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.