alex van halen

#864: The Inside of Van Halen

Thankfully, I didn’t give away all my magazines.  Some special ones remain.  Most of those are Kiss-related, but a few are not.  I was smart enough to hang on to a few that are special, at least to me.  Today we’re looking at the only issue I own of The Inside, an excellent Van Halen fan club magazine.  This comes from Fall ’96, a brief period where the Van Halen lineup was presumed to be a reunited band with David Lee Roth.  That’s only one of the things that makes this issue interesting.


GETTING MORE TALE #864:  The Inside

The location that I first managed had been open only about six months.  1996 was an eventful year both for music and for me.  Notably, Sammy Hagar left Van Halen, and in a whirlwind of events they were recording new music with David Lee Roth.  People wanted to talk about it at the front counter and find out what I knew.  I knew no more than anybody else, but one of my early customers had the scoop.  He had access to The Inside, an unofficial Van Hagar magazine that would have been the best place to find information on them in the pre-internet-in-everybody’s-living-room age.

I can’t precisely remember how he got this issue.  Passed down from a brother-in-law, I believe.  Issue #6.  The front cover broke the news:  David Lee Roth was back?!  With a question mark, of course.  It already had some water damage when I received it third-hand.  We had been discussing all the latest Van Halen happenings in-store, and this particular guy already read the most in-depth coverage you could find.  He told me he’d pass the magazine down onto me, and true to his word, he did.  The news was so fresh that the letters column only contained correspondence from readers pre-split.

“These are strange times indeed,” reads in the first line on the first page, “Letter from the Editor”.  On page 10 is a detailed timeline of the breakup/reunion, monitoring early internet mailing list chatter and official statements.  It’s fascinating and many of the details turned out to be true, including the title of a new song, “Me Wise Magic“.  On the 14th page is an update on Eddie’s upcoming hip surgery, and the news that the Toronto pay-per-view concert was not scheduled for home video release.  Page 15 reveals that Dimebag Darrell recorded covers of “Everybody Wants Some!!” and “Outta Love Again” for B-side use, and that Pat Boone was covering “Jump” and possibly also “Panama” for the album that became In A Metal Mood.  (Only “Panama” made the final cut.)

Most of the issue is dominated by David Lee Roth, both coverage and speculation, but with big photos splashed over the pages.  There’s an interesting interview about the Balance tour with the lighting tech, but due to circumstances beyond their control, this was old news by comparison.

For music geeks that crave the obscure, there is a two page article on Brian May’s Star Fleet Project featuring Eddie Van Halen.  This article details the two day session that brought the three track mini-album to life.  How it came together, details and trivia.  There’s even an ad for a rare CD release of the album, complete with bonus tracks, as part of Brian May’s & Cozy Powell’s Resurrection release.

The back page has information on an album called Fatherless Child by Rich Wyman, featuring a guest appearance by none other than King Edward himself.  (If you have been watching The LeBrain Train: 2000 Words or More with Mike Ladano, on our Van Halen tribute episode, a viewer from Norway mentioned this release.  I claimed to have never heard of it, but apparently I had just forgotten!)  Eddie caught Wyman live and was impressed enough to produce four songs on Fatherless Child (Wyman’s second CD).  Better than that, he even played guitar on three.  This article details the songs and playing, and concludes with an interview with Wyman.

Generous customers like this, who treated people like me at the Record Store like an actual “Humans Being”, helped “Balance” out all the real assholes we got in that first year.  Shirtless dudes, shoeless dudes, (no pantsless dudes thankfully), construction workers tracking in dirt, thieves, troublemakers…and the odd real gem like this now-forgotten Van Halen fan.  All we did was talk a little Van Halen.  He had this magazine that he finished reading, and wanted to pass it on to a fellow fan.  He returned with the book in hand, and it’s been in my collection ever since.


In a way, it’s kind of wrong that I still have this issue.  The original owner passed it on to someone else, who passed it on to me.  In the spirit of the way I acquired it, I really should have passed it on again when I gave away the bulk of my collection.  But I do still have it, in the same condition as I received it.  The inner page is loose as they often come to be, but it’s perfectly readable and enjoyable.

Instead of giving it away, I’ll live up to the spirit of the gift with this story and the pictures above.  Thanks, mystery Van Halen fan.  If you’re out there anywhere, let’s raise a toast to King Edward.

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.

 

#845: VHIII

This piece is a followup to the Friday July 17 live stream “Lead Singer’s Disease”.

GETTING MORE TALE #845: VHIII

We carried two magazines at the Record Store:  Spin, and Rolling Stone.  I cannot remember which printed the following comment in 1996, when Van Halen announced their new lead singer.  After a tumultuous few months with Sammy Hagar quitting and David Lee Roth briefly re-joining, the Van Halens decided on Extreme frontman Gary Cherone to carry the VH torch.

Spin or Stone, in a brief paragraph, commented:  “Roth, Hagar, Cherone…the downward spiral continues.”

Bullshit!

I called bullshit then and I call bullshit now.  That is crap journalism, and so typical of the anti-rock attitudes of the 1990s.

First of all, we hadn’t heard one note of Gary Cherone’s new music with Van Halen, so how could they make that judgement?  Second, it severely short-sells Sammy Hagar, who took Van Halen to their first #1 and scored some seriously massive followup hits with the band.  Critically acclaimed ones too, like “Right Now”.  So:  bullshit!  They were absolutely out of line to print that, and we had many reasons to be optimistic about Gary Cherone.

Some of the thoughts that crossed our minds when the Van Halen news hit:

  • Will Van Halen play “More Than Words” live, like they use to give Sammy a solo song or two?  Eddie would sound amazing on that, wouldn’t he?  He’d put his own spin on it, surely.
  • With Cherone, Van Halen would be able to play a wider variety of Roth tunes again.
  • Gary’s natural charisma, as witnessed at the 1992 Freddie Mercury tribute concert, was bound to bring new life to Van Halen.
  • His lyrics, usually more serious than Hagar’s, would allow Van Halen to adapt to the 1990s.
  • The only drawback I saw was that Gary didn’t play guitar, bringing Van Halen back to just one guitar, live.  The tiniest of issues.

I was not only optimistic, but I was excited.  It’s natural, when two bands you like merge in such a way.  One of my favourite singers working with one of my favourite bands?  Yeah, I was overly excited.  At that time, coming off three amazing Extreme albums in a row, I was a bigger Gary fan than Sammy.  However, when Van Halen III finally came out in 1998 after an agonising wait, I was not immediately impressed.  Nor were a lot of people.  But I gave it more than a fair shake, cranking it as much as I could get away with at the Record Store.  And it grew on me.  It was my favourite album to play in the car during the spring of ’98.

I bought the album in the limited edition tin.  I got it from Al King at Sam the Record Man.  I had a lot invested it in emotionally and monetarily.  T-Rev will remember me praising the record, but also telling him, “Something about it doesn’t sound like Van Halen.”  What I sensed then was the lack of Michael Anthony who only appeared on three tracks.  His lack of vocals was very obvious.

When Eddie first decided upon Gary Cherone as singer, one of the things he commented was that Gary had the “voice of an angel”.  I found that encouraging, but when they made Van Halen III, Gary bellowed almost every single song at the top of his lungs.  His blown-out voice carried none of the nuance it did on the same-titled Extreme album III.  It was a disappointing choice, making Cherone sounding overly similar to Sammy Hagar.

“Why bother changing singers if the new guy is trying to sound like the old guy?” I wondered to myself.

Van Halen did not play “More Than Words” or any other Extreme songs live.  One could argue that Extreme didn’t have the pedigree of Sammy Hagar and didn’t deserve to take up any time in a setlist when you could play another Roth song instead.  Many of them returned to the live setting after an absence:  “I’m the One”, “Unchained”, “Mean Street”, “Romeo Delight”, “Dance the Night Away”, “Feel Your Love Tonight”, and even “Somebody Get Me a Doctor”, albeit now sung by Michael Anthony.  The new Cherone album took up a generous chunk of the set, and the Hagar tracks were reduced to a few key hits:  “Why Can’t This Be Love”, “When It’s Love”, “Humans Being” and “Right Now”.

The new Van Halen underperformed to say the least.  I was shocked when we received 50 copies at the Record Store.  There was no way I was going to be able to sell 50 copies, and I tried.  Lord did I try!  I have been very critical of our regional manager in the past, because she was absolutely merciless in pointing out every one of my failures.  Now that she can’t hurt me anymore, I feel freer to talk about some of it.  She definitely can’t blame me for us getting stuck with a huge pule of Van Halen III.  I never would have ordered 50 copies.  20 was what I had in mind.  But she didn’t ask me.  Hand on the bible, this one was not on me.

YouTuber Todd in the Shadows tackled Van Halen III in one of his “Trainwreckords” episodes, and he goes into great detail about every single thing that went wrong with the album.  This excellent and funny analysis is well worth the 18 minutes of your time.

 

REVIEW: Van Halen – Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo (1975 radio broadcast)

“We’re Van Halen, for those who just walked in.” – David Lee Roth

VAN HALEN – Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo (1975 radio broadcast, Laser Media)

Not all Van Halen was great and not all radio broadcasts worth buying.  Some are quite shoddy, but important for historical reasons.  Welcome to the 1975 KSWM broadcast CD!

“We’re playing dance music for people who like to party tonight!” says Dave.  The first track to dance to is the Stones’ “If You Can’t Rock Me”:  Sloppy, ragged, barely holding together, and then the shitty disc fades the song out!  This might have been an act of mercy, as it sounds absolutely rubbish.  Listen – if there’s no complete song, then list it as such on the back!

“We came unprepared for this, as usual!” says Dave, but my patience with the CD is already wearing thin.  “Jean Genie” is a full song (more talking than singing) and it’s pretty terrible.  On one hand, at least Van Halen did it in their own still-forming style, but it’s barely listenable, except for Eddie’s free sololing.  An original “Women In Love” is actually better than the Bowie cover, but warbling tape makes it difficult to enjoy.  Too bad, since this older version is different from the final Van Halen II arrangement.

Dave says wants to get funky on “Rock Steady”, while Michael Anthony acts as cheerleader on stage left.  It’s not really funky but it does groove.  Like all the songs, it’s a vehicle for Eddie to solo, and that’s always a good thing.  A long rendition of “Rock ‘N Roll Hoochie Koo” follows (yes, they spelled the song title differently from the CD title).  This one’s a good jam, with Eddie predictably blowing ’em all away.  Dave’s with him with the odd “Ow!” and “Woo!” but this is the Eddie Show, from rhythms to leads.

A track called “The Fool and Me” from Bridge of Sighs by Robin Trower is a brilliant inclusion.  This allows Eddie to show off that side of him that was inspired by Eric Clapton.  It’s also Dave’s first chance to really sing, when his voice was raw and wild.  Same with “Keep Playing that Rock ‘N’ Roll” (Edgar Winter).  This one is just fun, and the band play it tight.  Judging by the change in audio at this point, this is probably the end of the actual radio broadcast.

A couple minutes of rambling chatter with no value is laughingly listed as “Eddie & Dave Talk About Recording”.  There is no such talk.  It sounds like hitting on a woman.

“Eddie Warming Up” is what it sounds like.  It’s cool.  He plays several licks, some of which ended up in well known Van Halen songs later on.  You can hear the telltale scratch of vinyl, which indicates this one was a vinyl bootleg at one point before being digitized.

Finally “I’m the One (Show Your Love)” is live once more, maybe from the same show as the broadcast, maybe not, who knows.  This ‘Halen original is already fully formed, though the flimsy equipment they were playing through can’t communicate the full fury of original Van Halen.

This broadcast is pretty hard to recommend.  The centrepiece is Eddie warming up, and that’s not even from the show.  It’s pretty hard to play the whole thing through, but at least most of the problems are up front at the start.

2/5 stars

 

COMPLETE VAN HALEN REVIEW SERIES:

VAN HALEN – Zero (1977 Gene Simmons demo bootleg)
VAN HALEN – Van Halen (1978 Warner)
VAN HALEN – Van Halen II (1979 Warner)
VAN HALEN – Women and Children First (1980 Warner)
VAN HALEN – Fair Warning (1981 Warner)
VAN HALEN – Diver Down (1982 Warner)
VAN HALEN – 1984 (1984 Warner)
VAN HALEN – 5150 (1986 Warner Bros.)
VAN HALEN – OU812 (1988 Warner)
VAN HALEN – For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991)
VAN HALEN – LIVE: Right here, right now. (1993 Warner Bros, plus “Jump” live single)
VAN HALEN – Balance (1995 Warner – Japanese version included)
VAN HALEN – Balance (1995) Review by Derek Kortepeter
VAN HALEN – Best Of Volume I (1996 Warner)
VAN HALEN – 3 (Collectors’ tin 1998)
VAN HALEN – The Best of Both Worlds (2005 Warner)
VAN HALEN – A Different Kind of Truth (2012)
VAN HALEN – Tokyo Dome Live in Concert (2015)
VAN HALEN – Tokyo Dome Live in Concert (2015) Review by Tommy Morais

+

VAN HALEN – “Best of Both Worlds” (1986 Warner 7″ single)
VAN HALEN – Selections from LIVE: Right here, right now. (1993 Warner promo EP)
VAN HALEN – “Can’t Get This Stuff No More” / “Me Wise Magic” (1996 Warner promo singles)
VAN HALEN – “Can’t Stop Loving You” (Parts 1 & 2, inc. collector’s tin)
VAN HALEN – “Right Now” (1992 cassette single, Warner)
VAN HALEN – Video Hits Volume I (1998 DVD)
VAN HALEN vs. JOHN LENNON – “Imagine A Jump” mashup by “Mighty Mike”
RECORD STORE TALES Part 186:  The Van Halen Tin

GETTING MORE TALE #657: Operation: Van Halen (Derek’s Story)

REVIEW: Van Halen – Selections from LIVE: Right here, right now. (1993 promo EP) “Van Halen turns 15!”

VAN HALEN – Selections from LIVE: Right here, right now. (1993 Warner promo EP) “Van Halen turns 15!”

Stuff like this is in my collection not because it’s valuable to me, but because at one point in time I got it for free.  We ran across promos like these all the time, and couldn’t sell them, so they were free to take.  Because it was Van Halen, I hung onto it even though all five tracks are taken from the live album Right here, right now.  It disappears in your CD collection due to the jewel case without a back cover or spine.  For the sake of simplicity (and a shorter title), we’ll just refer to this EP as “Van Halen turns 15”.

It actually plays really well.  Without any filler or solos, it’s a tight CD packed with some of the best songs.  “Dreams” serves as a connection to the earlier pop rock sounds of 5150.  Live, it rocks with higher octane than the studio version.  “Judgement Day” was one of the better representations of the then-new For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge material.  Its modern groove was predictive of the kind of music people would want to hear in the 90s:  heavier with more edge.  “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” is the one token DLR track, and then seemingly to balance things out, it’s Sammy’s “One Way to Rock”.  Whatever — the listening experience is perfect.

Because “Right Now” was the biggest thing since Crystal Pepsi, it’s inevitable that the live version was included on this CD.  If you find “Right Now” to be vomit-inducing, you can just hit stop.

Since this is a promo and should only be sought as a freebie, appointing it a score out of 5 stars is meaningless.   Radio stations are always ditching boxes of old CDs so it’s bound to turn up somewhere.

Whatever/5 stars

GUEST REVIEW: Van Halen – Balance (Derek Kortepeter vs. LeBrain)

VAN HALEN – Balance (1995 Warner)

By Derek Kortepeter

I was perusing Mike’s blog like I sometimes do (what can I say, I’m a fan). I stumbled upon his review for a Van Halen record that means a lot to me, and frankly, is the one I love the most among all of the Hagar years AND Roth years. I was really surprised with just how harsh Mike was on what I’ve always regarded as the pinnacle of Van Halen’s creativity and musicality.

After discussing it with Mike, I decided to write somewhat of a rebuttal to his 3.75/5 review.  I plan to try to explain why this record means so much to me as a Van Halen fan and professional composer/musician. I will quote from the original review to make this sort of sound like a discussion rather than me just being a dick and touting my opinion as better. If anything, I just want detractors of this record to give it another view and possibly a second chance.

Ready? Let’s go!


Balance takes Van Halen into a highly polished, commercial direction. This is “balanced” with heavier grooves and a couple more “serious” lyrics.   The result turned out to be one of Van Halen’s most pop outings.

Right off the bat I will disagree with you Mike. I argue that this is Van Halen’s most EXPERIMENTAL outing since Fair Warning. The melodic phrasing and song structures on some of these songs are incredibly progressive, and additionally, I believe that there are enough instrumental pieces that push what people’s perception of the band could be.

As for the polish, that isn’t a negative, the band has never sounded better. The way Alex tuned his drums is brilliant and crisp, Eddie’s tone never sounded more varied (at least until Van Halen III), and the band sounded incredibly tight and focused (Mike’s bass in particular is fucking blistering). The record being heavy is 100 percent a positive as well, as this applies not only to the slamming instrumental but also the lyrical content.

This is hard rock, metal, and avant-garde with pop overtones. Not pop.

This is “The Seventh Seal”, and Sammy’s voice is in top form. Michael Anthony’s bass rolls and hits the notes at just the right moments. This is truly a great song, completely different from Van Halen of old, but surely a triumph.

No argument from me here. The Buddhist monks chanting in their low vocal register leading into Sammy’s fever dream about the End Times as described in the book of Revelation is a beckoning call to fans that Van Halen is in its most mature incarnation. Balance is established right off the bat as a theme involving spirituality, but that isn’t the only type of Balance pursued in the record. I see many of these songs as mirrors of one another, focusing in on a true sense of balance. I will extrapolate on this as I go on.

“Can’t Stop Loving You”, is an embarrassing foray into pop. While Van Halen wrote pop stuff before (“Love Walks In”), this song lacks cojones of any kind. The guitar is really thin, Alex Van Halen cha-cha’s his way through the drum fills, while Sammy sings a lyric that David Lee Roth would have used to wipe his ass.

Hoo boy. As I have already stated, I think the production on Balance is brilliant so we won’t retread that issue here. I always found this song to be sad, to me it is about the kind of longsuffering love that only couples who have been together for decades will understand. It shows an evolution in Van Halen’s views on love, which before were often juvenile in the sense that it was more about the start of the relationship before things get hard. The theme of commitment never really factored into the equation until this track, just the hormones in your body exploding when love is raw and new to you. David Lee Roth could never have come up with something like this, ever.

“Don’t Tell Me (What Love Can Do)” is anything but a love song. Sammy tackles drugs, faith, youth in crisis, and the 1990’s. Hagar has never sounded more foreboding, or mature for that matter. Eddie’s riff is simple, but dark and rhythmic. Michael locks onto the riff, creating this unstoppable wall of groove.

We agree here, this song is fucking genius in its execution and is the closest to metal Van Halen get until they write “Humans Being” a little later. Also here is where we begin to see the theme of Balance, which I argue permeates the record, take shape. The prior track is about a fulfilling love, this track is about the absence of love and how the dejected react in situations of pure despair. Pay attention, pretty much every song on the record has a directly opposing relationship to the song that it follows.

There is nothing wrong with this mid-tempo rocker (“Amsterdam”) with spare Eddie riff, except the lyrics.

Look the lyrics are in a party song, which as I recall, are not required to be Shakespeare. Do you really think that any DLR era gems known for partying like “Take Your Whiskey Home” are any more profound? Lyrics aside, this song is setting up another element of Balance by exploring sins of the flesh and addictive behaviors that can be found in so many cities. It is about losing control and giving into your desires, especially in this case with regards to alcohol and drugs. This is one part of the Balance equation, as the next track deals with sins of a different kind. Greed.

I’ll give VH a C for trying, but “Big Fat Money” is a C+ at best.

“Big Fat Money” is a raucous psychobilly freakout of a song. Every member of the band loses their fucking mind by giving all their energy into this burner of a track. Sammy shreds his vocal chords as he rapid-fires phrases, Eddie brings up-tempo blues and ragtime sounds to the forefront, Alex plays double-time almost punk rock beats, and Michael Anthony just slays you with his furious basslines. Furthermore, the element of Balance in relation to the prior track is the other most focused-upon sin in society (Greed). The song shows the destructive nature in a way, however, as you feel like the lyrics hint at somebody losing their mind to their desires that began in Amsterdam and continued to spiral downwards into pure insanity. The balance is the lure of desire and then the destructive after-effects of such desire.

“Strung Out” is a jokey opener to the ballad “Not Enough”.

I look at this track as an example of “chance music.” Much like the music of John Cage and other contemporaries of his, the aleatoric nature of “Strung Out” is based on numerous factors. It is essentially Eddie fucking around with piano strings, but it isn’t a joke in my opinion. If anything, it shows Van Halen willing to ask their listeners what music is, and more importantly, what they should define Van Halen as. It is in every way an experimental, not pop, foray into a new direction.

That fades into “Not Enough”, another ballad… Tunes like this made Van Halen seem completely out of touch with what was happening in the 1990s. Within months of its release, Shannon Hoon would overdose, Layne Staley locked into a dance of death with smack, and Richey Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers went missing (presumed dead) after suffering long bouts of depression.

OK, a lot to unpack here. “Not Enough” isn’t a conventional ballad at all. It is about love and, more importantly, the loss of love. It doesn’t show a band out of touch at all, if anything, it shows that they are more in tune than ever. “Not Enough” is about the heart wrenching aspect of loss of someone you love. Period. The music video is somber and yet it also gives you hope. Eddie’s chorus-washed solo is a work of genius and as a whole the song remains the most mature expression of love and loss that I can possibly find in their catalogue.

As for the mentions of Layne Staley and Richey Edwards, I feel that I must interject that Alice In Chains and Manic Street Preachers are two incredibly important bands in my life. Layne spoke to my pain as a longtime sufferer of mental disorders and Richey looked at the world in the same cynical way that I do (plus as a Welsh-American, the Manics are a part of my culture and thus very important on another level to me). This is frankly a low-blow to the album that is unwarranted and patently false.

 “Aftershock” is another hard rocker, nothing embarrassing here, good riff, good melody, good song. 

As a drummer this is one of my all-time favorite songs to jam to. The entire song just blows the roof off of everything in its vicinity and remains a testament to just how hard Van Halen can rock. It also, however, brings in that same element of Balance that I speak of. “Not Enough” is about the raw and compassionate feelings of loss, namely in a relationship, but Aftershock is about the rage and bitterness that is likely to follow in the grieving process of a relationship. Both essential. Both a part of Balance.

A pair of instrumentals follow, an interesting touch seeing as Van Halen didn’t do too many instrumentals post-Dave. “Doin’ Time” is Alex messing around on the drums, which segues straight into “Baluchitherium”. 

These two songs are another part of me arguing about the experimental nature of this record. To devote so much time to instrumentals, especially the way they are structured here, is to push the band out of the Billboard 100 arena and into the “thinking” arena. The band is showing they are incredibly versatile and willing to take risks. Furthermore, guitar and drums are naturally instruments needed in order to balance out the equation of a rock band. Taken a step further, the instruments are played by brothers who are in many ways needed in their personal and professional lives to achieve balance.

Nothing on this record is haphazardly added.

“Take Me Back (Deja Vu)” is a pop song that I don’t mind at all, accented with acoustic guitar. 

It’s a brilliant song with brilliant instrumentation and vocals from Sammy. Also, it fits into the balance equation as it is about longing for better times. The reminiscing for the good times is here because the next track is all about the ugly of the present times.

“Feelin’” is a morose song but with an epic, powerful chorus. It is very different from anything the band had done prior.

The song is a masterpiece. Sammy is singing of a world on fire in every aspect of society as we know it. The song twists and turns with dazzling instrumentals and lyrics that are screamed at the heavens. It is the band completing its evolution into the mature incarnation of the band once known for wanting to “Dance the Night Away”. This would be the last song on the record unless you got it in Japan (more on that in a second), and it brings everything to a close. It is the end of the record, and unfortunately, the beginning of the End for the Hagar years.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Japan, there was one bonus track: this is the groove laden, oddball “Crossing Over”.  It’s a song about the afterlife and lyrically it’s probably the best tune of the bunch.

I am often called an experimental composer, so I suppose it is no surprise that I love this song and was so disappointed that it took me years after purchasing Balance to find it. I believe that this track completes the cycle started in “The Seventh Seal”. Notice how I talked about every song on the record being related in a balanced symmetry? I believe that “Crossing Over” is the mirror to “The Seventh Seal”. The album opens with nightmares of spiritual chaos, and this track is the completion of such chaos.


So, what do I have to say in closing? This record shows Van Halen at its highest possible output of creativity, and most importantly, its ability to show a deep philosophical approach to its writing never seen before or since. Balance is the culmination of everything that Van Halen was destined to be, and for that reason, it is the best record they ever wrote. Even if you disagree 100 percent with me, or just really hate Sammy Hagar, give this one another chance.

You might be surprised what you find.

5/5 stars

DVD REVIEW: Van Halen – Video Hits Volume I (1998)

VAN HALEN – Video Hits Volume I (1998 DVD)

Van Halen had some of the best videos of the 80s, bar none. After David Lee Roth, the visionary behind the videos, left the band, they refused to film any new clips for their first six singles with Sammy Hagar! They didn’t want the comparisons.  Instead they released live versions of singles as videos.  They finally filmed an actual studio video for the ballad “When It’s Love” in late 1988.

It seems Van Halen still can’t reconcile all the different singers from the past.  That is obvious by the omissions from this disc.  Go ahead and list the missing videos:

The excellently corny “Oh Pretty Woman”. “You Really Got Me”, the timeless Kinks cover. The live videos for “Unchained” and “So This Is Love”. All the live video clips are missing, even Sammy’s debut in “Why Can’t This Be Love”.  As is Gary Cherone’s “Fire In The Hole”. “Feels So Good”, “Top of the World”, “Amsterdam”…all missing.

At least they included one Cherone video (“Without You”), but then again, he was the band’s current singer when this was released in 1998.  It would have been weird if he wasn’t on it.  He hasn’t made an appearance or even been mentioned on any Van Halen releases since.

For Van Halen to refuse to release those videos on DVD just indicates they’re scared of their own shadows. You can’t bury your past, you may as well celebrate it.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Van Halen – LIVE: Right here, right now. (1993, plus “Jump” live single)

scan_20160929VAN HALEN – LIVE: Right here, right now. (1993 Warner Bros, plus “Jump” live single)

The summer of ’93 was the “Summer of Live Albums” here at LeBrain HQ.  There were many live discs out to digest, several of them from “must-purchase” bands.  Most notable was Ozzy’s Live & Loud which came in a metal speaker grille cover.  Iron Maiden also put out A Real Live One, the first of a two-album live set.  And then there was a big’un:  Van Halen’s first live album, the double Right here, right now.

What did all three releases have in common?  They were all boring duds.

Sad but true.  In Van Halen’s case, the disappointment was acute.  Sure it was “Van Hagar” and not the “real deal” if you believe in that  sort of thing, but that wasn’t the issue.  There are a few problems with Right here, right now but none of them have to do with the singer.  The setlist is a real drag, with way too much material from For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.  10 of the 11 songs from F.U.C.K. are on this album!  (“The Dream is Over” being the only missing song — you had to buy this on VHS to get it!)  A F.U.C.K. song opens the set, another closes the set…it’s too much, especially since F.U.C.K. was (one of?) the weakest Halen albums to date.

Issue #2 is perhaps a bit silly, since Van Halen shows are known for their solos: but this album has too many solos.  Eddie’s aside; he always going to blow your mind.  Unfortunately, Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen are, quite frankly, boring soloists.  Did “Ultra Bass” need to be five minutes long?  It’s best when Michael’s just playing, but as fans know his bass solo is half notes, and half noise.  Immediately after that is “Pleasure Dome/Drum Solo”, nine whole minutes.  The instrumental “Pleasure Dome” section is best since it resembles a song (a driving hard one at that).

The final major issue is one we didn’t even know about until recently.  Sammy Hagar revealed in his book Red that this album was heavily overdubbed afterwards, and I wouldn’t doubt it.  (Hagar claims that he re-sang the entire thing over again in the studio.)  There was always something underneath the surface that didn’t feel right about this album, and that could be it right there.  Right here, right now feels dulled, perhaps by too much studio polish after the fact.

It’s not all bad of course, how could it be?  “Poundcake” and “Judgement Day” start it off strongly.  Then they went and dropped a ballad (“When It’s Love”) and a shitty song (“Spanked”), and all momentum is stopped.  The duo of “You Really Got Me” and “Cabo Wabo” are pretty damn great though.  There are a couple Hagar solo tracks in set which add some spice to the mix.  The acoustic ballad “Give to Live” is just Sammy alone, but “One Way to Rock” is the whole ass-kickin’ band.  Of all the Hagar tracks the band has played live, “One Way to Rock” sounds most natural as a Van Halen song.  The final surprise is “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, which Eddie does not play keyboards on.  Instead he mimics Pete Townsend’s synthesizer part with his guitar.  Who purists will hate Sammy’s take on it, but fuck it.  It’s a pretty damn good version of a hard to cover classic.

There are a couple other decent tracks to be had.  German and Japanese versions contain two bonus tracks:  “Mine All Mine” (from the OU812 tour) and another Hagar track, “Eagles Fly”.  They can also be found on the “Jump” live single.  Unlike much of the rest of the album “Mine All Mine” has some bite to it.  It’s a great example of synthesizer working well in a hard rock song.  (Unfortunately it fades out early.)  As for “Eagles Fly”, this is a song Sammy played acoustic on the occasions he didn’t play “Give to Live”.  Although it was played less, “Eagles Fly” edges out the other just slightly by a nose.  These two bonus tracks are worth tracking down the single for, or an import version of the album.

I traded up my original copy of LIVE: Right here, right now for a US import that came in a cardboard digipack.  Although it has no bonus tracks, it does have some bonus photos, which is still pretty cool.

It’s not fun to say any Van Halen album isn’t essential, but Right here, right now is not essential.

2/5 stars

 

COMPLETE VAN HALEN REVIEW SERIES:

VAN HALEN – Zero (1977 Gene Simmons demo bootleg)
VAN HALEN – Van Halen (1978 Warner)
VAN HALEN – Van Halen II (1979 Warner)
VAN HALEN – Women and Children First (1980 Warner)
VAN HALEN – Fair Warning (1981 Warner)
VAN HALEN – Diver Down (1982 Warner)
VAN HALEN – 1984 (1984 Warner)
VAN HALEN – 5150 (1986 Warner Bros.)
VAN HALEN – OU812 (1988 Warner)
VAN HALEN – For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991)
VAN HALEN – Balance (1995 Warner – Japanese version included)
VAN HALEN – Best Of Volume I (1996 Warner)
VAN HALEN – 3 (Collectors’ tin 1998)
VAN HALEN – The Best of Both Worlds (2005 Warner)
VAN HALEN – A Different Kind of Truth (2012)
VAN HALEN – Tokyo Dome Live in Concert (2015)
VAN HALEN – Tokyo Dome Live in Concert (2015) Review by Tommy Morais

+

VAN HALEN – “Best of Both Worlds” (1986 Warner 7″ single)
VAN HALEN – “Can’t Get This Stuff No More” / “Me Wise Magic” (1996 Warner promo singles)
VAN HALEN – “Can’t Stop Loving You” (Parts 1 & 2, inc. collector’s tin)
VAN HALEN – “Right Now” (1992 cassette single, Warner)
VAN HALEN vs. JOHN LENNON – “Imagine A Jump” mashup by “Mighty Mike”
RECORD STORE TALES Part 186:  The Van Halen Tin

 

 

#512: Sh*t LeBrain’s Wife Says

GETTING MORE TALE #512: Shit LeBrain’s Wife Says

As readers here know, when I can get away with putting the minimum amount of effort into a story, I’m going to go for it.  This one is lifted directly from my Facebook posts, a couple months after Jen and I got married.  Her ongoing education in rock was just beginning.  I can proudly say that today, Mrs. LeBrain knows the difference between Van Halen and Van Hagar.  But in 2008?


 

Oct 9 2008:

TOP TWO QUOTES FROM JENNIFER TODAY:

#2 Some background, I was playing the track “Me Wise Magic” by Van Halen, an obscure song with David Lee Roth singing.  I said to Jen, do you know who this is? And she responded:

“Yeah…is this Van Hagar?”

#1 “Wow is your beard ever grey!”

But I’m still gonna stay married to her anyway.

wow is your beard ever grey


It’s even more grey today.

Jen likes both Van Halen and Van Hagar now, and she’s perfectly capable of telling the difference.  She counts “Jump” and “Why Can’t This Be Love” as her favourite VH songs, tied for the #1 position.  Considering that in my dating days, girls used to insist on listening to MuchDance95 in the car, I’m a very lucky man. I dodged some musical bullets, and somehow ended up with the best girl in the world.

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!