On this night 25 years ago (Sept. 4th, 1996), Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony made MTV and rock history when they appeared on stage together for the first time in over a decade.
In the summer of 1996, Van Halen parted ways with Sammy Hagar, leaving Eddie, Alex and Michael without a frontman. Soon after they reached out to 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 to be titled Van Halen Best Of – Volume 1. What better way to promote the “best of” than to have the original, classic Van Halen lineup show up at one of the biggest music events around – The MTV Video Music Awards? After all, this was the network that helped Van Halen with Roth become the biggest rock band in the world thanks to heavy airplay of their videos for “Jump”, “Panama” and “Hot For Teacher”.
The bandmembers were scheduled to present the award for Best Male Video but the crowd’s reaction to the original four on stage together again for the first time since 1984 outshone the award winner Beck. Roth couldn’t resist breaking away from the cue cards for a minute and mark the importance of the moment.
“We have to make an announcement. We have to address a subject here,” said Roth. “This is the first time that we’d stood on stage together in over a decade.”
The reunited quartet received a “rapturous standing ovation” from the shocked and delighted crowd, according to MTV.com.
Roth 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.
Watch Van Halen with David Lee Roth At The 1996 MTV Video Awards After-Show
Even though Roth wasn’t officially back in the band heading into that night in 1996, everyone assumed he was. In fact, the Van Halen shake-up had the whole rock world paying attention. MTV interviewed several music artists and here’s what they had to say about the exit of Sammy Hagar and the 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.”
MTV couldn’t help get in on the excitement following Van Halen’s appearance at their own awards show. They quickly put together a brief promo welcoming Roth back in the band. Video clips of Diamond Dave flashed across the screen along to the John Sebastian song “Welcome Back”:
Unfortunately, the reunion was not meant to be. Roth was out as fast as he was in and Gary Cherone would take over as lead singer of Van Halen. Roth would later refer to it as “The failin’ of Van Halen at the MTV Video Awards”. For a brief moment on that September night, however, Van Halen history was made.
Listen to “Me Wise Magic” From Van Halen Best Of – Volume 1
Listen To “Can’t Get This Stuff No More” From Van Halen Best Of – Volume 1