REVIEW: Van Halen – OU812 (1988)

Review by special request of reader Wardy!

OU812_0001VAN HALEN – OU812 (1988 Warner)

Those who were displeased with 1986’s 5150 album were optimistic about the next Van Halen.  “I heard it’s supposed to be heavier like old Van Halen,” were the whispers in the highschool halls.  “More like the stuff with David Lee Roth.”  Even though Van Hagar plotted their own course with tremendous success, there were and always will be factions that prefer Diamond Dave.  It is all but impossible to review a Van Hagar CD without asking, “is it as good as the classic records?”

I like OU812, a lot. It’s probably my favourite Van Hagar album and I’ve liked it since it came out. It is a little harder than 5150, and it does sport old school Van Halen shuffles like some from the days of old.  I would often argue that where Sammy Hagar fumbled in Van Halen is in the lyrical department.  But few of his lyrics on OU812 outright suck, and some are pretty cool.  Eddie’s guitar tone was beefier than it was on 5150.  Most importantly, the band were all fired up and still writing great rock songs and ballads.

Keyboards remained on the new album, as heard on opener “Mine All Mine”.  The context now was a harder rock song, and they work effectively.  Hagar turns in a surprisingly penetrative lyric regarding religion and self reliance.  “You got Allah in the East, Jesus in the West — Christ, what’s a man to do?” sings Sammy, never one to mince his words.  The breakneck track serves as an excellent starter for the new Van Halen.

“When It’s Love” kills the momentum momentarily.  It was a huge hit and also happened to be Van Halen’s first actual “music video” since David Lee Roth quit the band years before.  As far as ballads go, it’s edgier than “Love Walks In” or “Dreams”, although I don’t think it’s as good as either of those.  Thankfully the boys chase this with the weird-titled “A.F.U. (Naturally Wired)”.  This blazingly fast Van Halen shuffle isn’t too dissimilar from the style of song the band used to do with Dave.  Eddie, of course, knocks everybody down with his impossible licks.  Meanwhile, drummer Alex Van Halen gleefully enjoys the odd beats and searing tempo.

One of the best Van Hagar songs of all time closed side one, and it’s the song that loaned its name to an award-winning tequila:  “Cabo Wabo”.  A laid back summer classic, I challenge even the most cynical fan to not tap their toes during “Cabo Wabo”.  Hell, feel free to air-drum along.  Eddie lays down some juicy chords in that trademark brown sound.

“Source of Infection”, side two’s opening song, is barely a song at all.  I have always been convinced that Sammy ran out of time and didn’t have any lyrics written for this song so he just went in and sang stuff.  We know that Van Halen were indeed rushed in the studio.  I think “Source of Infection” is evidence of that, as there are barely any words to it.

Hey!OU812_0002
Alright!
Woo!
How ’bout ‘cha now, come on!
Oh yeah!
Dig it! That’s right
Is everybody ready? Let’s go!

(Movin’ up and down) Up ‘n down
(Round and round) Oh, round and round
(Movin’ up and down) In ‘n out
(Round and round) Yeow!

Crank it! Blow out!
Uh! Ouch!
Help me
Now flip on over
Oh baby, you know that I like it
(Woop! Woop! Woop!)

I think I’ve made my point.

It’s actually a smoking track, one of the heaviest Van Hagar blazers ever recorded, but to call it a “song” would be too generous and misleading.

I’ve been on record here for trashing Van Hagar ballads in the past, but I really like “Feels So Good”!  It’s the bright upbeat one.  Eddie’s keyboard sound on it is unique.  You have to give Eddie credit as a keyboardist, because that is so overshadowed by his guitar playing.  Eddie has always manufactured cool keyboard hooks, and accompanied them with an identifiably unique keyboard tone.  “Feels So Good” continues that tradition.  Top that with an Eddie solo complete with two-handed tapping and tricks, and you have a flawless Van Hagar pop rock track.

The country-flavoured “Finish What Ya Started” is one of the best top 40 hits about blue balls that I can think of.  I suffered from a high level of burnout from this track in ’88-’89, due to its saturation on radio and MuchMusic, but you can certainly hear why radio went for it.  The blue balls theme probably went right over their heads, and it’s accessible with plenty of incredible guitar hooks.  You just don’t hear Eddie playing like this often.  I also have to praise Alex’s snare drum sound here, so full and authentic.

“Black and Blue” was actually the first single, although no video was made for it.  It’s a slower Van Halen blues groove, but I don’t think it holds up particularly well after repeated listens.  (I caught hell for playing this album at work once, because Sammy sings “Bitch sure got the rhythm,” on this song.)  And unfortunately I don’t think “Sucker in a 3 Piece” is particularly awesome either.  It’s probably the weakest track on the album, although I remember one kid at school thought it was the best one, so there you go!  “Only Eddie Van Halen could come up with ‘Sucker in a 3 Piece’,” he praised.  I don’t see what his fuss was all about.

There was a CD bonus track on this, a rare novelty back in 1988.  I already had “A Apolitical Blues” on the flipside of the “Black and Blue” single.  For the first time since Diver Down, a cover (Little Feat) on a Van Halen album! Granted, only on the CD version, but still.  On MuchMusic, Eddie explained how this song was recorded about as low-tech as you can get:  four guys, two microphones, one room.  It sounded great on that scratchy old 45, but it’s not as memorable as a Van Halen cover can be.

Interesting and sometimes annoying factoids about the albums:

1. No producer is listed anywhere in the credits.  There is only “Recorded by Donn Landee”.

2. The tracks are irritatingly and purposely listed in the wrong order on the back cover, and in the lyric book.  They are alphabetical.  Who does that anymore?

4/5 stars

Final note:  A rare 3″ CD single with a remix of “Finish What Ya Started” and the album version of “Sucker in a 3 Piece” found its way into our store.  It came in with no packaging, so I bought it and stuck it in with my CD of OU812 as “disc 2” in a 2 CD case.  The remix version is notable for not being audibly different from the album version in any detectable way!

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38 comments

  1. Great way to start the work week with a awesome read along with my early 530am brew on ou812…. This one Mikey for me as well was a sleeper I dug it at the time of its release but 27 years later(yikes!) I think it may be the best Sam Halen album with Hags at the vocals!
    Totally right about Sam running out of gas on Source…..hahaha… but man AFU/Sucker/Feels So Good it’s all pretty good I would give this one a total 5 but Source deduct .5 ..so 4.5 from my end …..you can always reread my silly review of it………
    Good Stuff Young Fella!

    Liked by 1 person

        1. “I like Van Halen, not Van Hagar!” – Joe Dirte.

          A little later on, Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth did a tour together with Michael Anthony making guest appearances. Some called it Sans Halen.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks buddy! Now it’s time to check out your Plant post. Thank Wardy for the request and getting me off my ass to finally review it.

      Only one VH left for me to review — Right Here, Right Now.

      Like

  2. Great review, Mike! K of course has this album. I hear ya about “Finish what you started”. I remember MuchMusic actually airing a weird MM bumper that showed a real TV with a Robert Cray video playing. Someone off screen turns up the volume on the TV (the volume bars you see on-screen). Weird thing was Van Halen’s “Finish What You Started” was dubbed on top of it. But it’s Robert Cray?! Then you see the MM logo fly in.

    I almost thought my memory imagined it until I saw it on YouTube (I’ll have to find it again). It aired around 1988. Do you remember that?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No I don’t remember that one at all! Too bad. I actually recorded a lot of their bumpers! If I ever get to put my videos on youtube, there will actually be hours of footage that isn’t around anymore.

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  3. YESSSSS! OU812 gets the Ladano treatment \m/

    And am on board with the majority of your review, think OU812, while personally comes with slightly less nostalgic value than 5150, is as good as the first with Hagar and think production issues aside, the years have been kind to both and these first two Sam fronted records play like equals.

    Unlike you though do love Sucker In a 3 Piece, just a cracking guitar track late in the piece showing much more focus on old-school Halen and lottsa time for Source Of Infection too. Never thought of it being unfinished but makes sense I guess, thankfully though these ears just bled with it and continue to be immersed in this crazy metallic jam, what a sensational start to Side 2 that madness is!

    Never went much for Finish What You Started, while get yer point (obviously as did many others ;) fer these ears it just didn’t fit with the rest of the record although granted that may have been the intention and good as it was, always felt When It’s Love played far too soon, had it been sequenced after say, AFU, think many of the headbangers woulda found that more to their liking, this fan included ;)

    Alas pretty much agree with everything else you’ve said, Feels So Good is fantastic, Mine All Mine is Sammy peaking, what an epic album start, and as great as they both are, unlike many others we both agree Cabo Wabo the better summer time cool over Black N’ Blue.

    Whichever way ya look at it, there’s just so much essential Halen to be had here, and personally felt as good as it was, the more popular For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge a safer record while OU812 took the bigger risks, challenging the band to deliver on the promise that was 5150! And rightfully so too…

    Would probably rate this one an extra .5 simply for it being so good time reliable and (musically) aging so well – 4.5/5

    Sorry for the lengthy reply LOL, but enjoyed this review cheers, much appreciated!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No problem Wardy! I can’t always abide requests, because the truth is I have a day job like everybody else and ultimately have to listen to music I am in the mood for at that time. Otherwise I’m not enjoying music as much as I should! But this request hit me in a Halen mood, and I also want to complete my Van Halen reviews.

      Yeah, a ballad as the second track sounds a bit weak today. But it was the 80’s. They really did successfully transition from Van Halen to a top 40 Van Hagar.

      Like

  4. I’d never realised how poetic the lyrics to Source of Infection were. I’m quite moved. This one gets a bit lost on me in-between 5150 and FUCK. I do enjoy it when I hear it but I think the other two have much more nostalgia/familiarity for me which just edges them. But now I’ve read those lyrics I might need to give this one another spin. Woop! Woop! Woop!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How bout cha now, Scott, you know what I like. Woop woop. There, I’m speaking Sammy now.

      FUCK is the one I don’t have any nostalgia for. Plus, just today I watched a guy drink a 20 year old bottle of Crystal Pepsi. EWWW.

      Like

  5. Hey you finally reviewed OU85646841, and even mentioned 5150476564836434! Fantastic.

    This is one VH album I have never owned, and probably never heard most of it. Actually, I don’t have either record listed above. But a 4/5 at Lebrain’s, though, that’s making me think I oughta try it.

    Those lyrics of Source… are so insightful and deep. Wow.

    As for “You got Allah in the East, Jesus in the West — Christ, what’s a man to do?” I think he gave you his answer with an interesting choice of words. Also, I would think VH would be better to leave that stuff out of their songs.

    Also, “The remix version is notable for not being audibly different from the album version in any detectable way!” That’s awesome. I love it when they really do the work and reimagine something fully. What a joke.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you like Van Hagar, get this album. CD over LP, for the bonus track. Although the Black and Blue single sure is easy enough to find.

      Noooo idea what that remix is about. None at all. I have not bothered to throw them on Audacity and compare. I know that you do see some remixes that are specifically remixed for radio formats, but the remix amounts to just some minor changes in EQ levels. Like pop radio might like the bass turned higher, etc. Maybe they add compression. But I can’t hear anything.

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      1. I don’t mind Van Hagar. I’m the guy who liked F.U.C.K. so maybe I’m not the best judge of these things? I dunno. I will have all of the VH records eventually. It’s a matter of 1) having disposable cash, 2) having nothing else to buy, and 3) finding them in a cheap bin when 1) and 2) collide.

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  6. My all time favorite Van Hagar era VH record. Tops 5150 although I really dig the double live release Right Here Right Now from 1993.
    And not only is Cabo Wabo a great song and a great tequila, the company was founded by Sammy himself.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Didn’t know this cheers.

        Mind you I can’t help but dig the tune regardless in fact hard pressed to imagine not wanting ti hear side2of the record after such an onslaught LOL…

        Source Of Infection indeed ;)

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow. I have yet to be hooked by Van Hagar, but that Source of Infection track there is a work of art. So poetic and emotive. I tip my hat.

    Like

  8. I love both the Dave and the Sammy versions of Van Halen. Two different bands, equally as good, but it’s really hard to compare even though there are lots of stuff that ties both versions together. Of course, Eddie’s guitar playing and sound and the same goes for brother Alex, very personal drum sound and style, but never forget Mike Anthony’s harmonies. More important than people might think.
    I love this album. I have a soft spot for Van Halen going AOR on us. When It’s Love, Feels So Good and even Mine All Mine are awesome AOR tracks.
    But is it just me or isn’t there a nod or two back to the Dave days? I mean Source Of Infection and A.F.U. could very well come from the early 80’s and Finish What You Started has a kind of Could This Be Magic vibe.
    Great album. I’d give it 8/10.

    Like

  9. Gonna have to go back and listen. I loved OU812 and 5150 at the time….both have faded over time for me……here’s a weird thing. 1984, 5150, OU812, F?@K, VH never had a real album name from Diver Down to Balance…

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      1. Yes that is true, that is the actual album title, nowhere on it does it say “F.U.C.K.” And “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” is an actual legal term, albeit an archaic one, so it’s not like they even made it up!

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        1. But made up by the fans. It’s like saying DOTM is the acronym for Dark of the Moon. Sure, that’s what fans call it, but that’s not what it’s called. Nowhere on the CD will you find the phrase “F.U.C.K.” so it’s really not an official anything.

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        2. But it’s not a wild guess that the sole purpose for naming the album For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge was because they new everyone would shorten the title as it is a long title. Their kind of humour.

          Liked by 1 person

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