First of all, let me say this: When it comes to the debate over whom I choose between David Lee and Sammy, I choose Eddie. I used to say that it doesn’t matter if you put a chimp in front of Eddie, Alex, and Michael, they would still be just as great a rock and roll band, but Gary Cherone proved me wrong on that point. Still, when it comes to Sammy versus Dave, I choose both of them.
Both served as front man for the band that includes my favorite rock and roll guitarist and the man, Michael Anthony, who might be the most game-changing backing vocalist in rock and roll history. I love both incarnations of Van Halen, and each is my favorite according to different criteria.
Overall, I think the music the band made with Dave is better, but I like Sammy better, and I’d like to see Sammy out front if they go out on tour again.
All that said, I also preface my thoughts with this: Any fan of VH who sets out to make a list of favorite songs is setting him or herself up for failure by limiting it to just five. This list is not going to include some of my favorite VH songs; that’s just the way it is. Still, if I just had five Van Halen songs to listen to for the rest of my life, this list is a good idea of what they might be…today. Ask me tomorrow, and it might be different, but probably not by much.
“Black and Blue” (Sammy on lead vocals) OU812 (1988)
You’ll find a common thread between these songs. I tend to like the the heavy metal, crunchy guitar tunes, and I love Michael’s backup vocals. Mike’s work stands out here, Eddie shows why he is considered by many to be the greatest rock and roll guitarist, and Alex is beating the drums in a manner that says, “If you get between me and these drums, then I’m just gonna start beating on you.” And Sammy? Well, this one’s right in Sammy’s wheelhouse all up and down the line.
“Don’t Tell Me What Love Can Do” (Sammy on lead vocals) Balance (1995)
It took the Sammy Hagar fronted band four tries to make my favorite album from their years together. I saw an interview with Eddie in support of Balance, and the interviewer just didn’t seem to be getting what the band was trying to do. In response, Eddie said exactly this: “I thought you got it; it’s a guitar album.” That’s right; it’s a guitar album, and when Eddie Van Halen describes one of his band’s albums as a “guitar album,” you better believe it’s worth listening to. Balance might be Eddie’s strongest guitar statement of an album since VH I, and anyone who is a fan of Eddie’s work should hear it. This song is the standout; it’s just one of those songs that leave little doubt what this band is all about.
“Ain’t Talkin’ About Love” (David Lee on lead vocals) Van Halen I (1978)
While this makes my list at Number 3, I think it might be the perfect Van Halen song. If I were to suggest one Van Halen song as an introduction to the band’s music, it would probably be this one. The guitar riff is among Eddie’s best, the song is excellent for DLR’s swagger, Michael’s bass work and backing vocals are excellent as always, and Alex is getting the job done like always.
“And the Cradle Will Rock” (David Lee on lead vocals) Women and Children First (1980)
Talk about gargantuan. It’s hard for me to enjoy any VH song more than this. I love it when a rock and roll song is a behemoth, and few get as big as this one. Just listen to it; the song itself does all the talking.
#1 “Women In Love” (David Lee on lead vocals) VH II (1979)
Soul and swagger throughout and melody for days. Possibly the greatest vocal presentation the band ever did, and Eddie doing everything except the dishes. Man, I dig this song, and it pains me to think it’s not one of the first songs people think of when they think of the greatness of this band. Nothing against Wolfgang, or anyone else that Eddie and Alex might get to play bass, but Michael Anthony’s contribution to the Van Halen sound can never be replaced by someone who can just play strings. His backing vocals are as much of the true VH sound as Eddie or whatever lead singer they happen to be featuring at a given time.
So, just a few thoughts on some classic VH tunes there. Like I often say, this list might be different tomorrow: “DOA” might replace “Black and Blue”; “Right Now” or “Take Your Whiskey Home” might replace “Don’t Tell Me What Love Can Do”; but for today these five do me fine. Hope you can take something from them too.
Thanks for reading friends. Keep rockin’.