David Lee Roth era (1972–1985)
The Van Halen brothers first started playing music together when Eddie took up the drums and Alex the guitar. However, after some time with this set up, the two switched places." In 1972 the Van Halen brothers formed a band called "Mammoth" which featured Eddie as lead vocalist/guitarist, Alex Van Halen on drums and Mark Stone on bass. They initially rented a sound system from David Lee Roth but decided to save money by letting him join as lead vocalist even though he had previously auditioned unsuccessfully for this. By 1974 the band decided to replace Stone. Michael Anthony, bassist and lead vocalist from local band "Snake" was auditioned. Following an all night jam session he was hired for bass and backing vocals.
Mammoth discovered in 1974 that their name was already being used and changed to "Van Halen". According to Roth, this was his idea. They played backyard parties and on a flatbed truck at Hamilton Park. Van Halen played clubs in Pasadena and Hollywood to growing audiences, increasing their popularity through self promotion: before each gig they would pass out fliers at local high schools. This soon built them a major following.
In 1977, Mo Ostin and Ted Templeman of Warner Bros. Records saw Van Halen perform at the Starwood in Hollywood. Although the audience was small, the two were so impressed with Van Halen that within a week they offered them a recording contract. In October of that year, Van Halen recorded their eponymous first album at Sunset Sound Recorders studio. All of the tracks were laid down in about three weeks, with little over-dubbing or double tracking. Minor mistakes were purposely left on the record and a simple musical set-up was used to give the record a live feel. Despite its simple components, Van Halen proved innovative in musical technique, production, and arrangement.
During this time, they continuned to play various venues in Southern California, including some notable concerts at the Pasadena Convention Center that were produced by their then promoter and impresario, Steve Tortomasi, himself a fixture in the local rock and roll scene.
On release, Van Halen reached #12 on the Billboard pop music charts, one of rock's most commercially successful debuts. It is a highly regarded hard rock album. The album included songs now regarded as Van Halen classics, like "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" and the guitar solo "Eruption", which showcased Eddie's use of a playing technique known as 'finger-tapping'. The band toured for nearly a year, opening for Black Sabbath and establishing a reputation for their performances. The band's chemistry came out of a contrast between Eddie Van Halen's technical guitar wizardry and David Lee Roth's flamboyant antics, which later turned them into rivals. They returned to the studio in 1979 for Van Halen II, similar in style to their debut. This album yielded the band's first hit single, "Dance The Night Away."
Over the next few years, the band alternated album releases and touring to increasing commercial and critical acclaim and became one of the world's most successful and influential bands. Their party-loving spirit and hard rocking anthem-like sound made them popular with teenagers. Women and Children First was released in 1980 and further cemented Van Halen's status. But in 1981, during the recording of the Fair Warning album, tensions rose. Eddie's desire for more serious and complex songs was at odds with Roth's poppy style. Although Roth (and producer Templeman) acquiesced to Eddie's wishes, Fair Warning was a sales disappointment, with no hits. In later interviews Eddie would reveal that he was struggling with alcoholism during the production of Fair Warning and this resulted in the album's darker tone.
Diver Down performed better. The band then earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest-paid single appearance of a band: $1 million for a 90 minute set at the 1983 US Festival. Despite this return to form, Roth and Eddie's differences continued, and this caused friction with other band members. According to bassist Billy Sheehan, after his band Talas completed a tour with Van Halen, he was approached by Eddie Van Halen to replace Michael Anthony. The reasons for this were never clear to Sheehan, because nothing came out of it.
Van Halen's next album, 1984 (released on January 9, 1984) was their commercial pinnacle. Recorded at Eddie Van Halen's newly-built 5150 Studios, the album featured keyboards which had only been used sporadically on previous albums. The lead single, "Jump", featured a synthesizer hook and anthemic lyrics, and became the band's first and only #1 pop hit, garnering them a Grammy nomination. Other hit singles included "Panama", "I'll Wait", and "Hot for Teacher". Many of the songs had popular music videos on MTV. 1984 was praised by critics and fans alike, peaking at #2 on the Billboard charts behind Michael Jackson's Thriller.
However, the album was also a breaking point. In the midst of the tour, the artistic and personal tensions among the musicians reached a fever pitch. Reasons for the breakup vary based on the band member interviewed, but were rooted in control of the band's sound and image. Roth was upset about Eddie playing music outside of Van Halen without checking with the band and Eddie was sick of Roth's flamboyant behavior and stage persona. On April 1, 1985, Roth left Van Halen.
Sammy Hagar era (1985–1996)
At first, Eddie invited Patty Smyth of Scandal to replace Roth but she refused. Eddie was then introduced by way of a mutual auto mechanic to Sammy Hagar, formerly of 1970s band Montrose, and at that time a solo artist coming off a very successful year (his 1984 album VOA had yielded hit single "I Can't Drive 55'"). Hagar agreed to join, also serving as a rhythm guitar onstage to add to the Van Halen sound. The 1986 Van Halen album 5150 was a hit, becoming the band's first #1 album on the Billboard charts, driven by the keyboard-dominated singles "Why Can't This Be Love?", "Dreams" and "Love Walks In". The album included diverse songs ranging from the thrashiness of "Get Up" and party rock of "Summer Nights" to the more riff-driven "Good Enough" and a guitar heavy title track. To further introduce the new era for the band, a new Van Halen logo was put on the cover. The new logo retained elements of the original, but now the lines extending from either side of 'VH' wrapped around and formed a sphere. 5150 is generally considered the strongest album of the "Hagar era".
Following the release of the 5150 album, a tour was launched to support it across North America. Named the 1986 Tour, the title was a homage to the previous 1984 Tour in support of the 1984 album. The band proved touring with Hagar was as successful as with Roth, and footage was released on VHS/DVD as Live Without a Net. In the tour Hagar wanted to minimize the use of pre-Hagar Van Halen songs in the set, other than the band's best known classics. This was a trend that continued, with the expanding repertoire of Hagar-era songs slowly whittling away at the number of Roth-era songs on the set list.
During Hagar's tenure, the band established a musical formula that proved commercially successful in the United States. Hagar's style enabled Van Halen to become accessible to a wider audience, with lyrics that were more conventional and refined. Eddie's keyboard work brought a wider variety of sonic textures within each song, and the production was altered toward the pop side, and the songs became longer: During the Roth era, Van Halen songs rarely stretched beyond three and a half minutes, and some albums struggled to cross the thirty minute mark. With Hagar, some songs exceeded five minutes in length. The result was markedly different from the hard charging, rollicking riffs of the group's earlier work. The mix of pop and hard rock styles created a new sound for Van Halen.
All four studio albums produced during this period reached #1 on the Billboard pop music charts and 17 singles breached the top 12 of the mainstream rock tracks chart. In addition, Van Halen was nominated for two Grammy Awards, winning the 1991 Best Hard Rock Performance with Vocal award for the album For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Van Halen continued to enjoy tremendous success throughout the mid-90's. In 1995 Van Halen surprised many fans by supporting Bon Jovi on their European Summer stadium tour.
The band's commercial success and new "Van Hagar" sound did little to woo many fans who still held a strong resentment over Roth's departure and refused to move on. However Eddie repeatedly said he was happier with Hagar singing and that "Roth was not coming back".
During the recording of songs for the film Twister, escalating tension between Hagar and the Van Halen brothers boiled and Hagar departed on Father's Day, 1996. The band had recorded a song, "Humans Being", for which Eddie claimed he had to write all the lyrics since Hagar's were "too cheesy". This upset Hagar, and when they were to record a second song for the soundtrack, Hagar was in Hawaii. He wasn't keen on doing soundtrack work since it would make the music hard to obtain for fans, 'abusing' them, so the second track the band were due to record became an Eddie/Alex instrumental, Respect the Wind.
The band was also working on a compilation album, which Hagar was not keen on since he felt it was not what fans wanted, nor was it something the band needed to release, since they presumably had a long career ahead of them. This led to conflicts with Hagar and the group's new manager, Ray Danniels (Ed Leffler's replacement and Alex Van Halen's brother in law) who suggested the idea. Reluctant to work on compilation album songs before a new album came out, the band fell out, leaving the management siding with Eddie and Alex. Hagar was also rumoured to have concerns over comparisons on an album which featured both his work and Roth's.
Hagar claimed that he was fired; Van Halen claimed that he quit. The media storm surrounding the dramatic exit of Hagar helped him immediately restart his solo career. However, the publicity did not help Van Halen, serving to highlight the vacant lead singer spot. The band's past successes set high expectations, and fans everywhere were waiting for the band's next move. Throughout this time, Michael Anthony managed to remain on good terms with Hagar.
Wikipedia contributors. Van Halen. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. August 3, 2008, 03:25 UTC. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Van_Halen&oldid=229519765. Accessed August 3, 2008.