Van Halen

#693: GUEST SHOT! Rock and Religion by Derek Kortepeter

A follow up to #657: Operation: Van Halen and #533: Spirituality as a Heavy Metal Fan

 

GETTING MORE TALE #693: Rock and Religion
Guest post by musician and songwriter Derek Kortepeter

Rock N’ Roll and Religion. These things, the two capital R’s if you will, were a constant presence growing up. Sometimes I think back on my growing and think how I developed into the person I am now, certainly rock and religion played a part in that. Being raised Christian by a really awesome single mom who also loved classic rock was truly the best of both worlds. She encouraged me to seek out spiritual and musical power in equal measure. She was laid-back and let me just be who I am as I figured life out.

When I became too self-righteous in my religious fervor she’d pull me back and give me a reality check that being a person of faith means being kind and not a judgmental dickhead (which I certainly could be at times). Even as I now am a rather irreligious (i.e. not super orthodox) 27-year-old, I still think the philosophical and theological basis for my life was positive at least in respect to my mother’s teachings.

It also led to some…interesting, shall we say, experiences with two subcultures that tend to clash. While I grew up after the heyday of Tipper Gore and her merry band of fuckwits (the PMRC) persecuting metal musicians, I still felt the aftershocks in the 90s. Couple that with having more hardcore fundamentalist evangelical extended family and friends, and you can bet I have some stories to tell.

I first started to notice the conflict as a 10-year-old when I got into Black Sabbath and some family members suggested I burn the CDs promptly. I’m pretty sure had I agreed they would have built a bonfire in their backyard and eliminated the demonic disc in a flash of fire (as we all know, Satan lives in poorly made CD-Rs burned on a shitty Dell PC). Not sure if the pen fake tattoo of “OZZY” on my knuckles would have also been burned off in the process…but we can’t rule anything out.

Knowing so many religious folks as friends since I went to a Christian high school after leaving public school due to bullying led to some pretty hilarious confrontations. Being a huge Van Halen fan I would get confronted with different accusations. These would range from me being a practitioner of idolatry (must’ve thought I had a shrine to Eddie Van Halen where I burn sage and chant the lyrics to “I’m The One”), to full-blown accusations of Van Halen being satanic (HAIL DAVID LEE ROTH AND HIS MINIONS OF SATAN).

These sorts of conflicts arose with all of the bands I listened to, from AC/DC and Judas Priest, to Iron Maiden and Metallica. I was constantly having to justify my faith and my love of music that involved pounding drums and wailing guitars. The more I became a bit more liberal in my faith I was able to eventually stop caring, but it was an eye-opening experience for me.

Some suggested I listen to more Christian rock bands, which is an odd label; I mean being a musician is a job, do you make sure your plumber is a Christian plumber (on second thought, maybe you do…bless thy toilet and its holy water)? The problem was, while I found some great bands like Pillar and P.O.D. (also U2 writes constantly about God), they were basically shitty imitations of the real thing. I mean if you want Coke, are you really going to drink store-brand cola and think it tastes just as good?

I imagine that this experience is pretty common for kids in certain religious circles and I wonder if they are scared away from either belief or music because of a false dualism being presented. I ain’t a preacher, and I’m definitely no role model, but rock n’ roll in all its forms has been nothing but a positive in my life. Simultaneously, while I eventually walked away from the church and orthodoxy of my faith for personal reasons, at the time, I also benefited from the comfort I could find in the belief of a supernatural being.

I’m reminded of Malcolm Young’s response when asked if AC/DC were Satanists, he humorously stated “me mum would kill me if we were.” The less boundaries we draw for ourselves in these little subgroups the better. I’m not saying we all have to hold hands and sing “We Are The World” (that song is overrated as hell), but you’d be surprised how much you’d have in common with people that seem to run counter to your own worldview. Rock and religion shouldn’t be enemies, and maybe someday they won’t be.

For now, I’ll start on that Church of the Holy Lars Ulrich shrine for human sacrifices and hope for the best.

Derek Kortepeter

 

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#681: Bad Lessons

GETTING MORE TALE #681: Bad Lessons

Parents of the 80s were always concerned about the impressions that their kids were getting from music videos.  Objectifying women?  Drug and alcohol use?  Absolutely a concern.  But what about other misleading lessons from the music video age?

 

Bad Lesson #1:  You can play guitar with gloves on!

You’re guilty, Blackie Lawless from W.A.S.P.!  You too, Jeff Pilson of Dokken!  You both played your instruments in music videos while wearing full leather gloves.  As children, we simply assumed if it got cold outside, you could continue to play your guitar with gloves on.  I’m not talking fingerless gloves, but full coverage.

It doesn’t really look cold in that Dokken video for “Burning Like a Flame”. Why the gloves, Jeff? George Lynch isn’t even wearing a shirt.

 

Bad Lesson #2:  Great hair just happens.

How many music videos of the 80s showed the band members doing up their hair?  None!  Probably due to the “hairspray” stigma of the 80s. Some videos showed the band members literally getting out of bed, with hair intact.  I assumed that once you grew your hair long enough and had it cut by a professional, it would just automatically look cool every morning.  Naturally, I had bad hair for years.  Thanks, rock stars.  Don’t be embarrassed by your hair care products!

 

Bad Lesson #3:  Guitars are eeeeasy to play!

Since we didn’t fully comprehend that music videos were mimed, and not an actual performance, we assumed guitars were easy to play!  After all, they made it look so easy!  C.C. DeVille could jump around and swing his guitar everywhere without missing a note.  Others would just…hit their guitars…and the song played on!  Paul Stanley seemed to play his without even touching it.  You can imagine how we felt when we actually bought our first guitars ourselves.  Hitting it didn’t play a song, it just made a hitting sound.  We were lied to!

Players like DeVille and Jeff Labar of Cinderella also made it look far too easy to swing your guitars over your shoulders.  We damaged some necks and some ceilings trying to imitate these guys.  We learned you had to buy strap locks or watch your guitar get launched skyward.

 

Bad Lesson #4:  Adulthood involves walking the streets at night with your boyz.

As young impressionable kids, we didn’t know what adulthood was really about.  We saw our dads go to work every day.  Mom worked hard too.  But what about before they met and got married and settled down to have kids?  What was life like at that stage?  Judging by Dokken, Journey or Motley Crue videos, adulthood meant walking around town a lot with your buds.  Some bands even cruised in cars!  Is this what growing up looked like?


“Don’t Go Away Mad” (by the most Mötleyest of Crües) is guilty on two counts: plenty of downtown walkin’, and Vince waking up with hair perfectly coiffed.

 

Bad Lesson #5:  Getting arrested is no big deal!

David Lee Roth was led away in handcuffs in the “Panama” music video.  Bobby Dall of Poison got arrested in one of their clips, too.  Let’s not forget Sammy Hagar getting busted for speeding in “I Can’t Drive 55”.   But it’s all good – the guys were all there at the end of the songs.  No big deal!

 

 

It was never the alcohol, or devil worship, or women that made rock videos dangerous. Turns out it was the mundane stuff. Who knew long hair was so hard to upkeep? They never told us that. How naive we were!

 

 

#657: GUEST SHOT! Operation: Van Halen (Derek’s Story)

GETTING MORE TALE #657: Operation: Van Halen (Derek’s Story)
Guest post by guitarist and songwriter Derek Kortepeter

Alright, so I’m pretty sure all of us can relay some embarrassing moments from our teenage years. I dunno if it’s the changing hormones or what, but we tend to be pretty damn stupid in these formative years. I have been thinking about my teen years a lot recently, most likely since my high school 10 year reunion is coming up in 2019.

I don’t if it’s nostalgia or what, but I have suddenly been reliving a lot of moments from this time. Here’s something you have to know to know about me first before I start my story. I spent most of my education in public schools in Southern California, namely elementary school and college (two years at a Pasadena City College and then three at UCLA as a transfer student). I switched to a small Christian K-12 school for middle and high school because of bullying (cops got involved, nasty stuff). While I was a working class kid of a single mom, this small school had scholarships and financial aid that made it possible for me to attend.

It is at this small school in “SoCal” that my story takes place. This story involves a CD; well, two CDs to be exact. You see, music has been my obsession my entire life (it eventually became what I studied in college). I had a far ranging interest in all kinds of music from around the world but as a teenager rock, namely punk and metal, amped me up the most.

Above all bands was Van Halen.

Pretty much every person that knew me also knew how obsessed I was with the band. It didn’t matter what incarnation of the band, I owned every damn CD and cut my teeth as a guitarist on all those records.

So while I was a teenage metalhead and punk, what went along with that was that I was a bit of…let’s say, a social anomaly. I didn’t really fit into any clique, but most knew me as a decent guy who was just a tad obsessed with Eddie Van Halen. To go along with this, I was horrifically shy around girls I found attractive.

Awkward doesn’t even really cover it, but holy shit did this come to a head in a hilariously embarrassing way with a girl I liked from age 14 to age 15 (this story ranges from late middle school to early high school). Let’s call this girl “S” so that this never makes it back to people I know. Remember how I mentioned that I was a bit of a social misfit? This girl S wasn’t. In fact, she was popular.

Very. Popular.

My dumb ass had the bright idea to get a crush on a (future) cheerleader who hung around (future) jocks that hated my guts (incidentally I did play starting right tackle on the high school football team) and boy was I about to make my mark. Remember how I mentioned that I was shy around girls? Yeah, that meant I couldn’t hold a conversation without my voice cracking from nerves.

So I had a plan to say something without too many words. I was going to go old school and make a mix tape for her since my conversations were very limited. “Oh man S, is going to so dig this! She’ll love that I shared this amazing band with her,” I thought to myself. The thing is, it was my 8th grade year in the early 2000s so cassettes weren’t the thing anymore. As such, I made her a mix CD.

Not just any mix CD though. A VAN HALEN mix CD.

All the classic Roth and Hagar love songs were there man, it didn’t matter that S was more of a Mariah Carey fan, I figured NOBODY could deny the mighty VH.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA BOY WAS I WRONG.

Once I made the CD I approached her locker shaking like my apartment during an earthquake and the conversation went something like this.

Me: Hey… uh… hi S!

S: Oh hi Derek.

Me: So uhhhh…I really like Van Halen…and I…uh…(reaching into my backpack) made this CD for you.

S: Ok?

Me: Yeah…soooo…let me know what you think…k bye!

A day passed and I approached her again towards the end of the day. I figured “OK dude, this is it, you’re gonna find out how much she dug it!” Cue scene:

Me: So… how did you like Van Halen?

S: (nods slightly, forces a polite smile) Yeah… it was… pretty good.

Me: Cool! I, um, yeah cool see ya!

Later on I found out that she didn’t even listen to the damn thing. Friends of mine standing near the “popular group” heard that she didn’t even want the CD and tried to hand it over to guys in the group that liked metal. Major bummer.

But I wasn’t finished embarrassing myself hooooooooo boy I was just getting started.

The 8th grade year ended and I continued to make awkward conversation with S and left a couple of really geeky messages on her home answering machine (FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY). On the last day of the end of the year I was risking my neck by wearing a Van Halen t-shirt (band shirts were banned by the fascists at my school). I wore it in rebellion of the fact that we were going to have to wear uniforms starting my freshman year of high school. That day I got her to sign my yearbook and she wrote, I’m paraphrasing more or less, “you’re awesome, never change <3 –S”

DUDE SHE PUT A HEART OMG.

You see I didn’t realize at the time that girls just do that sort of thing, so I figured I still had a chance. Anyways, I got made fun of quite a bit by the jocks for the whole Van Halen thing, but still liked S. Come freshman year I was a starter on the football team (still not a jock…just was a great lineman), and S had recently had her birthday.

Operation Van Halen part 2 was on.

This time I made a pastel artwork for her (I was a decent artist back then) and… also made another fucking mix CD. This time it was mixed with some more recent bands popular at the time, but still had Van Halen and also some solo Roth and Hagar as well.

Conversation follows here:

Me: So… I have something for you, wait here (I run into the athletic locker room and get the gift).

Me: (hands the artwork and CD over) Happy birthday S.

S: (stares blankly) Oh… you didn’t have to do that (gives awkward hug).

Me: (freaking out that she hugged me) Yeah…uh happy birthday, bye!

In the year that followed this solidified my place in the pantheon of stupidity as the hostility of the jocks increased since I continued to try to pursue a chick outside of my social standing. Eventually I gave up and moved on with my life. Van Halen became a running joke among the popular crowd (one jock grabbed my yearbook and wrote VAN HALEN SUCKS just for “lolz”).

Joke was on them though, I eventually became a really great guitarist (I’m sure Mike can testify to this) and performed frequently in front of the school. My senior year the leader of the worship band asked me to play this Steve Vai piece; I won 2nd place in the talent show for (most people thought I was robbed of 1st). Incidentally, I was placed right in front of S and her pals for the performance.

I wonder if she remembered those stupid CDs I made.

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

#601: Rob, Jedi Master of Rock

GETTING MORE TALE #601: Rob, Jedi Master of Rock

I like to describe some of my older friends who passed on their rock knowledge to me as “Jedi masters”.  The first “Jedi masters” of rock in my life were neighbors Bob and George, who got me started.  I taped a lot of albums off those two guys until I no longer needed their guidance.  I built a killer collection, but at Laurier University I met my next Jedi master.

His name was Rob, and he has appeared in these pages before.  Rob was the star of Record Store Tales Part 32:  Pranks.  He’s always been a little bit of a prankster.  At school, he was an assistant in the Philosophy department.  He told me about a prank involving a $100 bill being taped to a classroom ceiling, and observing the confused expressions.  He liked to prank me in the Record Store too.  In addition to the Deep Purple joke from Part 32, he also liked to sneakily move discs all over the store.  He enjoyed watching me try and figure out what was changed.  He kept everything in plain sight, just the wrong spots.  Rob was good for a laugh.  He actually went to highschool with the store owner; they are the same age.  And don’t worry, Rob didn’t leave without making sure I got all the discs back where they belonged.

I went to the same highschool as those guys, though I was a bit younger.  Rob and I had some mutual friends (like Bob), but we didn’t actually meet until University.  I recognized him from a Whitesnake highschool air band.  Rob played David Coverdale in 1987, but he refused to do a popular Whitesnake tune.  Instead he did “Slow An’ Easy” from 1984’s Slide It In, which nobody else at school knew…except me.  Rob was disqualified, for doing some very authentic mic stand moves a-la David Coverdale…perhaps a bit too authentic.  The school wasn’t impressed when Rob seemed to use the mic stand as a giant phallus, but that’s Coverdale for you.  That’s as authentic as a Whitesnake air band could get.  He may have been disqualified but he did make it into the yearbook.

Rob’s Jedi teachings involved Whitesnake and Coverdale’s previous band, Deep Purple.  We covered the whole family tree from Rainbow to Glenn Hughes and Trapeze.  He educated me on the labyrinthine Purple back catalogue.  Well before all their rarities were reissued on CD, he recorded songs for me.  Whitesnake’s rarities “Need Your Love So Bad”, “You’re Gonna Break My Heart Again”, and “Looking For Love” were among them.  He also recorded a couple rare Deep Purple albums – Power House, and The Anthology (not to be confused with the unrelated CD Anthology), with loads of songs you couldn’t find on CD.  It was years before these tracks were reissued officially, but I was already familiar with great Deep Purple tunes like “Painted Horse” when they were.

He and I were in touch on and off over the years.  I remember a memorable dinner at East Side Marios, when he confused the server by orderings two entrées.  He finished one, enjoyed it, and was still hungry so he ordered another.  That really seemed to confuse her.  Rob also had no use for social pleasantries.  He hated when people would ask, “How are you?” when he knew it was just something to say and they didn’t actually want to know.  The socially acceptable answer would be “I’m good, and you?”  Rob’s answer would be “my psoriasis is flaring up”.  I always liked that about him.  No bullshit.

I lost track of Rob about five years ago, shortly after I launched Record Store Tales. But he’s still around.  My buddy Craig over at 105.7 DaveRocks received a mysterious email from a listener, and it could only have come from Rob.

 

Hey Craig,
I heard LeBrain’s name mentioned today and I wondered whether he could answer that one impossible Van Halen question: when is Van Halen Best Of Volume II going to be released? He couldn’t answer that question back in the [Record Store] days.

 

Ah yes, the mysterious Van Halen Best Of Volume II that never materialized.  Rob remembered!  In 1996 when Volume I was released, one of my most hated customer questions was “When is Volume II coming out?”

The frequency of that question drove me nuts.  Hey, I get it.  Volume I didn’t have your favourite song(s).  But Van Halen had a lot of publicity in 1996 due to the aborted reunion with David Lee Roth.  It was common knowledge that they were working on a new album with Gary Cherone.  Why did so many people assume their next release would be Volume II?  Probably because they’d rather buy that than something new.  After getting that question over and over and over and over, I began answering “In 18 years.”  Customers would be baffled.  Why 18 years?  Because that’s how long it took them to put out Volume I.  I was wrong though.  More than 18 years have passed and Volume II is never coming.

I understand why Van Halen wanted to call their best of “Volume I”.  It was to make clear that the band was not done; that this was only the first, and they had no plans on quitting.  Unfortunately the message that fans heard from that title was “Volume I is half of a whole”.  Naming it Volume I was a bad move.  People were far more interested in the mythical Volume II than anything new by Van Halen.

It’s funny how something like that can jog a million memories.  Rob’s email to Craig concluded:

 

If you have time for a request can you play Blue Rodeo’s “Lost Together” and dedicate it to LeBrain? Let’s see whether it will jar any memories.

 

You got me there.  I played Blue Rodeo in store a lot, including that song, but no other memories are jarred.  Sorry Rob!  I’ll have to email him and find out what the story was!*

Nice to hear from the old Jedi masters again.  I hope you’re doing well Rob, and I don’t say that just out of social obligation!

 

 

 

* Update:  I contacted Rob and found out.  His memory is incredible.  “I recall you mentioned some of the difficulties you had with [an ex-girlfriend] in relation to communicating with one another. You listened to Blue Rodeo’s song ‘Lost Together’ as a way of making sense of that relationship during that particular time.”

REVIEW: Spaceballs – The Soundtrack (1987)

I will be going LIVE at 12:30 AM (ET) Saturday morning with Robert Daniels on VISIONS IN SOUND. Tune in on your dial to 98.5 or internet to CKWR!  If you’re in the UK, why not wake up with us and some cool soundtrack music?

May was Star Wars month on Visions In Sound, but now it’s June and it’s also the 30th anniversary of the Star Wars parody Spaceballs!  We will be spinning music and discussing this comedy classic.  Jason Drury and I will help Rob with the celebration.  Join Us THIS Saturday 12:30-2:30am (ET)

 

SPACEBALLS – The Soundtrack (1987 Atlantic)

Hello, baaaaabay!

Composer John Morris has a long career working with Mel Brooks.  The Producers, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles…all that was John Morris.  He is also responsible for the “Spaceballs Main Title Theme”, which is intentionally cheesy complete with laser beam sounds.  Any spoof of Star Wars should also spoof the music, and the title theme suits that role.  It sounds 50% Star Wars, and 50% The Last Starfighter.  It’s rousing but not at all serious, and a fine indication of the kind of movie that Spaceballs is.  The film wasn’t so well received back in 1987, but today it is fondly remembered.  Mel Brooks is even considering a sequel.

Kim Carnes and Jeffrey Osborne provide the love ballad “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own”.  I enjoy Kim’s rasp, always nice to hear, but I couldn’t tell you what scene in the movie this goes with (and I’ve seen the movie 100 times at least.)  You can safely skip this one. Berlin have a cool track called “Heartstrings”, produced by none other than Bob Ezrin! This one is worth a listen.

The “Spaceballs Love Theme” is a violin piece composed Morris and performed by Gerry Vinci.  It too has a hint of corniness, but it could also fit into just about any Hugh Grant rom-com.  Also by Morris is “The Winnebago Crashes”, the point in the film in which our heroes crash on the desert planet.  This is an action packed centerpiece, with drums pattering away and horns ablaze.  This is melded with a tension-filled “The Spaceballs Build Mega Maid”.  Too bad these bits had to be edited together for the album.

“Spaceballs” by the Detroit Spinners is a hoot.  This is pure 80s soundtrack music.  Who you gonna call?  You’re in the right ballpark anyway.   It’s fun, and funny.  The Pointer Sisters have “Hot Together”, and it sounds just like the Pointer Sisters.  Disposable 80s pop but fun in the moment.  In a similar vein is “Wanna Be Loved By You” by a group called Ladyfire.  If you miss the days of the Bangles and Bananarama, then you’d dig Ladyfire.

Of course the Spaceballs movie had a lot more music than this.  It’s clear that this CD is just a cross-section with an emphasis on pop, which would have been the selling point for most.  Those who have seen the movie know there were two more big songs.  One was “Raise Your Hands” from Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet.  That’s not on the CD, but Van Halen’s “Good Enough” is.  Fans will recall that this song is playing as Barf (John Candy) and Lone Star (Bill Pullman) enter the space diner, just before John Hurt’s chest explodes and gives birth to an Alien.  It’s good to know that Eddie Van Halen’s axe will still be wailing away in the distant future.  Van Hagar were perfect music for the sleazy diner and it’s nice to get one rock song on this CD.

There is also a 19th Anniversary Edition available, expanded with all the cues and alternate takes too.  Still no Bon Jovi though….

2.5/5 stars (for this edition)

REVIEW: Sammy Hagar – “Give to Live” (12″ single)

SAMMY HAGAR – “Give to Live” (1987 Geffen 12″ single)

Sammy Hagar released his solo album I Never Said Goodbye in 1987, right when he was still in Van Halen.  It was co-produced by Sammy and Eddier himself.  It was a mixed bag, with some killer tunes and a few things that were far too wimpy.  A couple singles were released, and “Give to Live” was the best.  As a power ballad, it probably could have suited any of the Van Hagar albums except For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.  That’s Eddie on bass, by the way, and listen to how great he is.  No surprise, right?  When you’re as great at music as Eddie Van Halen is, it must be hard for other musicians to cut it in his eyes.  (Cough cough Michael Anthony cough.)

Also on the A-side is album opener “When the Hammer Falls”, an OK rock track.  As discussed in the album review for I Never Said Goodbye, “When the Hammer Falls” has a good riff but not much of a chorus.  That’s too bad since it was one of the hardest rockers on the LP.  (And just listen to Eddie’s bass…again!)  you can’t hit a homerun every time, though there’s nothing here to be embarrassed of.

If you buy the single, there’s no point unless you get the 12″ with the non-album bonus track.  On the B-side you will find the full-length version of “Standin’ at the Same Old Crossroads”, which was only 1:46 on album.  It served as an introduction to the song “Privacy”, but on this single it’s unedited.  This is a real treat for fans of Sammy’s underappreciated guitar playing.  The song is just Sammy and an electric slide guitar, bluesing it up.  The intro is longer and there’s a lot more playing than the album version.  Stuff like this is the reason to have B-sides and buy singles in the first place.

3.5/5 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: Sammy Hagar – Sammy Hagar / I Never Said Goodbye (1987)

Scan_20160705SAMMY HAGAR – Sammy Hagar / I Never Said Goodbye (1987 Geffen)

Remember when everybody in the Van Hagar camp just loved each other?  Things were so happy in Van Hagar, that Sammy released a solo album in 1987 and nobody got mad.  Hell, Eddie himself co-produced it and played bass!   Hagar was obligated to do another solo album to get out of his contract with Geffen, and so the self-titled Sammy Hagar was recorded quickly.  Sammy apparently forgot he released another album also called Sammy Hagar in 1977, so this one was re-titled I Never Said Goodbye.   (I still call it Sammy Hagar.)

There was something particularly weird about this release on cassette. I had a version, purchased from Columbia House around 1989-1990, with a bizarre cover. The J-card was designed to fold around outside the cassette shell. I’m not sure why to this day, and I’ve never seen another copy like it. The artwork was obviously designed to fold on the outside rather than the inside, but I’ll never figure out why.

All the members of Van Halen even appeared in Sammy’s video for “Hands and Knees”.  The plot was simple, and perhaps a foreshadowing of things to come.  A bored Hagar calls his bandmates (including nextdoor neighbor Eddie) to jam, but nobody’s interested.  Instead, Hagar jams with a group of robots!  “Hands and Knees” was an odd choice for a first single, being a dark and slow mood tune.  The video guaranteed attention, and still garners a chuckle today (albeit a sad one, knowing these guys aren’t pals anymore).  I love Michael Anthony’s huge brick of a cell phone.  The video was better than the song, though it does have a killer of a chorus.  It’s clear if you listen that Eddie Van Halen is one damn fine bassist too.  Are you surprised?

One thing about this album, though:  it’s really commercial.  Like way, way more pop even than 5150.  It’s no surprise that some writers like the esteemed Martin Popoff have slagged this album.  The production has an airy 80’s feel, not enough oomph.  The opening track “When the Hammer Falls” is a hard rocker, but it could have been thicker with more meat.  Not that it would have helped too much.  The chorus on this one is pretty weak, which is too bad since the riff is good enough for rock and roll.

The second single, which Van Halen used to let Sammy play live acoustically, is “Give to Live”.  Van Halen’s version can be found on 1993’s Live: Right here, right now.  Hagar’s studio original is unabashedly pop, bombastic…and good.  I admit I still enjoy this very cheesy ballad.  Hagar is rarely profound, and neither is “Give to Live”, but it’s a nice song indeed.

A shitty synth (?) horn section urinates all over “Boy’s Night Out”. Speaking of synth, “Returning Home” is all but unpalatable. This is one of Sammy’s UFO yarns, a story of a guy returning back to Earth to find it wrecked. “I saw the ruins, once the smoke cleared, once upon returning home.” It’s just sunk by all this terrible synthesizer junk and programming. The UFO has crashed into the damn mountain!

ALIENS

The second side surprisingly opened with some blues jamming:  “Standin’ at the Same Old Crossroads”.  And that would be Sammy on the slide guitar.  “Crossroads” leads directly into “Privacy”, a “Radar Love” re-write that is better than “Radar Love”.  Maybe I’m just sick of “Radar Love”, but “Privacy” has some smoking playing on it, proving again that Hagar is actually a pretty badass soloist.  Side two on a whole is actually much better than the first.  “Back Into You” is a vintage-style Hagar radio rocker.  Journey must have wished they wrote “Back Into You”.  The keyboard overdubs aren’t necessary but hey, it was the 80’s and this is a great little AOR rocker.

Another tune that Hagar played live with Van Halen was “Eagles Fly”.  He actually presented the song to the band for 5150, but it was turned down.  A live Van Halen version can be found on the 1993 single for “Jump (Live)”.  He did it acoustically on stage, but the studio version is bombastic and big like “Give to Live” is.  It’s a pretty impressive tune, for pop rock.   David Lauser’s drumming makes the song, I’m a sucker for that rat-a-tat-tat!

The album ends on a ho-hum note, the soul-funk of “What They Gonna Say Now”, sort of this album’s “Inside” to close it out.  Just not good enough.  If you want to hear Eddie Van Halen playing bass up close and personal, he’s very audible here, but he’s not a flash bassist.  He plays with the groove for the song.

It’s tempting to think of this album as a collection of tracks that were not right for Van Halen, and that’s mostly true.  A lot of it, however, just wasn’t good enough for Van Halen.  “What They Gonna Say Now” could have been a Van Halen track, but it would have been the weakest tune on 5150 if so.

2.5/5 stars