When Van Halen performed a concert on Jimmy Kimmel’s outdoor stage in 2015 to promote the release of their new Tokyo Dome Live in Concert album, lead singer David Lee Roth cut his nose open while twirling a baton during the song “Panama.” Roth scampered off stage and had the wound — which would later require 14 stitches — taped up. The band continued to play as guitarist Eddie Van Halen, one of rock’s most revered and profoundly original players, filled the space with a fusillade of licks and noises. Minutes later, Roth returned to finish the set, first asking the audience: “How do I look? Like fucking Hiawatha, right?”
A less-resilient act would have folded when first blood was drawn that night, or more likely wouldn’t have already made it this far into a career that has spanned five decades, three singers and two bass players. What could have kept this band, formed in Pasadena in 1972 by Eddie and his brother, drummer Alex Van Halen, together so long? Well there’s the money — the group has topped the charts, sold tens of millions of album and packed countless arenas over the course of its career — but there’s also the music.
With both Roth, who left the band in 1985 and returned in 2006, and his replacement Sammy Hagar (not so much with third singer Gary Cherone, but we’ll get to that later), Van Halen have never failed to deliver. There are of course the hits — “Jump,” “Running With the Devil,” “Finish What You Started” — that anyone who has ever tuned into a rock radio station knows backwards and forwards, but digging deeper uncovers countless album tracks and unreleased gems that reveal a band with a musical range and sensibility that extends far beyond feel-good anthems and screeching rockers — not that there’s anything wrong with either of those.
We’ve put together a list of the coolest rare and unreleased tracks and deep album cuts in both the official and unofficial Van Halen discography. Crank them up as you head out to the show — hopefully no one gets hurt!