Van Hagar

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

#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!

REVIEW: Van Halen – Best Of Volume I (1996)

I will be live on the Craig Fee Show on 107.5 Dave FM this afternoon 12/01/14, around 5:20 pm Ontario time, to discuss one of the tracks included on this album. Listen live by clicking right here to stream!

EDIT – Show went great!  Thanks for listening!

This review is a companion piece to my previous “Van Halen (Not Van Hagar!)” series of reviews:
Part 1: The Early Years (Zero – 1977) VH_0003
Part 2:
On Fire (Van Halen – 1978)
Part 3: Somebody Get Me A Doctor (Van Halen II – 1979)
Part 4: Everybody Wants Some!! (Women and Children First – 1980)
Part 5: Push Comes to Shove (Fair Warning – 1981)
Part 6: Intruder (Diver Down – 1982)
Part 7: House of Pain (1984 – 1984)
Coda: Can’t Get This Stuff No More & Me Wise Magic (1996 singles)

VH BEST OF V1_0001VAN HALEN – Best Of Volume I (1996 Warner)

Van Halen’s first “greatest hits” compilation was historic in its fallout.  The band had talked for years about putting out a “best of” set, with one disc of Dave and one disc of Sammy.  That never happened but the concept continued to be discussed in the Van Halen camp, with Sammy Hagar adamantly against it.  When Hagar’s friend and Van Halen’s manager Ed Lefler passed away, he was replaced by Canadian Ray Danniels, who was also handling Rush, Extreme, and King’s X. Hagar and Danniels never quite saw eye to eye and when push came to shove, Hagar refused to participate in the recording of new music for the compilation.  The Van Halen camp considered this to be highly hypocritical of Sammy, since he had done just that for his own solo “greatest hits” CD, Unboxed (1994).  All of this led to a tense telephone standoff with Eddie Van Halen himself, the revelation that Ed had already started working on new songs with former singer David Lee Roth, and Hagar quitting the band.  (On top of all that, and unbeknownst to Hagar or Roth, was that was Van Halen were also eyeballing Gary Cherone, who Ray Danniels brought in from one of his other bands, Extreme. They had even recorded some test tracks with Mitch Malloy who ultimately turned the gig down.)

When Best Of Volume I was finally released in fall of 1996, there was so much confusion in the air that many fans really had no idea who was in Van Halen or what the hell was going on.   At the Record Store, I had one guy come in and return this on the day of release, October 22, 1996.

“Yeah, I want to return this CD,” he said.  “I already have these songs.”

What?!  You couldn’t tell that from the title Best Of Volume I?

That’s indicative of the confusion in fandom.  This guy had assumed, like many people, that Van Halen had a brand new album of songs out with David Lee Roth singing.

VH BEST OF V1_0004Another common urban myth was that there was such a thing as Best Of Volume II.  People would constantly ask if we had it, when it was coming out, and sometimes even insist they had seen it before in stores.  When asked when Best Of Volume II was coming out again and again, I started answering “18 years”, because that’s how long it took for them to come out with Volume I.

T-Rev wrote up a quickie review for our store newsletter.  He praised the remastering job, but bemoaned that only one song was included from Van Halen II, and that there wasn’t enough Dave in general.  I would agree.  At the very least, a song like “Can’t Stop Loving You” should have been ditched for something else like “Everybody Wants Some!!”  However, to put this into context, in 1996 that was one of Van Halen’s most recent hit singles, just over a year old.   The rest of the album takes tracks from each studio record (sans Diver Down which Eddie doesn’t speak too highly of). The most notable omissions were “Hot For Teacher” (only available on the Japanese release of Best Of) and “Love Walks In” (which I can do without). Presumably there would have been more tracks on a Volume II, which never materialized.  (18 years my arse!)

To me, the hits part of this disc is just preamble. The reason fans went out and bought this CD was the return of David Lee Roth on the two new singles. Nobody cared about the hits they already had.  Indeed, as implied by T-Rev’s review, most of us didn’t really agree with most of the hits selected.

They stuck “Can’t Get This Stuff No More” and “Me Wise Magic”, the first new songs by the original Van Halen in over a decade, at the tail end of the CD.  As fans, we were elated to hear new music that clearly hearkened back to the pre-synth, pre-1984 sound of Van Halen. Dave’s voice was lower and less powerful, but no less expressive.  His delivery is pure gleeful Dave, even on these darker songs. His lyrics (which according to Roth, Eddie didn’t like) are as Diamond Dave as ever.  As far as guitar goes, Eddie’s letting it, basing both songs purely on riffage. This was a pretty cool about-face from the too-commercial sounds of Balance.

Neither song was really single-worthy, but they would have made solid album cuts, had this incarnation of Van Halen continued to make an album.  Of course, that didn’t happen.  Best Of Volume I is, thus far, the only place you can buy them.  And that means if you love original Van Halen, you need to buy this album.

For Van Hagar fans, there was the excellent newbie “Humans Being”, with its angry modern verses and bright shiny chorus.  I’ve always liked the song, because of the chorus and Eddie’s guitar.  The verses, not so much, but as a song it holds together as something different for Van Halen.  In some ways it pointed the way forward to Van Halen 3.  This is the only ‘Halen album where you can get “Humans Being”, saving you from having to buy the terrible Twister soundtrack.

(Missing is a track called “Respect The Wind” billed by Eddie & Alex Van Halen from the same soundtrack.  It’s not really that good, and it’s not billed as Van Halen the band, so seek as per your own needs.  Presumably, “Respect the Wind” was from the batch of music that they were working on while Sammy refused to record.  See KeepsMeAlive for a review of the Twister soundtrack CD.)

VH BEST OF V1_0003

Roth mentioned in his autobiography Crazy From the Heat that he hated the cover art and booklet for this.  It looked devoid and sucked dry of all life.  I would agree.  A music video was planned but nixed.  The concept was the trio of Michael Anthony and Eddie & Alex Van Halen playing on a stage, with a big screen behind them of Dave singing.  Insulted, Roth refused to do it.

Of interest, if you’re lucky enough to own a first pressing of this CD, you might have a mini-rarity.  There was a version with an error on it.  You may own a very rare alternate mix of “Runnin’ With the Devil”, released by mistake, where the verses, chorus and solos were arranged in a different order than that of the originally released album version. Take a listen and see if you’re one of the few.  That version was quickly discontinued and corrected.*

3.5/5 stars. Despite the brevity, this album doesn’t overstay the party.


*My friend at 107.5 Dave FM, Craig Fee, had this to add about the “error” mix of “Runnin’ With the Devil”:

You just solved a huge mystery for me. Something that has been bugging me for YEARS.

When I first moved here, I was listening to Dave FM one day. I heard this fucked up version of “Runnin’ With The Devil” with the “whoooooo whooooooo” part at the end edited out. I mentioned it, but Darryl didn’t do anything about it. 5 years later, we are still playing this version. It sounded like a bad edit made by an overzealous producer who was trying to do something to the song.

Until this post, I had no idea why somebody would butcher the song like that. Now I know why. The majority of the big ‘hits’ were dubbed from that CD.

I have the version I bought the day it was released. I listened to it twice. I have no idea if it’s the edited version.

Craig advised me to load both versions (Best Of and Van Halen I) into Audacity and sync them.  I did and I could see right away visually that they did not match up.  I hit “play” and everything was synced until around 1:15.  Then, as Craig puts it, “all hell breaks loose” and the two versions completely deviate.    So apparently I do have both.

RUNNING WITH THE DEVIL WAVEFORM COMPARISON

 

The only modification I made to the tracks was to reduce the version from Van Halen in volume by 7%, so they were roughly the same.

More VH:

VAN HALEN – 3 (Collectors’ tin 1998)
VAN HALEN – 5150 (1986 Warner Bros.)
VAN HALEN – A Different Kind of Truth (2012)
VAN HALEN – Balance (1995 Warner – Japanese version included)
VAN HALEN – “Best of Both Worlds” (1986 Warner 7″ single)
VAN HALEN – The Best of Both Worlds (2005 Warner)
VAN HALEN – “Can’t Stop Loving You” (Parts 1 & 2, inc. collector’s tin)
VAN HALEN – “Right Now”(1992 cassette single, Warner)
BRIAN MAY & FRIENDS – Star Fleet Project (w/ Edward Van Halen)

REVIEW: Van Halen – For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991)

VAN HALEN – For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991 Warner Bros.)

What a frustrating experience this album was for me.  This was supposed “the one”; the album that would please the DLR fans and finally unite Van Halen fandom.  Heavier with only one ballad, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge was to be a statement.  Edward Van Halen had said that neither 5150 nor OU812 were ever properly finished to his liking.  In both cases, the band were under pressure to get out there and tour (OU812 because of the 1988 Monsters of Rock).  F.U.C.K. was to be the album that he finally got to spend time on and properly finish.  It was also Eddie’s first album using his new Ernie Ball guitars.   I expected my brain to be blown.

And it was, or it was by the first single at least.  “Poundcake” lived up to the promise.  Sure, lyrically it was…well, pretty stoopid, but musically?  Van Halen had some balls back!  This motherfucker grooves like a slow train.  As far as guitar tricks went, Eddie went all out with harmonics, taps, and…drills?  The shimmery guitars were subtly different from Eddie’s classic “brown sound”, but a guitar sound is an ever-evolving quest.  On this song, his rhythm guitar tones recall his friend, Brian May.  With “Poundcake” as a first single, I couldn’t wait to hear the whole album.

MuchMusic came close to banning this video

I was given the CD (same copy I still have) on my birthday in ’91, by childhood friend Bob.  I still remember popping the CD in for the first time that afternoon.  Then a few days later it was given to me again (this time on cassette) by my Aunt and Uncle!

Momentum is maintained on the second track, “Judgement Day”, heavier than the first.  The riff is anchored by a whammy bar trick, and it’s tasty.  I cannot find fault with “Judgement Day”.  This is what I wanted and hoped for from the new Van Halen album.  The groove is still there, Alex and Mikey gelling in a relentless way.  Sonically, both guys are recorded better than ever.  The bass and drums on For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge are really something to behold.

Then, things slide.  The awful “Spanked” is the worst song on the album, and possible contender for worst Van Hagar song yet.  “All you bad bad boys, call her up on the spank line,” sings Sammy with a straight face.  The sad thing is, the song would have been a fine instrumental, or basis for something with David Lee Roth.  Sammy ruins it with shitty lyrics and a shitty melody.  Too bad.  “Runaround” is a good song on first and second listen, but you tire of it quickly.  It’s bland, as is much of F.U.C.K.  The problem with “going heavy” for an album is the risk of losing diversity and texture.

The 7-minute “Pleasure Dome” can barely be called a song.  Organized chaos with some lead vocals, yes.  But it’s barely a song.  There are moments of brilliance contained within (the drums in particular) but it’s not particularly worthy.  And this was the side closer.

VHFCK_0002

As crappy as “Spanked” is, “In ‘N’ Out” is virtually a carbon copy.  It has some sparkling guitars to go with it, but like “Spanked”, the song sucks.  I can’t believe somebody didn’t say, “Guys, let’s cut the album down to 9 tracks like we used to do, and leave those two for B-sides”.   “Man On a Mission” isn’t much improved.  Just dull rock with dumb lyrics.  Totally uninspired.  It’s just four guys playing music without much direction other than, “turn it up!”

Things change up a little bit on “The Dream is Over”.  This also-ran isn’t a bad tune, though nowhere near single quality for Van Halen.  It’s at least a step in the right direction.  It feels as if the album was in a slumber, and it has now woken up — the title is apt.  And thankfully Sammy isn’t singing about girl parts for a change.

Van Halen didn’t consider “Right Now” to be a ballad, but it’s the only song with a keyboard.  It’s a welcome oasis in the desert of monotonous rock.  It’s a great song.  I don’t think anyone can say that it hasn’t been played to death, so I don’t need to comment further.  MTV awards, Pepsi, blah blah blah.

Nice suit.

“316” (named for Wolfy’s birthday 3/16/1991) is an acoustic guitar part that Eddie had been playing live for years.  Later, Eddie used to play this piece for Wolfgang while still in the womb.  But it’s just a brief 90 second instrumental, a segue into “Top of the World”, also a single.  It took a while for me to recognize the riff.  In fact, I didn’t pick up on it until I heard this song following “Jump” on the album LIVE: Right here, right now.   Only then did I realize:  it’s based on the outro riff from “Jump”!  So they re-used that oft-forgotten riff and built a new song around it.  It’s a good song, very pop rock, but a suitable album closer.

As high as this album charted (US #1), I’m convinced For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge is one of the albums responsible for the death of hard rock in 1991.  Sure, a lot of people bought it.  But a lot of people also didn’t like it very much.  Maybe they were getting tired of the schtick, but I do know I found it really hard to proudly blast this album out of the car.

2.8/5 stars

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 – Balance (1995)


VAN HALEN – Balance (1995 Warner – Japanese version included)

I had no idea what to expect when Van Halen released Balance in 1995.  Grunge had come and gone, the landscape vastly altered since Van Halen’s last wax in 1991.  Eddie was the king of pyrotechnics, and that kind of playing was not in vogue.  How would the band adapt?  Well, they didn’t.  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.

BALANCE_0003Produced by the late Bruce Fairbairn, Balance borders on over-polished. The sounds are rich, thick and glossy, but miles away from the raw guitar pummeling of the early days, or even the previous For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Eddie Van Halen, in a Guitar World interview, said the album was characterized by “better song writing”, but I think what he really meant was “more commercial songwriting”.

The album starts with a different sound for Van Halen: Gregorian chants. Hey, it was the 1990’s and later the same year, Iron Maiden would introduce their X Factor album with similar chants, no shit. The chanting merges into a heavy guitar riff accented by a wall of droning fills. 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.

The next tune (and second single) however, “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.

“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.

BALANCE_0005Sammy has an unfortunate habit of being too jokey when it’s inappropriate. Eddie didn’t like the lyrics to “Amsterdam” and you can see why. There is nothing wrong with this mid-tempo rocker with spare Eddie riff, except the lyrics. After the previous song’s warnings about drugs, suddenly Sammy is singing, “Whao, wham bam! Roll an Amsterdam!  Stone you like nothing else can.” Granted, two very different drugs (heroin vs. weed) but lyrically “Amsterdam” isn’t winning any awards.

“Big Fat Money” is very old-school boogie ‘Halen in intent; the music could have fit on virtually any of the first six albums. Producer Fairbairn had Eddie playing a fatbody jazz guitar during the solo section (mirroring a trick he pulled with the Scorpions two years previous) but it doesn’t save the song.  I’ll give VH a C for trying, but “Big Fat Money” is a C+ at best.

C+

“Strung Out” is a jokey opener to the ballad “Not Enough”. Basically, this is Eddie messing with (and wrecking) a piano from the inside! This was recorded years prior, at Marvin Hamlish’s house in Malibu during the writing sessions for 1984. Van Halen destroyed Hamlish’s white Yamaha piano and had to have it repaired.  It was covered with cigarette burns, and Van Halen had attempted to play the piano from the inside, by throwing balls at the strings.

That fades into “Not Enough”, another ballad.  Not quite as embarrassing to listen to as “Can’t Stop Loving You”, but not by much. Really, in the year 1995, Van Halen should have stuck to the serious themes, and guitar-based songs. Tunes like this made Van Halen seem completely out of touch with what was happening in the 1990’s. 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. These were dark times in rock and roll.  I just wasn’t feeling “Not Enough” and “Can’t Stop Loving You”, then or now.

Baluchitherium

Baluchitherium

“Aftershock” is another hard rocker, nothing embarrassing here, good riff, good melody, good song. Won’t make anybody’s desert island Van Halen list, however. 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”. “Baluchitherium” was so named because a baluchitherium was one of the biggest prehistoric land mammals known — and Eddie felt a stomper like this tune needed to be named after one of the biggest baddest animals to ever walk the Earth.  Unlike most VH instrumentals, this one just sounds like an unfinished song — an idea without a vocal.

“Take Me Back (Deja Vu)” is a pop song that I don’t mind at all, accented with acoustic guitar. Apparently Eddie had the guitar part in his head for decades, going back to the pre-Van Halen 1970’s, when he was a kid. It’s very laid back, but also very summery and the lyrics are decent.

BALANCE_0002“Feelin'” is a morose song but with an epic, powerful chorus. It is very different from anything the band had done prior, and hints at the directions to come in the Cherone years —  for better or for worse.  It’s a good album closer, as I like a dramatic ending from time to time.

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. The bass part alone on this song was so infectious that in my opinion, it is actually the main hook of the song. I’d consider this the best track on the album myself.  The arrangement is fairly unconventional, and the drums tumble and roll against the groove in a cool way. Again, apparently this song dates back to 1983! I think you will not regret tracking this one down.  Thankfully it was easier to find on the “Can’t Stop Loving You” single.  Notably, the Japanese version of the cover was also toned down.

On the whole, I think the majority of Sammy’s final Van Halen album is not to be ashamed of. I think the songwriting and lyrics were stronger than Unlawful, if only the production had been less geared towards pop and a couple ballads deleted, this might have been the very best thing Van Hagar ever did. However I’m not always the most objective guy.  There are Van Halen fans out there who don’t think much of Balance.  Some of those fans really, really don’t like Balance.  In order to end this review with some “balance”*, I found one and asked for his opinion.

Craig Fee: “I kept re-listening to Balance, doing my best to like it because it was 75% of my favourite band. It turned out to be more disappointing than my illustrious NHL career and my attempts to have a three-way with Rose McGowan and Liz Phair. “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You” is a steaming pile. It still is.”

I don’t have any sort of rebuttal for that.

3.75/5 stars

* Two clear signs of a writer doing a half-assed review:  Using the same pun twice, and padding it out with quotes from other people.

VAN HALEN CONSPIRACY THEORY (™)

The band were foreshadowing the firing of Hagar with subtle hints left on the back cover of Balance.

REVIEW: Sammy Hagar – Turn Up the Music! (EMI special markets)

SAMMY HAGAR – Turn Up the Music! (1989 EMI)

Turn Up The Music! is a compilation by EMI Special Markets. Translation: You know those cheap CDs that they sell at gas stations? That’s what this is. It has no booklet or liner notes, it runs at a brief 35 minutes and the tracks are not remastered. However I really enjoy this CD and here’s why.

Back in ’89, I got this album on cassette.  I remember going to a pharmacy store to get acne medicine with my parents and this tape was sitting in their cheapie bin.  Yep, I was so cool there at the pharmacy store with my folks buying zit cream. I remember seeing a girl there from my highschool on this particular trip.  I was so embarassed.  I always remember that detail when I listen to Turn Up The Music!

This was my first exposure to pre-“I Can’t Drive 55” Hagar. To this day I don’t know a lot about this stage of his career but mostly because those albums are hard to find on CD, not because I don’t dig the music. I lost this tape a while ago (probably in a Thunder Bay landfill), but it’s pretty easy to find the CD version online.

I know “Trans Am” and “Plain Jane” come from the Street Machine album (one that I do have). I love these two songs. I wish Van Halen covered “Trans Am” live, that would have been something. Eddie would have gone bananas on those cool guitar slides. “Plain Jane” is just a really cool Seger-esque song, based on piano and acoustic guitar on the verses. The bass line bops along and Sammy sings awesome.

“Iceman” is kind of an odd duck. It tries to be atmospheric and bluesy but it really only sizzles during the chorus. “Run For Your Life” was my second favourite song after “Plain Jane” and I am really glad to finally have this song back in my collection again. It’s really 70’s in this cheesy/cool Journey way. In fact Steve Perry sings on it.

“I’ve Done Everything For You” is also from the Street Machine remastered CD. This song, I am 110% certain, was not on my cassette original. It could be this is an extra track. Anyway, this pop rocker was a major hit for Rick Springfield later on, apparently.

Side two of the original cassette began with “Rock N’ Roll Weekend”. This is a cool fast rocker, another one that Van Halen would have sounded awesome covering. The lyrics are your typical “Been working hard all week, now the weekend’s here and it’s time to party lyrics.” And that’s fine, there’s always time to party.  If I feel like listening to something more serious I already have all the Dream Theater albums….

“Turn Up The Music” is a fun rocker with a nice tuneful riff. There’s some nice Seger-ish piano backing this one too. “Urban Guerilla” is one I never liked much for its awkward riff. As far as hard rock goes, this is as heavy as Sammy’s ever been. This one is pure heavy metal, fast and brutalizing. If only it had decent production. Unfortunately the song is tinny and the hi-hat is maddeningly annoying.

“Love Or Money” is a fast over the top rocker, catchy and memorable as hell. The final track is also quite metallic in delivery, “Reckless”. Aside from the overused title, this one is loaded with charisma. It works great as a compilation closer. An organ riff keeps it grounded inside a solid pocket.

So there you go, 10 songs, a full 7 of them being worth owning to me. Maybe there is a better compilation of this material elsewhere, I really don’t know. I do own the really cool Essential Red Collection but most of these songs are not on there. There is a CD called The Best of Sammy Hagar that has 7 of these songs, but my second favourite song “Run For Your Life” isn’t on it.

Proceed with that in mind, and purchase accordingly. The original cover of the cassette, by the way, was the same picture as the Danger Zone album cover. Weird!

3/5 stars

HAGAR_0002

Part 248: Hagar Bashing

SAMMY HAGAR

RECORD STORE TALES Part 248:  Hagar Bashing

There’s been some Van Hagar bashing recently here at mikeladano.com.  First there was this, and then this…some strong language here and there as well.  Seems that “Hagar Bashing” has been a hobby for me for a long time.  Witness this nearly decade old record store journal entry that I found.

Date: 2004/08/26 10:03

Someone should pass a law preventing Sammy Hagar from singing any old classic DLR tunes. “I got my ass against the record machine”???  Fuck you Sammy, go drink your tequila.

I kind of like that, I wish I’d worked that into my Best of Both Worlds review.  “Fuck you Sammy, go drink your tequila!”  I’m sure that would be considered a very professional review!  Speaking of which, apparently I wasn’t too impressed with a review that I read in Bass Guitar magazine, judging by the journal entry below.

Date: 2004/08/25 00:25

I hate reading an article in a magazine, and realizing I could have done a better job than the guy who gets paid all that cash for being in a big glossy.  I am reading a bass magazine, and there’s an article on Van Halen.  They’re talking about how consistent Michael Anthony’s sound and style has been, and continues to be on the three new songs.

Well, if the writer had bothered doing any checking, he would have seen that Anthony doesn’t play bass on the three new songs.  He in fact has nothing to do with the new album whatsoever.  I would have known that, not made a mistake in the article, and in addition asked Anthony about it in the interview!  I could have done a better job than this pro…and I wouldn’t even ask for a dime!

And I still haven’t made a dime!  Goal achieved.

Legend has it that Sammy Hagar liked this song even though Thelonious Monster meant it to be insulting.

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) – “Best of Both Worlds” picture sleeve 7″ single

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)