No one of my generation, those born after 1960, will ever forget that iconic scene toward the end of Fast Times at Ridgemont High where it says that Jeff Spicoli saved Brooke Shields from drowning and blew the reward money on Van Halen playing at his birthday party. I distinctly remember the packed movie theater breaking out in uncontrolled applause since that may have been the dream of every one of us at the time. Let’s face it, to my peeps, no band represented everything about us who were in our teens and early twenties at the time: party hearty and loud music!
Also, I remember the rock radio station, the once great and mighty Q-95, WFBQ in Indianapolis, having a promo with Van Halen that had the band yelling, “Hey! We’re the members of VAN HALEN! And when we’re in Indianapolis, we’re listening to the Q, Q-95!” For some reason, that become a catchphrase in my little hometown in the late-Seventies and early-Eighties. Plus, who in their right mind did NOT think Eddie Van Halen was THE guitar god of our generation?
The controversy with Van Halen came when David Lee Roth left the band and was replaced with Sammy Hagar. David Lee Roth was the consummate front man, while Hagar was a journeyman vocalist who, to many my age, was the antithesis of DLR. So, the line was drawn in the sand with many Van Halen fans left on one side or the other, with few in the middle, though record sales might be the empirical proof that most did not care one way or another. Maybe, as DLR’s solo career showed, the general public might have tired of his antics, and, at least, Hagar extended the band’s popularity a decade longer. Although I am NO fan of Hagar, I thought his place in the band did extend the band’s career, though in the long run, it may have delayed what many thought might have been a first ballot induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by a few years. Who knows how history will view these two time periods?
Personally, I go back to the original Van Halen albums, especially when the temperatures rise since I associate them with Spring and Summer. However, I do love the Van Hagar singles since I used to listen to them while I ran and cycled. I actually found Hagar’s lyrics inspiring for training, though I am not a fan of his politics. Still, the merger of the two time periods are played to great effect on the two-disc compilation from 2004 The Best of Both Worlds.
So, today, I want to present my Top 15 Favorite Songs of both versions of Van Halen, and I will let the people decide which version they prefer. Maybe, one day I will grow a set and give you a combined list, which might be even more provocative. But, until that day, here are my favorite songs by Van Halen and Van Hagar, in separate lists.
My Top 15 Favorite Van Halen Songs
15. “And the Cradle Will Rock…” (Women and Children First, 1980)
14. “(Oh) Pretty Woman” (Diver Down, 1982)
13. “Dance the Night Away” (Van Halen II, 1979)
12. “I’ll Wait” (1984, 1984)
11. “Jamie’s Cryin'” (Van Halen, 1978)
10. “Unchained” (Fair Warning, 1981)
9. “Eruption” (Van Halen, 1978)
8. “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” (Van Halen, 1978)
7. “Hot for Teacher” (1984, 1984)
6. “Ice Cream Man” (Van Halen, 1978)
5. “Beautiful Girls” (Van Halen II, 1979). This song was great to begin with but became iconic when it was originally used in the SNL “Schmitt’s Gay” commercial parody with the great Chris Farley and Adam Sandler. I just wish Eddie would give the show permission to use it again in the reruns.
4. “Jump” (1984, 1984). That Winter and Spring of 1984, you could NOT escape the song. It was everywhere: in the dorms, on the radio, in the clubs, even little kids were playing it. Hell, my mom loved it! I docked it because some asshole in the dorm played it over and over for three straight hours one night. I tried to tell him there were other songs on the album, but his door was locked and never answered it. The incident ended when the Dorm’s Director broke up his annoying little stunt.
3. “You Really Got Me” (Van Halen, 1978). My apologies to The Kinks, but Van Halen made this song theirs.
2. “Runnin’ with the Devil” (Van Halen, 1978). The song that sold me on the band.
1. “Panama” (1984, 1984). THE party song of the Summer of 1984, which was chalk-full of party anthems!
My 15 Favorite Songs by Van Hagar
15. “Black and Blue” (OU812, 1988)
14. “Love Walks In” (5150, 1986)
13. “Runaround” (For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, 1991)
12. “Don’t Tell Me (What Love Can Do)” (Balance, 1995)
11. “Summer Nights” (5150, 1986)
10. “Feels So Good” (OU812, 1988)
9. “Poundcake” (For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, 1991)
8. “Top of the World” (For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, 1991)
7. “When It’s Love” (OU812, 1988)
6. “Finish What Ya Started” (OU812, 1988)
5. “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You” (Balance, 1995). I’m a romantic at heart, so this one actually moves me.
4. “Best of Both Worlds” (5150, 1986). I think I like the video more than the song.
3. “Why Can’t This Be Love?” (5150, 1986). That opening guitar sound got me thinking the Eddie was on to something new. Even though it didn’t totally meet my expectations, the song was great.
2. “Right Now” (For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, 1991). Yes, I am a sucker for sports anthems, but this is one of the best ones. Plus, the video was pretty cool. The only bad thing is it reminds me of Crystal Pepsi and Zima beer. YUCK!
1. “Dreams” (5150, 1986). Like I said, I love those inspirational lyrics that Hagar could write. Plus, the band was at its true peak when this was recorded.
Now, it’s up to the people: Van Halen or Van Hagar? You decide. Tomorrow, I will give you MY verdict.