replaced David Lee Roth with Sammy Hagar. Over the course of 11 years, Van Halen and the Red Rocker scored four multi-platinum and #1 charting albums, had a slew of mainstream rock hits, and played hundreds of packed arenas along the way… So why is the “Van Hagar” era often looked down upon by so many fans, especially when compared to the band’s early work with Roth?
The years between 1986 and 1996 marked a turbulent time in Van Halen history. Fans were split up predominately into two camps – The David Lee Roth camp and the Sammy Hagar camp. Over thirty years later rock fans continue to debate over which era is better. A music discussion podcast called Epic Footnote Productions recently ran an episode titled “Van Hagar: Am I Missing Something” and in it the hosts Matt and Zach take on a different approach to this often-discussed topic. In it they try to understand how that particular era of the band can be, as one host described it, “so popular yet so despised.”
“The four albums that [Sammy] recorded with Van Halen throughout the 80s and 90s, they all went platinum, they all went number one, and they had a bunch of hit singles off of them and yet, if you ask a lot of Van Halen fans, they absolutely hate this era. They just trash it,” said Zach. “I wanted to use this opportunity to find out why. Why were so many fans kinda ‘iffy’ about the band [with Sammy in it].”
After Zach made the argument that there are not only some good songs from the “Van Hagar” era (citing “Right Now”, “Why Can’t This Be Love” and “Dreams” as examples) but that some of those songs (“Poundcake”, “Runaround”, “The Dream Is Over”) could very easily have been sung by David Lee Roth with similar results.
Co-host Matt then stepped in to explain how it isn’t as simple as just plugging in another singer and pointed out the biggest difference between the two eras of the band.
“I think one of the biggest things, at least for me, is the lead singer in a band is always the hardest person to replace,” he said. “And this is where you fall on one side or the other. [The Sammy era] is a very different style of Van Halen. Dave was very 70s, guitar-driven, heavy, very innovative.”
While both noted the band’s sound had certainly changed during the Sammy years, Zach pondered whether that change came solely as a result of having a new member in the band. Could it have, instead, have been the result of record company pressure? Could they have stripped most of Edward Van Halen’s control over the direction of the band?
“I think Eddie was the catalyst for change going into the ‘80s but then that changed,” said Zach. “I think that nerds with calculators started to come out and say, ‘We need to start putting some structure to things and ya know what? Van Halen is going to be one of those bands that needs to alter to what the company wants rather than alter to what the band wants at that point.”
To get more insight into the subject, Matt said he took to Van Halen message boards to find out what fans think. He relayed one interesting theory coming from one of those die-hard VH fans which is that the music of Van Halen was, is and always be a reflection of his emotional state at the time it’s recorded.
“One fan made an interesting comment where [he said] the band revolved around Eddie so much that it depended on his moods as to the music,” said Matt. “When Van Hagar was softer it was because Eddie was happier musically. He didn’t have the friction that he might have had with someone like David Lee Roth, especially towards the end. But then when you listen to the songs off of [1995’s] ‘Balance’ and even the “Human Beings” song that they did for the ‘Twister’ soundtrack [in 1996] you could tell. Those are angrier, more progressive songs. That was during a time that Eddie and Sammy were butting heads and having a hard time recording together. So it’s almost like – does Eddie Van Halen produce the best music when there is confrontation, when there is a bit of angst?”
Later on in the podcast the two picked their top three Van Halen songs from each era. Zach chose “You Really Got Me”, “Atomic Punk” and “Ice Cream Man” from the Dave era while “Right Now”, “Humans Being” and “Poundcake” were from the Sammy era. Matt chose the Dave-era tracks “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”, “I’ll Wait” and “Hot For Teacher” along with the Sammy-era tracks “Why Can’t This Be Love”, “Runaround” (which he feels Roth could have sung) and “Right Now”.
After the debate and discussion was complete the two hosts tried to answer the question of why the Sammy Hagar era of Van Halen leads to so much vitriol.
“Are we missing something? That’s the main question. I think that we are missing something and I’ll tell you why,” said Zach. “I think that the fans, they’re clouded by nostalgia. A lot of people who start this argument of Roth or Hagar, Hagar or Roth, it’s just because you want the band to go back to where they were or you don’t like where the band was headed. In the complete scope of what we’re trying to see here, yes, I am still missing something about why people dislike one era or the other. They both have moments of being really great and [moments of] sucking a big one.”
“People need to just understand that if you are going to listen to this band in one era you’re gonna get it one way, if you’re gonna listen to it in another era you’re gonna get another way,” Zach added. “You might feel very strongly that the band is going in a bad direction but maybe they can surprise you in some way, in some era.”
Matt responded with: “I’m gonna make a pun. Best of both worlds.”
There’s a lot more discussion in this episode which you can hear below: