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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Aww man I think the clock is slow....

According to Michele, dissing the names of David Lee Roth or Van Halen is verboten on her blog.

Van Halen is one of my two favorite rock bands of all time (Pink Floyd being the other). Of course, whenever I mention that I love Van Halen, the question immediately follows: Do I prefer the David Lee Roth years, or the Sammy Hagar years? My answer is usually that I love both equally, with the proviso that my very favorite Van Halen songs of all time -- "Dreams" and "Right Now" -- come from the Hagar years.

Those first six albums, the ones with DLR on vocals, are all terrific listens -- great hard rock with a lot of that sense of fun, with the occasional oddity ("Women and Children First", "Pretty Woman") thrown in for laughs. If I'm in a serious rocking mood, that's what I want to hear. I'm not sure if any song recorded before or since rocks quite as hard as "Hot For Teacher". (And I'm sure Aaron's just jumping up and down, waiting to tell his story right now....) And there might not be a more fun song anywhere than "Jump". But as much as I loved DLR's work with Van Halen, his solo stuff left me cold -- first his bizarro "hard rock meets Vegas Lounge Act", and then that band he put together for the album Eat 'Em and Smile. (Did no one notice the pun inherent in the title of Van Halen's next album after that, OU812?) Suddenly we were to believe that Steve Vai was actually a better musician than Edward Van Halen? Uhhhh...sure, Dave.

WIth DLR's departure and Sammy Hagar's appearance on 5150, though, the band went through an admitted change, but not a really shocking one. They accomplished the rare feat of staying true to the way they had been in the past, with rocking songs like "Best of Both Worlds" and "Good Enough", but they also stretched their horizons a bit to include balladry like "Love Walks In" (never mind that the lyrics make absolutely no sense) and that wonderful mixture of hard rock and pop-confection in "Why Can't This Be Love?" that only Van Halen seems to be able to really pull off. And, frankly, there's no song in the entire history of rock music that is more likely to pull me out of a bad mood than "Dreams". That song is, to me, such a perfect musical statement of optimism that I can't listen to it without getting a supremely goofy grin.

In terms of public persona, there's really no comparing the two. DLR's a depressing hack these days, while Hagar moved on to other things with quite a bit more class. I saw an interview with him, shortly after his falling out with the band, when he ruefully acknowledged, "I'll never make music again that's as good as what I did with those guys." That was a classy admission, I thought. I was glad to see him get back with the band, and I hope he's around to stay, because as Michele rightly notes, the Gary Cherone era really doesn't deserve to be mentioned. That will surely go down as one of music's greatest failed experiments, not unlike the 8-track tape and that album Robert James Waller recorded after The Bridges of Madison County became the best selling book since the Bible.

But now I think I'll put in my copy of Best of Both Worlds: Van Halen's Greatest Hits, and when "Dreams" comes around, I'll hit "repeat" for a few times. I listened to that song at least four times a day during the weeks after Little Quinn was born, for reasons you might expect.

We'll get higher, and higher, straight up we'll climb!

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