Though their past and present members are still alive, Van Halen is a band we can aptly refer to in the past tense. After all, they’ve only released one album in the current century, and it’s been 25 years since they made a record of any relative significance. I was introduced to their music by my older brothers when I was a young kid, near the tail-end of the first David Lee Roth era. I became a big fan during the Sammy, or “Van Hagar” years that followed. Around the time I went off to college I abandoned my taste for VH. Fueled no doubt by the new sounds emanating from Seattle and the influence of my new college friends’ musical tastes, I boxed Van Halen up with the rest of my childhood.
Now in my mid-40s, likely feeling a bit nostalgic of my childhood days and not burdened with worry of liking something that seemed uncool 25 years ago, I find myself enjoying the ol’ Halen discography once again. Though they’ve been nearly inactive the past two and a half decades, like many successful bands they were quite busy their first 15-20 years. Here’s one blogger’s rankings on the album history of one, Van Halen:
#12 A Different Kind of Truth – 2012
Their most recent release and the only album of the second Roth era. I wanted to put it ahead of my next choice because at least it features one of their two famous singers, but I just can’t. Lots of front men lose their voice a bit as the years go by. To fully understand the situation here is to realize Diamond Dave didn’t just lose it a bit…..his voice is completely gone. The vocals on this record are as bad as the really drunken guy on karaoke night who was already tone deaf prior to his first sip! Even in his prime Roth was far more known for his stage presence than his vocal ability, but this is just atrocious. Unless you fancy yourself a completist, there’s literally no reason to own this album.
#11 Van Halen III – 1998
Remember when someone not named Dave or Sammy was Van Halen’s lead singer? If you don’t, it’s with good reason. Following Sammy’s surprise firing, and Diamond Dave’s rehiring-then-firing-but-never-was-rehired nonsense (long story), the Van Halen brothers hired a guy named Gary Cherone to front the band. I didn’t find out until years later why this particular singer got the gig. A man named Ray Danniels was the long-time manager of the Canadian trio, Rush. When Alex Van Halen married Danniels’ sister, the brothers hired him to manage Van Halen. The decision didn’t sit well with Sammy Hagar, and his imminent firing was not likely coincidental. Turns out Danniels also managed a band called Extreme, and the lead singer of that band was……..you guessed it….Gary Cherone.
Long story short, it just didn’t work. Cherone had a nice voice, but not for this band. Not for this brand of rock. In his defense, the songs sucked anyway. Again, save for the Van Halen completists of the world, there’s no reason to ever waste an ear on this garbage album.
#10 Diver Down – 1982
A half-ass album, half-full of cheesy covers. Coming off of four albums in four years, let alone constant touring, Eddie Van Halen wanted to take a year off to catch his breath and focus his energy in the studio. My understanding is the rest of the band felt the same way. Problem was management felt differently. They wanted another album right away. Eddie didn’t have enough material for a full studio release, so hence, Diver Down. Turns out one of the covers, The Kinks’ Where Have All The Good Times Gone is one of the only decent tracks on the album. Original number, Little Guitars is pretty catchy too. Overall though, it’s a waste of time.
#9 Women and Children First – 1980
I know hardcore VH fans who will scoff at my ranking here, but I honestly don’t know why. I have given this album listen after listen here and there throughout the years thinking I’m missing something. I still don’t think I am. The opening track, And the Cradle Will Rock… is an all-time classic. One of my favorites of the Roth era. After that I love the harmony-driven final track, In A Simple Rhyme. I don’t see the allure of anything in between. Two good songs and a load of mostly junk a great album does not make. To this day I simply don’t understand why some people think this is a good record.
#8 Balance – 1995
The final Hagar era album. I never even gave it a listen when it came out. I was in college at the time, and with all the new and exciting bands and music out there during that period, new music from Van Halen was the last thing I wanted to hear. Honestly, I never really listened to this record until last year. Granted, the fact three of the 12 tracks are instrumentals is pretty lame, but I gotta admit there’s upwards of eight solid tracks on Balance. One in particular, Aftershock, is one of the stronger songs in the VH collection in my opinion. Sammy Hagar sang his tail off on this album. Very powerful vocals. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a must-own for Halen fans, but there’s material here fans should want to hear.
#7 For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge – 1991
I thought the title was so cool when I was 16. As an adult I must admit it’s one of the dumbest in history. The fact that grown men chose it should tell us all something! Their first two albums with Hagar featured strong guitars and vocals, but the rhythm section was lacking. This album, much like it’s follow-up in ’95, is a very powerful-sounding record across the board. It probably has about the same amount of decent-to-good songs as Balance, but those good songs here are just a bit better. Three in particular, Judgment Day, Right Now, and Top Of The World stand out. This is the first album on up the list that I’d say is required ownership for all Van Halen fans.
#6 Van Halen II – 1979
In some ways I actually like this album more than the next two on my list. Everything here is solid, but other than the hit song, Dance The Night Away, nothing really stands out. The record rocks out, and if you’re feeling so inclined to do just that, it’s a perfect Halen album for the purpose. You can just put it on and let it play. A really solid follow-up to their successful debut.
#5 OU812 – 1988
The band’s second album with Sammy Hagar. I know some fans will say this ranking is too high. I don’t even like every song on the record. But I loved the band during this period, and I really like some of songs from this album. Other criticisms I’ve read describe it as a not-as-good copy of their first album with Hagar. There’s merit in that assessment. Yet, When It’s Love, Finish What Ya Started, Mine All Mine, Cabo Wabo……call it nostalgia, but I still love those tracks. Feels So Good is way too pop, but it’s easy on the ears. There are some underrated rockers here as well with Sucker in a 3-piece, A.F.U. (Naturally Wired), and Source of Infection.
#4 Van Halen – 1978
The one that started it all. Many music critics and Van Halen fans rank it #1. For a lot of bands it would be. For this band, I simply liked three albums better. Runnin’ With The Devil, You Really Got Me, Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love. Three of their most iconic tracks. The guitar track, Eruption, was like nothing else at the time, but in all honesty how many times can you listen to a guitar instrumental? Jamie’s Cryin and Feel Your Love Tonight are good too. Then there’s about four other songs I could live without.
#3 Fair Warning – 1981
When it comes to the Roth-era, there are two kinds of Van Halen songs: The lighter side, and the darker turns. Critics often cite Fair Warning as a darker album with few if any rays of light. Personally, when it came to this era of Halen I typically preferred running with the devil instead of dancing the night away. Perhaps that’s why I find this record so appealing. Remember when I said how I could never understand what some fans saw in Women in Children First? Conversely, I’ve never understood what fans don’t see in Fair Warning. I like tight production and focused songwriting. All Halen records up to this point in their brief history had high moments but also some loose change rattling around. This album just comes straight at you and rocks. Mean Street, Dirty Movies, So This Is Love, plus one of the most underrated, great songs of any Van Halen era, Hear About It Later, and what I think is the best song of the David Lee Roth years, Unchained. If you wanna tell me their debut album was better, that’s fine. But for me, if forced to choose, I’ll take Fair Warning.
#2 1984 – 1984
The best album cover of any Van Halen record for sure. Also the last album (so we thought) with David Lee Roth. This record was my formal introduction to Van Halen. As for all the lovers of their ’78 debut, I’m sorry, but 1984 was and is their masterpiece album with Roth. It featured the first, and if I’m not mistaken, only #1 song in the band’s history (Jump). It was the first album to really feature Eddie Van Halen the keyboardist, a trend that would continue on future Halen records. The hits didn’t stop with Jump. Panama, Hot For Teacher, and I’ll Wait are classic rock radio staples to this day. Add to that, Drop Dead Legs and House of Pain are great tracks. Girl Gone Bad and Top Jimmy are both pretty good too. If you like Van Halen, you’ll find there’s not a weak moment on the entire record.
#1 5150 -1986
In my opinion Van Halen had two perfect albums. One with each of their long-time frontmen. The fact these two albums occurred back-to-back is a testament to where Eddie Van Halen was creatively during this period. 1984-1986 was his peak as a songwriter. How else could you switch lead singers and literally not miss a beat? In fact, 5150 was Van Halen’s first #1 album. Nostalgia admittedly plays a role here. This was one of the first cassettes I ever owned. I played it front and back so many times I wore it out. All these years later I still love this album. Why Can’t This Be Love, Summer Nights, Best Of Both Worlds, Love Walks In, Good Enough, and my all-time favorite….Dreams. It was a great time for the band. A happy time. As fun as Diamond Dave was for the fans, Sammy was just as fun, and yet his vocal talents brought their sound to a level they could never reach with Roth. I don’t care if people want to say 1984 was better, but to me, it has to be these two records 1 and 2 either way.
Thanks for reading,