Van Halen discography – A Van Halen History Primer
The martial-arts kicks and bravado of lead singer David Lee Roth, the guitar virtuosity of
Eddie Van Halen
the thunderous drumming of his brother Alex Van Halen and the Jack Daniels-assisted steady sounds of bassist Michael Anthony.
These were the early ingredients of Van Halen, arguably the world’s premier party band. These ingredients came together in the early 1970s in California and, through some rocky times and breakups along the way, mostly continue to this day as fans await the first Roth-fronted album in years.
From Mammoth to Van Halen
The incendiary rock band had its roots in Mammoth, which the Van Halen brothers played in before shifting to the band that shared their name (another band was also named Mammoth, the reason for the change). It was, indeed, Roth who is credited with suggesting the Van Halen name, saying in his trademark sense of humour that there were too few syllables in Roth for his last name to be used.
According to rock legend, Van Halen owes a debt of thanks to Gene Simmons, the bassist for Kiss, for coming across the young quartet. Simmons financed a demo tape, which helped get Van Halen off the ground. However, Van Halen was destined to sign not with Casablanca, the label for Kiss, but instead with Warner Brothers Records (classicvanhalen.com, accessed July 27).
From Running with the Devil to Jump
Then came Van Halen’s first, self-titled album, released in early 1978 with the help of producer Ted Templeman. Among the rock-hard hits from that first LP were Running with the Devil, Ice Cream Man and Eruption (an Eddie Van Halen solo that Templeman wanted on the album as soon as he heard it when the guitarist was practising). Also on the album was a cover of the Kinks’ You Really Got Me – when the Kinks played their hit, some fans apparently thought they were covering Van Halen instead (vhnd.com, accessed July 27).
Eddie Van Halen’s revolutionary musical techniques set the guitar world on its collective ear. It was reported that, in the early days, he played on stage backwards – with his strings and fingers facing away from the audience, lest he give away any of his supreme six-string techniques.
The group’s successful albums came out fast and furious for the next several years and included Van Halen II, Women and Children First, Fair Warning, Diver Down and 1984. The hits from the latter album featured Jump, one of Van Halen’s first radio-friendly songs, which featured Eddie Van Halen on a mix of guitar and keyboards. Roth was reputedly against Eddie’s keyboards, saying that people didn’t want to see him behind anything but a guitar.
Sammy Hagar Walks In
It was in 1985, after the success of the 1984 album, that Roth and the band parted ways as the lead singer left to pursue what turned out to be a lukewarm solo career. In stepped ex-Montrose front man Sammy Hagar, who took on lead singer and rhythm guitar duties for 5150, Van Halen’s 1986 offering and first U.S. No. 1 album.
Hagar played with the band for about a decade, leading the way for the albums OU812, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, a live album and then Balance in 1995, which was destined to be the band’s final Hagar-fronted album. His last song in his long initial run with Van Halen was Humans Being, a truly rocking effort that appeared on the soundtrack for the movie Twister.
Dry Times for Van Halen
Enter the Van Halen wilderness. Gary Cherone of Extreme stepped in as lead singer for Van Halen III in 1998, which was the worst-selling effort from Van Halen and drew fire from critics and fans alike. Cherone left the next year and Van Halen was left in limbo for several years before rejoining briefly with Hagar in 2004 and then with Roth again in 2007 (at this point Anthony was left behind as Eddie’s son Wolfgang Van Halen took over on bass and backing vocals).
The 2007-2008 North American tour with Roth was a huge success, with the flamboyant original lead singer doing high kicks wearing a top hat and sporting a huge flag on a figure-eight stage. This time, Hagar and Cherone tunes were absent as the band played songs solely from the first six Roth albums.
So, the band is now – in Roth’s words – “three-quarters original, one-quarter inevitable” with its current lineup (vhnd.com, accessed July 27). Fans around the world await word on a new album with Roth, surely one of the most anticipated musical epics in recent memory.