5150

#901: 5150 Time Again?

Distilling some stories from the 5150 live stream.

RECORD STORE TALES #901: 5150 Time Again?

Van Halen’s 5150 was their first #1.  It was their first with Sammy Hagar and their first truly divisive album.  As a young kid on a weekly allowance, I had to pick and choose what to buy.  Van Halen’s marketing campaign involved making no new music videos for 5150, only releasing live clips.  Since music videos were 99% of my new music exposure, 5150 didn’t make it high on my priority lists.  Van Halen didn’t want to compete with David Lee Roth, seen as the master of the music video.  Unfortunately this meant kids like me only had live versions to preview.

In particular, the live video for “Why Can’t This Be Love” turned off many of the kids in the neighbourhood.  Scott Peddle remembers not buying the album specifically because of that video.  It was a combination of Sammy’s new haircut and the off-key scatting.  This is all we had to judge the new album by!  I didn’t have any friends who owned 5150.

I ended up getting a second hand cassette off a kid in school named Todd Burnside.  I was sorely disappointed that after paying him five bucks; the front cover to the tape was all ripped.  I had to put it back together with Scotch tape.  I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t bother taking care of his tape.  Then again, Burnside’s nickname in school was “Burnout”.  At least it played well.

Maybe two years after 5150 came out, there were rumblings about Van Halen working on new music.  In the 80s, there was no internet but there was a rumour mill.  You’d read something in a magazine, or hear it on the TV.  For example, there were almost always rumours that Van Halen were on the verge of splitting.  This happened in 1987 when Sammy Hagar released his self-titled solo album (even though said solo album was made with Edward Van Halen himself).  At the same time, there were rumours that they were also working on a brand new Van Halen album.

It wasn’t inconceivable, with our naive little insular world view, that the forthcoming new Van Halen album could leak, and someone could get a hand on a tape.  It seemed possible.  Kids in my neighbourhood had all kinds of rare music on tape that we couldn’t trace back to a source.  Live tracks by Iron Maiden, or even the legendary “Rodeo Song”.   It was taped from one kid to another to another until you didn’t know what generation you had.  This story is about the time I thought the girl I liked got her pretty little hands on the new Van Halen.

The story goes like this.  Her boyfriend taped her a Van Halen cassette, with no titles written down.  Huge pet peave, right?  Such bad habits lead to misunderstandings like this story.  I was friends with her younger brother, and one day I was talking to her on the phone and she mentioned her favourite song by Van Halen.  “I love ‘Contact’,” she said.  “It’s on this tape my boyfriend made.”

“Contact”?  I never heard of that song.  I knew my Van Halen song titles and “Contact” was not one of them.  Not realizing that she had to be making up the title herself because no songs were written down, I concluded she might have her hands on a pirated tape of the new Van Halen.  I wanted to hear it next time I came over.

I told my friends about this possible lead into the next Van Halen album and promised to report back.

I went to visit one afternoon.  They had a pool.  But I wanted to get down to business first.  I brought a blank 60 minute tape with me in case I needed to dub what I was about to hear.  Let’s see this Van Halen tape!

She brought out the tape and I noticed there was nothing written on the cover, so there was absolutely no information available about any of the songs.  But I didn’t need information as soon as she hit “play”.

The familiar cascading keyboard melody echoed from the tinny speakers of her ghetto blaster.  What the hell?!  This song wasn’t called “Contact”!  It was called “Love Walks In”!  How could she not know that?

My disappointment was only assuaged by a dip in the pool, with extra splashing.  I came home empty handed.  No Van Halen, and worse than that…the girl I liked didn’t even know the proper name of “Love Walks In”!  How the hell?

My crush on her dissipated shortly thereafter and I moved on to other interests.  She wasn’t a real Van Halen fan after all.

 

Marathon T-Bone Show – 5150 is Dissected and LeBrain is Pummelled

Hold onto your seats, folks, because T-Bone will blow you away with his 5150 knowledge and insight. In fact, all six panel members tonight brought it!

While it wasn’t fun being the lone dissenting voice when you’re up against heavyweights like Kevin and Meat, this was one of the best discussions on 5150 that you are likely to hear. And you need a dissenting voice, right?  I was happy to play the role of punching bag too!

The Van Halen talk begins at exactly 0:48:00 and runs through to the end.  Before that we unboxed some action figures, talked about the new Coney Hatch live album, and a little bit of current events.  Watch right from the start to catch all that.  We also played three music videos:  “Donna (Do Ya Wanna)” by Deadline, “Open Door Piss” by T-Bone, and “Victim of Changes” (Priest cover) by Clockwork Orange.

Enjoy!

May 7:  Paul Laine from Danger Danger and the Defiants with co-host John Snow.

May 14:  List show by Uncle Meat’s suggestion — Best Cover Tunes — with panel TBA.

May 21:  Sean Kelly (Coney Hatch, Crash Kelly, Helix, Lee Aaron, Trapper, Nelly Furtado) joins us with co-host Deke!

May 28:  Dave Lizmi of the Four Fuckin’ Horsemen!  Co-host will be T-Rev.

June 4:  One year anniversary of Harrison’s first appearance.  We re-hash the Top 11 Priest Albums and will have Geoff Stephen to graph it!  Co-host is TBA.

June 18:  Robert Lawson, author of Still Competition: The Listener’s Guide to Cheap Trick.  Hosted by Superdekes.

All aboard!

 

Trifecta of T-Bone…5150 Time!

The LeBrain Train: 2000 Words or More with Mike Ladano

Episode 62 – 5150 Time &  a Trifecta of T-Bone

Tune in tonight for beer, some T-Bone (his 3rd appearance) and an in-depth discussion of an album that went to number one 35 years ago this week:  Van Halen’s 5150.  The complete panel will be as follows:

To quote Pearl Jam, it’s “Five, five, five against one.”  I’m the lone dissenting voice that will be highly critical of 5150, while the other five guys will probably take turns punching me in the balls.

Friday April 30 7:00 PM E.S.T. on Facebook:  MikeLeBrain and YouTube:  Mike LeBrain.

REVIEW: Van Halen – Live Without a Net (1987 VHS)

VAN HALEN – Live Without a Net (1987 Warner Reprise VHS/DVD)

I set the VCR to record.  MuchMusic were showing the full concert:  Van Halen, Live Without a Net!  Though they beeped the naughty words, I had to make sure I didn’t miss this special.  I’d never heard Van Halen doing Roth tunes with Hagar before!  Folks, there was a lot of beeping.

Live Without a Net is undoubtedly goofy, and that is part of its charm.  It’s kind of annoying every time Sammy proclaims that they are in “New Halen” instead of New Haven, but I guess he had to.  I still don’t understand why Sammy painted that lady’s shoes red.  The fact that a roadie had red spray paint on standby was kind of cool though.  The band were obviously wasted, but put on a completely epic show nonetheless.  It was light on the Roth stuff that Sammy didn’t want to do, like “Jump”, but they also played virtually all of their new album 5150.

The new stuff was heavier on keyboards and for many of the songs, Eddie was playing the keys while Sammy actually played the solos.  Unusual for this band; absolutely.  Sammy’s solo in “Love Walks In” ain’t half bad.  While I enjoyed this change of pace, Bob Schipper did not.  “A guy like Eddie Van Halen shouldn’t be stuck on keyboards,” he said.  I’ll be honest here.  I prefer Eddie playing keyboards live, even if it means Sammy’s on lead guitar.

The friendship between Sammy and Eddie here is obvious.  The chemistry is clear.  The tension that used to fuel Van Halen is gone here, and in it’s place is simple male comradery.  It’s audible in the music, and Eddie can’t stop grinning…except when he’s busy dragging on that cigarette!

With the new tunes dominating the set, there were only two Roth-era numbers.  “Panama” was the only big Roth hit, with “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” representing the first LP.  Balancing the Roth songs are two Hagar solo tunes, “There’s Only One Way to Rock” and “I Can’t Drive 55”.  These are great and you won’t find too many live versions that are better.  There were also the usual guitar, drum and bass solos, but Michael Anthony’s is mostly tuneless.  A Zeppelin cover, “Rock and Roll”, closes the set.

As kids, Bob and I didn’t care about the Zeppelin song.  What we watched the video for was Eddie himself.  When it was time for his solo, we studied it.  There was no way we could have understood what he was doing on a musical level, but we watched his actual technique.  We wondered if he ever burned his hand on that cigarette dangling from the headstock.  Eddie’s solo was like opening a science textbook for the first time.  Except this was a textbook that looked and sounded absolutely badass!

This always should have been a live album.  Edited, of course.  You don’t need the shoe painting episode to fully enjoy Van Halen Live Without a Net.*

4/5 stars

 

* The painting of the shoes happened during “Best of Both Worlds” and was edited out when released as a single B-side.

 

REVIEW: Van Halen – 5150 (1986)

VAN HALEN – 5150 (1986 Warner Bros.)

Back in 1986, a lot of the rockers in my neighborhood had given up on Diamond Dave; we just couldn’t swallow “California Girls” and still wear our Judas Priest shirts proudly. On the flipside, we really dug Sammy’s “I Can’t Drive 55”. When the split and new singer were announced, we waited hopefully that Van Halen with Hagar in tow would produce something that really rocked. Then in early ’86 we saw that embarrassing live video for “Why Can’t This Be Love”, and all hopes were dashed. Eddie playing keyboards instead of guitar? What was with Sammy’s poofy short ‘do?  And that out-of-tune scat?  THIS was the new Van Halen?!

Way on the other side of the country in Pitt Meadows, British Columbia, Craig Fee remembers 1986 much like I do:

“I had been riding the Van Halen roller coaster through the DLR solo EP and all the pre-world wide web breakup speculation in magazines, and on all the rock radio stations in the area. When I’d heard that Sammy Hagar was the new lead singer, I was thrilled! I loved Sammy’s solo work. A friend quickly introduced me to Montrose (I was too young for that era of his career). I was fully on the Van Hagar bandwagon! This is gonna be AWESOME!!! Can’t wait to hear the new material!

“I first heard “Why Can’t This Be Love?” over a scratchy FM signal from Seattle. It sounded…different from 1984. Very different from anything on Diver Down.

“The video was to debut the next day on MuchMusic. My buddy Dan and I rushed home from school to watch (and record on his BetaMax) the debut of…a concert video? Gnarly!

“We must’ve played it a dozen times after the world premiere. Both of us were huge fans. It was after the 8th rewind and playback that both of us realized the same thing. It’s the same feeling when your team is expected to ‘win it all this year’ and gets thoroughly outplayed in the finals. That numbness mixed with pride, anxiety and half-hearted disappointment.”

The gnarly “new Van Halen video”

5150 isn’t as bad as we feared it would be, in fact it’s quite good in spots. Its major flaw is that this was a band in upheaval, and David Lee Roth was such a huge part of their sound. 5150 is a transitional album. It picks up with the keyboard flavours of 1984, and moves forward into parts unknown. Musically, most of this album was written with Dave still in the band. In his autobiography, Crazy From The Heat, Dave describes the music that Van Halen were writing as “morose”, reflective of the overall mood of the band.

While 5150 is not a completely joyless affair, it is considerably less upbeat than the party rock that they specialized in with Dave. Ballads have replaced Dave’s snarky winks and smiles. Sammy Hagar was obviously an apt replacement; he’s an accomplished singer, songwriter and guitar player, and he has a great voice. The fit however was awkward at first as Van Halen shoehorned Hagar into the songs written with Dave.

Things start out well enough. “Good Enough” is an upbeat boogie-oriented party rocker. Great song, but the production is painfully thin. The drums clank along, awkward electronic toms creating a cacophony of noise. The guitar lacks Eddie’s trademark “brown” warmth. Where Dave called the album “morose” I would use the word “cold”.

Then, “Why Can’t This Be Love”; better than the live video version but still containing a weird bridge section featuring Sammy scatting. It’s a good song, a great song even, but it feels tired lyrically and musically. Perhaps Dave could have turned it classic, much like he did with “I’ll Wait”. Sometimes when listening to 5150, it hurts to imagine what might have been.

“Get Up” is an OTT (over-the-top) rocker, almost too fast as it sounds at times like the band is falling apart. This sloppiness of old is refreshing. Alex throws in some tasty fills.  Mike, Ed and Al’s backing vocals help make this sound like a real Van Halen rocker. Nothing mindblowing or earth shattering, but enough to keep the album moving.  If it had been produced with more oomph, it really could have been something.

Up next is “Dreams”, a simple little keyboard ballad. Eddie’s first guitar solo consists of just two notes! This isn’t a bad song, but far too reliant on that pop keyboard lick. It doesn’t feel very Halen, but Sammy definitely proves his vocal chops.

Side one ended with the classic “Summer Nights”.  Although it was a B-side (to “Love Walks In”) I think it should have been a single in its own right.  I find the funky verses to be a bit awkward, but the chorus to be irresistible. This is a party rocker, obviously and perfectly suited to those hot summer nights with your radio.

The second half of this wax commences with “Best of Both Worlds”, a pseudo-rocker, but it lacks balls and spark that we have come to expect from a Van Halen rock song. The chorus is decent and obviously the song has become something of a live classic. It wouldn’t make my personal best-of tape.  Craig had a much more turbulent relationship with the song:

“‘Best Of Both Worlds’ is the song that might’ve been the catalyst for my divorce of Van Hagar as the logical continuation of my favourite band.  The lyrics are absolute fucking cornball nonsense.  Look them up.  You’ll see what I mean.  The Live Without A Net version on the B-side of the single brought me vivid flashbacks of those awful pink sweat pants Eddie wore onstage for the concert video.  Those terrible Sammy and Mike harmonies.  That cheesy walk Mike, Sammy and Ed did onstage.  Sammy’s spray painting of the shoes and the accompanying ad-lib were possibly the lamest shit I’ve ever heard.  Do you think David Lee Roth would’ve had a pair of fucking SHOES thrown onstage?  Hell no!”

“Love Walks In” also would not make my personal best-of tape. Maybe this is how Dave defined “morose”? Another keyboard song, and softest on the album, this is Van Halen entering uncharted territory: a commercial power ballad. If they felt like they couldn’t do this kind of song with Dave, they must have felt great when this song went to #22. Lyrically, Sammy’s talking about aliens. Yes, aliens!  (Sammy Hagar believes he has been an abductee.)  And love. I don’t really get the lyrics, but witness lines such as:

“Contact, asleep or awake,”

“Some kind of alien, waits for the opening,”

“Silver lights, shinin’ down,”

“I travel far across the milky way,”

So there’s that. But in the same song, lines like “There she stands in a silken gown,” and love walking in. I’m not sure where Sammy was going with it. I’m sure most listeners didn’t really pick up on the UFO concept at the time.  But who cares when everybody in the sold-out arena has their cigarette lighters out?

Up next is “5150”, another rocker along the lines of “Best of Both Worlds”, but faster and with a lot more life. This is not a bad song. Shame the album doesn’t have more like this.

Lastly is “Inside”, a song that I just can’t decide if I like or not. It’s barely a song, more like a story with a bassline, and an entire band sounded completely wasted. It grooves along with a robotic synth bass riff. Sammy’s on top of it, telling a story about…new shoes? Not sure exactly. The band, audible in the background, sound loaded but having fun.  It’s like something off Diver Down, if Diver Down was performed by robots.  As strange as it is, this song sounds like Van Halen, in the sense of a wasted band who isn’t afraid to play whatever the fuck they want. Unfortunately it also sounds like half an idea.

That’s 5150, the massive #1 smash hit (a first for this band), but also transitional album. I think the following disc, OU812, is stronger and more comfortable (albeit sounding unfinished). But to get from A to B, you have to make a journey and that’s what 5150 is. It may lack power, it may be half-loaded with sap, it may sound weak. The tour supporting it was a tremendous success and many of these songs became concert staples.

Craig Fee tells me that this is his favourite Van Hagar-era album. “Probably because I listened to the living shit out of it trying to love it.”

I get that.

3/5 stars

5150_0003

All 7″ singles purchased for me by Craig at Jerry’s Records in Pittsburgh.  Click here for a gallery of the goodies he scored for me.

REVIEW: Van Halen – “Best of Both Worlds” 7″ picture sleeve single

I’ve been hinting at this for a couple weeks now.   No more teasing!  For this is…THE WEEK OF SINGLES!  Each day this week I’ll be bringing you reviews and images of a recent single acquisition.  For the purpose of this week, EPs count as singles.  First up comes one I teased you about in my Overload of Van Vinyl gallery.

 

VAN HALEN – “Best of Both Worlds” (1986 Warner 7″ single)

Craig Fee returned with this single (among many) from Jerry’s Records in Pittsburgh.  It was actually $3, not the $2 on the sticker (no big deal).  About the store itself, Craig says:

Jerry’s Records in Pittsburgh has incredible online reviews for a reason.  When I was last there, Jerry and I chatted about the legendary Peter Dunn’s Vinyl Museum(s) in Toronto.  We laughed about the random samples of Bible verse stamped on every single record sleeve that Peter sold.  It was completely over the top!  Glad to hear I wasn’t the only one who WTF’d the first time I encountered it.  

I asked Craig to pick up any Van Halen singles with picture sleeves that he could find.  Of those, “Best of Both Worlds” has one of the least interesting covers.  No pictures of the band, just a generic looking sketch of a globe and two jet planes.  Not even a proper Van Halen logo to be found.  This lack of anything amusing on the cover is compensated for by the exclusivity of the tracks.

The A-side is a version that I didn’t have before.  It’s a 3:58 edit version of the song, chopping 50 seconds out.  The edit is quite noticeable at the 1:00 mark, where the second verse is chopped out, and then replaced after the chorus.  It’s into the guitar solo from there, and then the final verse.   Missing is the “There’s a picture in a gallery, of a fallen angel looked a lot like you,” verse.

Van Halen never released the ubiquitous Live Without a Net home video on any kind of official audio format.  Some of those songs, such as the live version of “Love Walks In” did make it onto an unofficial CD called In Concert (found at Encore Records in Kitchener).  “Best of Both Worlds” did not make it onto In Concert, but here it is on the B-side.  It’s live in New Haven, complete with the extended intro, bringing the track to over 6 minutes.  The intro features Eddie and Sammy doing a fun call and response bit and I’m glad it wasn’t edited out for the single release.  I’ll always have a fondness for the old Live Without a Net versions.  Back in ’86-88 I didn’t have the money to buy every single album by bands that I liked.  I didn’t have 5150, and Live Without a Net was on TV enabling me to record it.  Therefore I probably know this version of “Best of Both Worlds” better than the 5150 version!  It’s a little tougher, where the album version’s a tad too sterile.

I don’t mind this song.  It’s not a Van Halen classic, but it’s still catchy.  Unlike some of the other singles, it wasn’t keyboard based.  That gave it an edge to my 16 year old self who didn’t like keyboards as much as guitars.  Craig on the other hand had a different reaction to it:

“Best Of Both Worlds” is the song that might’ve been the catalyst for my divorce of Van Hagar as the logical continuation of my favourite band.  The lyrics are absolute fucking cornball nonsense.  Look them up.  You’ll see what I mean.  The Live Without A Net version on the B-side of the single brought me vivid flashbacks of those awful pink sweat pants Eddie wore onstage for the concert video.  Those terrible Sammy and Mike harmonies.  That cheesy walk Mike, Sammy and Ed did onstage.  Sammy’s spray painting of the shoes and the accompanying ad-lib were possibly the lamest shit I’ve ever heard.  Do you think David Lee Roth would’ve had a pair of fucking SHOES thrown onstage?  Hell no!  There’s a reason I don’t own a copy of this myself.

He does have some valid points there.  Thankfully this 7″ single contains just the music, and not those cheeseball visuals!  Why was Eddie so into sweat pants?  I blame Sammy Hagar.  For me, this was a great find and a great way to kick off Singles Week at LeBrain HQ.  Check back tomorrow for another rarity!  (A brand new release in fact.)

4/5 stars

More VAN HALEN at mikeladano.com:

A Different Kind of Truth (2012) – The Best of Both Worlds (2005 2 CD set) – Record Store Tales Part 186: The Van Halen TinVan Halen III (limited edition tin) – “Can’t Stop Loving You” (1995 single tin) – “Right Now” (1992 cassette single)