REVIEW: Van Halen – The Best of Both Worlds (2004)

VHBOBW_0001VAN HALEN – The Best of Both Worlds (2005 Warner)

Musically, I can find very little fault with this collection. How can I? When you think about it, musically Van Halen are above reproach. In the 1970’s, they were without equal. No other band could boast such a series of excellent albums, a charismatic and innovative frontman like Dave Lee Roth, or (obviously) a unique guitar mutilator like Edward Van Halen. Van Halen defined the term “party rock”, but they also rocked with intelligence. They combined challenging arrangements with near-impossible guitar work, clever lyrics, an excellent image, musical influences dating back to the 1920’s, and music heavier than that of many of their rivals.

So how could this compilation possibly fail if the music is that strong? This album is completedly torpedoed by the sequencing of the songs.  That factor alone makes The Best Of Both Worlds a struggle to listen to.   There seems to be a notable effort to downplay David Lee Roth’s contributions in favor of Sammy Hagar’s overall.

By song selection, on paper this album looks good. However upon one listen you will realize what works and what doesn’t. Kicking off the album with Eddie’s groundbreaking solo “Eruption” seems like a good idea at first. It serves to remind the listener right from the beginning why Eddie is considered one of the best, if not the very best, guitar player of all time. His sound is warm and “brown” and he creates noises that nobody had ever heard before….

…But “Eruption” is followed by the first of the new Sammy singles, “It’s About Time”. Trying to glue “Eruption” to a new song just doesn’t work. A Dave song would have sounded much more natural. It is a jarring transition, and it gives me the impression that Van Halen is trying to up-sell the Sammy Hagar period in some way.  The overall effect is an album that is has absolutely no cohesion.

Thank God this wasn’t the final tour…

There are always new songs to hype a compilation like this.  “It’s About Time” is the strongest of the three, all of which are Van Hagar. It is as close to upbeat as they were likely to get, with all the personal strife going on.  The lyrics are pretty obviously about the return of Sammy Hagar. But something sounds wrong, something sounds un-Halen. The missing ingredient is bassist Michael Anthony, who did not play bass, nor write, nor sing background vocals on these songs. Without Anthony, you can tell something is missing. (You’ll notice how far back he is in the group photo, too.)  The other two songs, “Up For Breakfast” (dumb title, dumb lyrics) and “Learning To See” (A musical attempt at being dramatic and wise) are nothing to write home about.

Then we begin juxtaposing Dave songs with Sammy songs, one after the other, for nearly the entire remainder of the album. Folks, taken on their own, each one of these tracks is a hit…but playing the album, this doesn’t sound good in the speakers! Sammy-era Halen was a different beast from Diamond Dave.   Sammy’s poppier, from a completely different and more mainstream point of view. Without beating this point into the ground, for one example, take a look at the tracklist: Sam’s “Dreams” is squeezed in between Dave’s “You Really Got Me” and “Hot For Teacher”!  The only time this sequencing really works is when “Jump” is followed by “Top Of The World”. The songs traditionally follow each other in concert because they share the same riff.  Listen to the outro of “Jump”.  It is the main riff to “Top Of The World”.

I asked Craig Fee for his opinion on these shenanigans, and he had this to say:

When I saw this arrive on my desk as a promo, I was confused.  Why would you mix Diamond Dave tracks with a bunch of wanky new Sammy songs?  What would possess anyone to include the Red Rocker singing Dave’s material in concert and not have a single DLR live cut? 

My feeling is that this is a ripoff move in order to hammer home the fact that Van Hagar were touring!  They make sure to mention this in the liner notes.  It’s an unfortunate but fairly common practice, and a sure sign of record company meddling.

Had they devoted 1 disc to each ‘era,’ I don’t think it would’ve pissed me off as much as this one did.  And where the fuck is Gary?!  More importantly — why are we, the die-hard Van Halen fans — continually starved for live material from the 1978-84 era?

One star.  For the album art.

The album rocks and rolls along, Dave then Sam, Dave then Sam, until the end when you are presented with the live tracks.  As Craig said, all are Van Hagar, previously released on Live: Right Here, Right Now. I’m sick of that album. It’s been mined endlessly for B-sides, and all three songs appear elsewhere on this album in their original DLR studio versions! Much like the album openers, these close the disc rather weakly.

Craig is right about being starved for classic 1978-1984 live material.  Even assuming the Van Halens remove that particular pickle from their behinds, they didn’t have to recycle old Van Hagar live stuff.  The wasted CD space could have been used to give this album a more well-rounded feel, covering Van Halen’s whole career. The compilation covers 1978-1995, and then skips ahead to 2004 with the three new songs. Excluded are cool singles from the lost period, like “Me Wise Magic”, “Humans Being” and “Without You” (from Van Halen 3 with Gary Cherone).  Or, they could have just put more classic David Lee Roth tracks on there, since the album’s a bit Sam-heavy.  Anything but more live re-releases!  Fair Warning is criminally under-represented.

Taking a quick scan of the liner notes will reveal that the brothers Halen really are trying to re-write their history. Not only are the Cherone years not even mentioned, but the Dave years are discussed only briefly. No pictures of the band with Dave are included, even though he makes up at least a third of the album (the best third of it).

I will mention one other little point before I finish. One track, “Finish What Ya Started”, sounds like it is defective, ending abruptly.  The band and producer received complaints about this, but it is no error. While mastering this CD, producer Glen Ballard decided to extend “Finish What Ya Started” beyond its original fade point until the tape runs out, when it ends abruptly. This longer, previously unreleased version was not advertised as such and led fans to think the track was defective.

So there you have it — as it currently stands, The Best Of Both Worlds is sadly the most comprehensive Van Halen collection out there.  May as well go ahead and make your own.  At least the music is above reproach.

3/5 stars

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45 comments

    1. No in my opinion that artwork deserves 0 stars because of the clear disregard of any DLR-related content. I have to disagree with Craiggles on that one.

      Having said that, I do like the red-white-black stripe VH motif and there’s nothing wrong with the cover itself.

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  1. U know I was hook, line and sinker with the first Vol Of Greatest Hits when it came out in 96. I mean how could u not…basically Me Wise Magic and Human Beings made me the first day buyer of that one also released that same day was the X Factor by Maiden so I bought those two but man yeah in 96 like all u guys I was stoked to hear some new Dave and that he may be back(ahem!) all for not at that time though as we soon found out….!
    So as no surprise when the reunion with Sam in 04 came about and yep I bought this baby for the good ol new songs as I already had everything else …..ugh and after time it just sat there with all my other greatest hits comps by various artists. I agree with the rating on this one it could have been better ,I mean With Halen it’s no extra bell and whistles with anything just same ol same ol ,come on man throw us a bone!
    But they did make amends to me with ADKOT release so there I wil probably be buying on the first day of release VH Greatest hits VOL 22 remastered,recycled, ….and aaaaah yep by that time I will have become the official Sucker in a 3 Piece!

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    1. Good news for your Deke — I’m in creative mode, thinking about doing the entire Van Halen series…I’ve already done this one, III, and ADKOT.

      This is a big undertaking so not a decision for me to take lightly, but when I’m done Frehley I want to start something else up.

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        1. I’ve been in a relaxing mode lately,not so much writing this weekend, so I can never make promises about when it’ll happen. Especially since I just downloaded the iTunes bonus disc to the Lafon Kiss tribute…11 more songs…and this is going to necessitate an addition chapter to the Frehley series.

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  2. i don’t understand why you would not have one disk for Diamond Dave and one disk for “can’t drive 55” Sammy. The two can never mix and forcing them together is like two girlfriends fighting over a man on Jerry Springer! – I as a purist -think the band ended when Dave was replaced the first time-that was the end-but I know that musically there is still love for that Sammy version- O.K it had the technical part – but it lost the passion and humor.

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    1. “The two can never mix and forcing them together is like two girlfriends fighting over a man on Jerry Springer!”

      In many ways this sums up the entire problem with Van Halen’s post-1984 history. A constant battle between current and ex, and their respective status.

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        1. Yeah it was throwaway stuff from what I remember. That video sounded like a hot mess too. Really cool, thorough review though! There was point this was the only VH my shop stocked so I got to hear for that reason alone. I was enjoying Hagar’s solo career at that point too. I thought he made a mistake going back to VH.

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        2. I don’t think he did and I’m explain why. I think this tour at least gave him the chance to play in VH with Michael Anthony again, and this was the last time they had a chance to do that. And then Chickenfoot came shortly after and I thought, well OK then. Sammy wins. I am a big fan of Chickenfoot.

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        3. I was very much into Chickenfoot and I thought VH with David Lee Roth could never top a Chickenfoot album with anything they would put out.

          I was completely wrong, of course.

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  3. I’ll bring the chainsaw out for this one. This compiltion is totally unnecessary. I didn’t buy it and I haven’t even heard the unreleased tracks mentioned in your review. And I am a huge Van Halen fan. But I don’t care because there are no reasons for this album to be released at all. I mean, they did release the Greatest Hits vol 1 & 2 albums, one album with Dave and one with Sam and that’s all any VH fan needs. Besides, what idiot decides to mix Sammy and Dave songs on a double CD..??
    If they have a bunch of unreleaed material lying around then release a “Unreleased Songs” album or something. This is a cop-out and I don’t care how good the songs are, I’d give it a 1/10 rating.

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    1. Always keep your chainsaw handy, I love when you wield it with such vigor!

      I don’t recall a Greatest Hits 2, at least I can tell you there was no such release in North America. Regardless the answer is the same; you can’t mix these two eras willy-nilly like this. Van Halen’s music is best enjoyed either a) on the original albums or b) on a two-disc set with one of Sam and one of Dave. But even that would be putting a heavier than necessary balance on the Sammy era. 4 albums vs. 7, it’s just math!

      I don’t know if there has ever been a band with a history like Van Halen, so clearly and definitely divided between singer-era’s.

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      1. Sorry, my bad. There only was a Volume 1 album, but that album had the Dave songs first and then the Hagar stuff. Thing is, I made my own VH compilations from my own records as I’m not that much into buying albums with songs that I already own. Me Wise Magic, Can’t Get This Stuff No More and Humans Being I ripped from a friend’s album, I downloaded the covers, photshopped them and made my own compilations and called them vol 1 and vol 2. My versions kills the originals btw… ;-)

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        1. I’m sure they are way better! I think this CD has one song from Fair Warning. One. How does that make any sense in any universe when there are three live Sammy songs?

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        2. Aaaawwwww!!! Mean Street, Sinner’s Swing, Dirty Movies, Unchained… They all belong or the compilation’s wrong…
          Hey whadda u know, I’m a poet and I didn’t know it…

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        3. That’s great! I don’t hate.

          Fair Warning would almost have to be included in its entirety if you do a true “best of”. One time I made an Alice Cooper “best of” and ALL of School’s Out was on it.

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  4. I have had this comp in my had several times over the years, thought of buying it… but never pulled the trigger. Largely, it was because I didn’t want the two singers (well OK, three) mixed together. It’s too jarring. I like thm all, for different reasons, but I can’t make the jigsaw puzzle of it all fit together in my head enough to think I need this in my CD player. Now, Vol. 1 (with the black cover) is a sweet set, but I ultimately decided to just go buy the albums. Yeah, I miss some bonus tracks, but it’s all the Halen I’ll need for quite some time.

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    1. For Van Halen, it’s easy to get the albums, CD, vinyl, whatever, they’re all readily available and affordable. I wholly recommend getting at least all the DLR records, but 5150 is so fun.

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      1. I would recommend getting the Hagar albums as well. They’re easily as good as the Roth albums, just a bit different. Waste no money on Gary Cherones III album, though. It’s more or less a Eddie Van Halen solo album anyway.

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  5. 3 was Edward claiming full control of his own band now that the two lead singers that sold the albums were gone and the new guy wasn’t gonna rock the boat while Anthony was already making less % points than the rest of them…and Al was gonna stick by his brother…
    3 was a shift in musical sound/direction and the production was brutal…….

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  6. Review is spot on (informative too) agree 100% its biggest flaw being the mixing of both eras throughout both discs. Would only rate it a 2 maybe 2.5 at best though, also for the cover art, the remastering and 2 of the 3 new Sam tracks didn’t suck.

    Good read and cool comments ;)

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