Remember when everybody in the Van Hagar camp just loved each other? Things were so happy in Van Hagar, that Sammy released a solo album in 1987 and nobody got mad. Hell, Eddie himself co-produced it and played bass! Hagar was obligated to do another solo album to get out of his contract with Geffen, and so the self-titled Sammy Hagar was recorded quickly. Sammy apparently forgot he released another album also called Sammy Hagar in 1977, so this one was re-titled I Never Said Goodbye. (I still call it Sammy Hagar.)
There was something particularly weird about this release on cassette. I had a version, purchased from Columbia House around 1989-1990, with a bizarre cover. The J-card was designed to fold around outside the cassette shell. I’m not sure why to this day, and I’ve never seen another copy like it. The artwork was obviously designed to fold on the outside rather than the inside, but I’ll never figure out why.
All the members of Van Halen even appeared in Sammy’s video for “Hands and Knees”. The plot was simple, and perhaps a foreshadowing of things to come. A bored Hagar calls his bandmates (including nextdoor neighbor Eddie) to jam, but nobody’s interested. Instead, Hagar jams with a group of robots! “Hands and Knees” was an odd choice for a first single, being a dark and slow mood tune. The video guaranteed attention, and still garners a chuckle today (albeit a sad one, knowing these guys aren’t pals anymore). I love Michael Anthony’s huge brick of a cell phone. The video was better than the song, though it does have a killer of a chorus. It’s clear if you listen that Eddie Van Halen is one damn fine bassist too. Are you surprised?
One thing about this album, though: it’s really commercial. Like way, way more pop even than 5150. It’s no surprise that some writers like the esteemed Martin Popoff have slagged this album. The production has an airy 80’s feel, not enough oomph. The opening track “When the Hammer Falls” is a hard rocker, but it could have been thicker with more meat. Not that it would have helped too much. The chorus on this one is pretty weak, which is too bad since the riff is good enough for rock and roll.
The second single, which Van Halen used to let Sammy play live acoustically, is “Give to Live”. Van Halen’s version can be found on 1993’s Live: Right here, right now. Hagar’s studio original is unabashedly pop, bombastic…and good. I admit I still enjoy this very cheesy ballad. Hagar is rarely profound, and neither is “Give to Live”, but it’s a nice song indeed.
A shitty synth (?) horn section urinates all over “Boy’s Night Out”. Speaking of synth, “Returning Home” is all but unpalatable. This is one of Sammy’s UFO yarns, a story of a guy returning back to Earth to find it wrecked. “I saw the ruins, once the smoke cleared, once upon returning home.” It’s just sunk by all this terrible synthesizer junk and programming. The UFO has crashed into the damn mountain!
The second side surprisingly opened with some blues jamming: “Standin’ at the Same Old Crossroads”. And that would be Sammy on the slide guitar. “Crossroads” leads directly into “Privacy”, a “Radar Love” re-write that is better than “Radar Love”. Maybe I’m just sick of “Radar Love”, but “Privacy” has some smoking playing on it, proving again that Hagar is actually a pretty badass soloist. Side two on a whole is actually much better than the first. “Back Into You” is a vintage-style Hagar radio rocker. Journey must have wished they wrote “Back Into You”. The keyboard overdubs aren’t necessary but hey, it was the 80’s and this is a great little AOR rocker.
Another tune that Hagar played live with Van Halen was “Eagles Fly”. He actually presented the song to the band for 5150, but it was turned down. A live Van Halen version can be found on the 1993 single for “Jump (Live)”. He did it acoustically on stage, but the studio version is bombastic and big like “Give to Live” is. It’s a pretty impressive tune, for pop rock. David Lauser’s drumming makes the song, I’m a sucker for that rat-a-tat-tat!
The album ends on a ho-hum note, the soul-funk of “What They Gonna Say Now”, sort of this album’s “Inside” to close it out. Just not good enough. If you want to hear Eddie Van Halen playing bass up close and personal, he’s very audible here, but he’s not a flash bassist. He plays with the groove for the song.
It’s tempting to think of this album as a collection of tracks that were not right for Van Halen, and that’s mostly true. A lot of it, however, just wasn’t good enough for Van Halen. “What They Gonna Say Now” could have been a Van Halen track, but it would have been the weakest tune on 5150 if so.