Ask the average fan to describe Van Halen’s music and they’d probably think of good times, backyard parties, reaching for the skies and achieving dreams. But there is, as die-hard VH fans know, a darker side to the band, one that can deliver every bit as much power and emotion as their most uplifting tunes. A prime example is the song released 26 years ago today – “Crossing Over”.
On March 14th, 1995 Van Halen released “Can’t Stop Loving You”, the third single from their album ‘Balance’. It also included a non-album song called “Crossing Over” as the B-side. It would turn out to be the band’s only non-LP B-side.
“Crossing Over” was a hard track to “track down” back in the early days of the internet. It eventually found its way to me through its inclusion on the Japanese ‘Balance’ album release. I, personally, couldn’t be more thankful for Warner Japan’s decision to include “Crossing Over” since it remains one of my all-time favorite Van Halen songs and one that has touched me even deeper now that the man who wrote the song is no longer with us – Edward Van Halen.
The song was actually not even written during the ‘Balance’ sessions. Its origins date back to 1983, when Eddie demoed the track on his own, titling it “David’s Tune” for a friend who had sadly taken his own life. Eddie played all the instruments, including drums and bass (sound familiar Wolfgang Van Halen fans?) while adding his own lyrics. According to Michael Christopher’s Ultimate Classic Rock article, when Sammy Hagar joined the band in 1985, he was interested in recording the song. But Eddie wasn’t. Perhaps it was too personal. Whatever the reason or reasons, the track sat on the shelf of Eddie’s 5150 vaults for another decade.
Flash forward to 1994. A year prior to recording the ‘Balance’ album, Van Halen’s manager, Ed Leffler, died of cancer. The band was devastated. Once again Hagar wanted to use Eddie’s song, eager to convey his thoughts regarding what happens when a person dies and “crosses over” to the other side. According to Uncle Joe’s Record Guide, Eddie decided it was time to let his bandmate use the music. Soon after it became a new Van Halen song titled “Crossing Over.”
What’s interesting about the track is what you can hear upon close listen. Put on a pair of ear buds and turn the track up and you can hear Eddie’s original track from 1983 with all of his instrumentation and vocals; all in the left channel only. Added was Alex Van Halen’s massive drumming along with Hagar’s powerful vocals, both panned across the music in stereo. The results are astounding. I would have to assume the band felt the same but, if so, why was it left off of the ‘Balance’ album? At least it was in the US album release.
I first heard ‘Crossing Over’ on the internet sometime in the late 90s. It wasn’t the greatest quality. It may have even been taken from a cassette tape, uploaded at a low-bit rate. Despite the less than pristine sound I was blown away by the raw emotion of the song. Maybe the most personal Van Halen track recorded.
I can’t recall where I read it (maybe it was right here on the VHND) but I eventually found out that “Crossing Over” was available as a bonus track added to the Japanese version of ‘Balance’. Thankfully there was e-bay. I took full advantage and bid out fellow Van Halen fans to grab my own copy. It remains in a safe place over 20 years later.
Here’s the story behind how “Crossing Over” ended up on the Japanese version of ‘Balance’ courtesy of Christopher’s UCR article:
There was already a burgeoning controversy with the Balance cover art in Japan, because of its depiction of Siamese twin children on a seesaw. The artwork proved to be a stark reminder to residents of the country of conjoined Vietnamese twins Viet and Duc Nguyen, who were said to have experienced their birth deformity due to the usage of Agent Orange by the U.S. in the Vietnam War. The pair was separated with the explicit assistance of the Japanese Red Cross in 1988 in a highly publicized surgery.
Japanese consumers were so repulsed by the Balance cover art that it deeply affected sales. Warner Music Japan had anticipated some sort of reaction and had a backup image ready to go with just one child on the seesaw for pressings of the album in that country. Released one week later than the original import version, the Japanese edition quickly began to sell better than the U.S. pressing. It was one of the rare cases in Japan where the domestic outsold the import, as the region typically had difficulty selling CDs manufactured there because of the inflated price tag (Balance sold for approximately $4 more).
One of the methods Japan began using to move units of its homegrown products was to include some sort of bonus for fans. In the case of Balance, “Crossing Over” was tacked on to the end of the album, though it wasn’t indicated anywhere on the jacket or physical CD. Fans were clued in only by a sticker on the front and a Japanese insert card contained within the packaging.
Since its inclusion as the B-side to “Can’t Stop Loving You” and the Japanese version of ‘Balance’, “Crossing Over” has become one of those hidden gems only hardcore VH fans know about. Although, maybe not as hidden nowadays since folks like Tom Beaujour of Rolling Stone gave it some love in his 2019 article “20 Insanely Great Van Halen Songs Only Hardcore Fans Know”.
Here’s what Beaujour had to say about “Crossing Over”:
Eddie Van Halen originally wrote the darkest and most emotionally raw song in the Van Halen catalog in 1983 after the suicide of a close friend. The mournful track was later dusted off and repurposed after the death of Van Halen manager Ed Leffler in 1993. Released as a bonus track on the Japanese version of 1995’s Balance and as the B-side of the U.S. CD-single (remember those?) for “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You,” “Crossing Over” superimposes new instrumentation and vocals over the song’s original demo, recorded a decade earlier. Careful listeners will notice that one can still hear Eddie’s demo vocal underneath Sammy Hagar’s more high-octane take on the lyrics.
When did you first discover “Crossing Over” and what are your thoughts on the song? We wanna know so comment below!