REVIEW: Van Halen – Best Of Volume I (1996)

I will be live on the Craig Fee Show on 107.5 Dave FM this afternoon 12/01/14, around 5:20 pm Ontario time, to discuss one of the tracks included on this album. Listen live by clicking right here to stream!

EDIT – Show went great!  Thanks for listening!

This review is a companion piece to my previous “Van Halen (Not Van Hagar!)” series of reviews:
Part 1: The Early Years (Zero – 1977) VH_0003
Part 2:
On Fire (Van Halen – 1978)
Part 3: Somebody Get Me A Doctor (Van Halen II – 1979)
Part 4: Everybody Wants Some!! (Women and Children First – 1980)
Part 5: Push Comes to Shove (Fair Warning – 1981)
Part 6: Intruder (Diver Down – 1982)
Part 7: House of Pain (1984 – 1984)
Coda: Can’t Get This Stuff No More & Me Wise Magic (1996 singles)

VH BEST OF V1_0001VAN HALEN – Best Of Volume I (1996 Warner)

Van Halen’s first “greatest hits” compilation was historic in its fallout.  The band had talked for years about putting out a “best of” set, with one disc of Dave and one disc of Sammy.  That never happened but the concept continued to be discussed in the Van Halen camp, with Sammy Hagar adamantly against it.  When Hagar’s friend and Van Halen’s manager Ed Lefler passed away, he was replaced by Canadian Ray Danniels, who was also handling Rush, Extreme, and King’s X. Hagar and Danniels never quite saw eye to eye and when push came to shove, Hagar refused to participate in the recording of new music for the compilation.  The Van Halen camp considered this to be highly hypocritical of Sammy, since he had done just that for his own solo “greatest hits” CD, Unboxed (1994).  All of this led to a tense telephone standoff with Eddie Van Halen himself, the revelation that Ed had already started working on new songs with former singer David Lee Roth, and Hagar quitting the band.  (On top of all that, and unbeknownst to Hagar or Roth, was that was Van Halen were also eyeballing Gary Cherone, who Ray Danniels brought in from one of his other bands, Extreme. They had even recorded some test tracks with Mitch Malloy who ultimately turned the gig down.)

When Best Of Volume I was finally released in fall of 1996, there was so much confusion in the air that many fans really had no idea who was in Van Halen or what the hell was going on.   At the Record Store, I had one guy come in and return this on the day of release, October 22, 1996.

“Yeah, I want to return this CD,” he said.  “I already have these songs.”

What?!  You couldn’t tell that from the title Best Of Volume I?

That’s indicative of the confusion in fandom.  This guy had assumed, like many people, that Van Halen had a brand new album of songs out with David Lee Roth singing.

VH BEST OF V1_0004Another common urban myth was that there was such a thing as Best Of Volume II.  People would constantly ask if we had it, when it was coming out, and sometimes even insist they had seen it before in stores.  When asked when Best Of Volume II was coming out again and again, I started answering “18 years”, because that’s how long it took for them to come out with Volume I.

T-Rev wrote up a quickie review for our store newsletter.  He praised the remastering job, but bemoaned that only one song was included from Van Halen II, and that there wasn’t enough Dave in general.  I would agree.  At the very least, a song like “Can’t Stop Loving You” should have been ditched for something else like “Everybody Wants Some!!”  However, to put this into context, in 1996 that was one of Van Halen’s most recent hit singles, just over a year old.   The rest of the album takes tracks from each studio record (sans Diver Down which Eddie doesn’t speak too highly of). The most notable omissions were “Hot For Teacher” (only available on the Japanese release of Best Of) and “Love Walks In” (which I can do without). Presumably there would have been more tracks on a Volume II, which never materialized.  (18 years my arse!)

To me, the hits part of this disc is just preamble. The reason fans went out and bought this CD was the return of David Lee Roth on the two new singles. Nobody cared about the hits they already had.  Indeed, as implied by T-Rev’s review, most of us didn’t really agree with most of the hits selected.

They stuck “Can’t Get This Stuff No More” and “Me Wise Magic”, the first new songs by the original Van Halen in over a decade, at the tail end of the CD.  As fans, we were elated to hear new music that clearly hearkened back to the pre-synth, pre-1984 sound of Van Halen. Dave’s voice was lower and less powerful, but no less expressive.  His delivery is pure gleeful Dave, even on these darker songs. His lyrics (which according to Roth, Eddie didn’t like) are as Diamond Dave as ever.  As far as guitar goes, Eddie’s letting it, basing both songs purely on riffage. This was a pretty cool about-face from the too-commercial sounds of Balance.

Neither song was really single-worthy, but they would have made solid album cuts, had this incarnation of Van Halen continued to make an album.  Of course, that didn’t happen.  Best Of Volume I is, thus far, the only place you can buy them.  And that means if you love original Van Halen, you need to buy this album.

For Van Hagar fans, there was the excellent newbie “Humans Being”, with its angry modern verses and bright shiny chorus.  I’ve always liked the song, because of the chorus and Eddie’s guitar.  The verses, not so much, but as a song it holds together as something different for Van Halen.  In some ways it pointed the way forward to Van Halen 3.  This is the only ‘Halen album where you can get “Humans Being”, saving you from having to buy the terrible Twister soundtrack.

(Missing is a track called “Respect The Wind” billed by Eddie & Alex Van Halen from the same soundtrack.  It’s not really that good, and it’s not billed as Van Halen the band, so seek as per your own needs.  Presumably, “Respect the Wind” was from the batch of music that they were working on while Sammy refused to record.  See KeepsMeAlive for a review of the Twister soundtrack CD.)

VH BEST OF V1_0003

Roth mentioned in his autobiography Crazy From the Heat that he hated the cover art and booklet for this.  It looked devoid and sucked dry of all life.  I would agree.  A music video was planned but nixed.  The concept was the trio of Michael Anthony and Eddie & Alex Van Halen playing on a stage, with a big screen behind them of Dave singing.  Insulted, Roth refused to do it.

Of interest, if you’re lucky enough to own a first pressing of this CD, you might have a mini-rarity.  There was a version with an error on it.  You may own a very rare alternate mix of “Runnin’ With the Devil”, released by mistake, where the verses, chorus and solos were arranged in a different order than that of the originally released album version. Take a listen and see if you’re one of the few.  That version was quickly discontinued and corrected.*

3.5/5 stars. Despite the brevity, this album doesn’t overstay the party.


*My friend at 107.5 Dave FM, Craig Fee, had this to add about the “error” mix of “Runnin’ With the Devil”:

You just solved a huge mystery for me. Something that has been bugging me for YEARS.

When I first moved here, I was listening to Dave FM one day. I heard this fucked up version of “Runnin’ With The Devil” with the “whoooooo whooooooo” part at the end edited out. I mentioned it, but Darryl didn’t do anything about it. 5 years later, we are still playing this version. It sounded like a bad edit made by an overzealous producer who was trying to do something to the song.

Until this post, I had no idea why somebody would butcher the song like that. Now I know why. The majority of the big ‘hits’ were dubbed from that CD.

I have the version I bought the day it was released. I listened to it twice. I have no idea if it’s the edited version.

Craig advised me to load both versions (Best Of and Van Halen I) into Audacity and sync them.  I did and I could see right away visually that they did not match up.  I hit “play” and everything was synced until around 1:15.  Then, as Craig puts it, “all hell breaks loose” and the two versions completely deviate.    So apparently I do have both.

RUNNING WITH THE DEVIL WAVEFORM COMPARISON

 

The only modification I made to the tracks was to reduce the version from Van Halen in volume by 7%, so they were roughly the same.

More VH:

VAN HALEN – 3 (Collectors’ tin 1998)
VAN HALEN – 5150 (1986 Warner Bros.)
VAN HALEN – A Different Kind of Truth (2012)
VAN HALEN – Balance (1995 Warner – Japanese version included)
VAN HALEN – “Best of Both Worlds” (1986 Warner 7″ single)
VAN HALEN – The Best of Both Worlds (2005 Warner)
VAN HALEN – “Can’t Stop Loving You” (Parts 1 & 2, inc. collector’s tin)
VAN HALEN – “Right Now”(1992 cassette single, Warner)
BRIAN MAY & FRIENDS – Star Fleet Project (w/ Edward Van Halen)

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8 comments

  1. Me Wise Magic was awesome (at the time anyway) it sounded so right after VH seemed to be on the decline if not totally finished. I never bought the Vol. I album and I own Best of Both Worlds so I likely never will even though I like Me Wise Magic better than just about anything on A Different Kind of Truth.

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  2. I owned this, at one point. It was good (how do you argue with all of those songs!) but yes, it left off a lot of stuff. That’s always my complaint with a Hits set – there’s no way 1 CD can cover a band like VH properly. It’s not here now, I don’t think, so I’ve ditched it in one of my culls.

    As for that guy returning the CD, I don’t think I could have let him – especially not on the same day! Seriously, was he that dumb to not know it was a Hits set? Didn’t he read the song titles on the back? Or see the big words BEST OF in gold letters on the cover? I think that guy was lucky to get out of the house fully dressed and with his shoes tied, let alone arrive safely at your store or try to buy a CD. Doofus.

    I think the Volume II was just wishful thinking. Like, maybe there’ll be a second disc with more of what should have been on Volume I on it! Or here’s better advice – just buy the albums.

    Haha the Twister soundtrack wasn’t that terible, imho. Thanks for the linkback!

    I have no idea if my disc had the wrong RWTD on it. I doubt it, though.

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    1. Dude, the guy the returned it on the day of fucking released. Opened it, played it, returned it. I don’t remember exactly what I gave him but I know we didn’t give him full value. I even pointed out to him that it was called Best Of and all the songs are listed on the back.

      Some of us made our own Volume II. And each one of us that did thought it was awesome.

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  3. I’m not that big on compilation albums and it always pisses me off that by putting some new songs on there, you have to buy song you already have. I’m not gonna pay that price for three songs, no way sir. So yes, I did download those songs and maybe I’m going to hell for it, but hey, I like it warm and hot.
    Me Wise Magic and Can’t Get This Stuff No More, however, are both brilliant and being a huge fan of the Sammy Hagar fronted Van Halen as well, Humans Being is, as you correctly pointed out, excellent. But me, I thought Twister was an ok movie…

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    1. I hated Twister, I’ll be honest with you! Bill Paxton was so awful in that movie I thought. I enjoyed that they used “Stormbringer” by Deep Purple in one scene.

      Sometimes it’s fun to complain about movies!

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  4. Interestingly though Van Cherone’s ‘Without You’ was featured on the DVD sister release for this cash grab!?

    Really liked the new Roth tunes that were on offer here but while agree A Different Kind Of Truth was for the most part void of epic chorus the likes of Me Wise Magic, ADKOT works better for it being a little less Me Wise Magic commercial, and more old-school Van Halen? I suspect the majority of ADKOT tunes might outlive Me Wise Magic for that same reason!?

    Agree Humans Being was a cracker too, had that concluded Balance that alone might have seen that album receive far more props. A shame the band quite with Hagar about that time cause if that tune was anything to go by they coulda delivered something very cool had they recorded one more album with that lineup.

    Guilty please for It’s About Time aside, as it stands Humans Being beats the pants offa the 3 new Hagar tunes that came with Best Of Both Worlds, it and those Roth tunes were worth the price of purchase alone (pre-internet of course).

    Good read ;)

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    1. You are 100% correct. Without You DID appear on the DVD version of this, a review I will eventually post. I think you are right about ADKOT lacking those epic choruses. I do miss Michael Anthony though. I think Wolfgang is currently the key member of the band though, holding it all together. ADKOT was really his baby.

      Humans Being DEFINITELY beat out the 3 new Hagar songs on that album. Forgettable!!

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