You’d never guess from looking at my wife that she’s a former adult film star, which is good because she wasn’t. Likewise, you’d never guess from looking at her that she’s a big Van Halen fan, which is unfortunate because she is. Not that Van Halen fans are typically easy to spot. Despite the big hair, spandex, and headbands sported by the band in the early days, Van Halen faithful tend to blend into the wider hockeyhead/puckbunny surroundings unlike the more identifiable metal or goth fandoms. My wife, all subtle beauty and unassuming demeanour, still doesn’t quite seem the type to be “Runnin’ with the Devil” and yet run she does. More to the point of this post, it should be noted that she is not just a Van Halen fan, but a loyal devotee to the original David Lee Roth Van Halen lineup. She does not, as it were, care much for the Van Hagar version of Van Halen.
Which is Better?
Which is better? When it comes to popular music, no question is better loaded for instigating dispute. Forged from the molten entrails of existing artist rivalries, Rock and Roll debates have enthralled music critics and music lovers, friends and foes ever since The King first gyrated those hips on Ed Sullivan in 1956.
Young Elvis or Old Elvis? Beatles or Stones? Punk or Disco? The examples are endless, many seem frivolous while others cut to the very heart of rock ‘n’ roll music. Few will garner more heated, partisan engagement than “Van Halen or Van Hagar”.
Van Halen is an interesting band. Eddie Van Halen was considered a guitar god while his brother Alex plied his trade on a drum kit with more pieces than most music stores’ entire inventory. Michael Anthony looked like a former college football player who’d landed the greatest gig in history and Diamond David Lee Roth was the epitome of what a rock front man should be. Inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they were undoubtedly a major force in the hard rock scene of the late 70s and early 80s, yet many people will only know them for their seminal 1984 album 1984 and the megahit “Jump” it spawned. Males who were entering puberty in 1984 will also be well aware of the “Hot For Teacher” video, but you get my point.
By the time 1984 was saturating the airwaves, Van Halen was pretty much the biggest rock band in the world. Then in 1985 everything changed. Roth either left the band or was kicked out but whichever it was, he was no longer part of Van Halen and embarked on his solo professional ass clown career. Replacing him in the band was Sammy Hagar hence the moniker Van Hagar. This version of Van Halen was incredibly successful but admittedly different in their sound. The original Van Halen diehards were not impressed. My wife, it seems, is one of them. I, on the other hand, and I’m whispering now so she doesn’t hear me, don’t mind Van Hagar at all. Sure, I like the original stuff. A lot, actually. But I like a good chunk of the Hagar stuff too. A lot actually. Hey, every heated debate needs a fence sitter.
So in honour of my beloved wife’s upcoming 42nd birthday, I’m kicking off the weekend with my very favourite Van Halen song. Luckily it’s a Roth tune or I’d never hear the end of it from her, or many of you. Crank it up folks, this is “Unchained” from the 1981 Van Halen album Fair Warning.
Official Live Music Video: