Van Halen recently announced an extensive American summer tour, then showed how much energy they still bring with a pair of wild appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Based on their previous concerts since David Lee Roth's return, expect to hear all the big hits from the first phase of their career and not even the slightest acknowledgement that Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony have ever existed on this planet. In honor of the news, we asked our readers to vote for their favorite Van Halen albums. Here are the results — and head over to our YouTube channel to listen to the playlist in full.
Van Halen got the 1990s off to a very strong start with For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, their third album with Sammy Hagar at the helm. Released near the height of the grunge movement, the LP still became a massive bestseller thanks to huge radio hits like "Poundcake" and "Right Now." The latter song had a very clever video that MTV put into heavy rotation, introducing Van Halen to a whole new generation of rock fans. If you're ever wondered about the title, take the first letter of every word and see what it spells.
Van Halen II and Rocky II were released just three months apart in 1979, and they both faced a similar issue: How can anyone follow a note-perfect debut that stunned the world? The originals were created by unknowns, but the sequels faced the weight of enormous expectation. If you stick too closely to the template, critics will call the work a pointless retread; if you change it too much, you risk alienating the fans.
Van Halen did what they could to push those thoughts from their heads, and over a few weeks they crafted a killer album utilizing many tracks that had been sitting around for a couple of years. Note for note, it isn't as flawless as the first album, but "Dance the Night Away" and "Beautiful Girls" were huge hits that proved that the group was no one-album wonder.
Nobody realized it at the time, but Balance marked the end of an era for Van Halen. It was their last album with Sammy Hagar on vocals and the last time they'd release a record that produced actual radio hits. The camaraderie of the early days with Hagar was gone, but the band managed to finish the album and record tracks like "I Can't Stop Loving You," "Amsterdam" and "Don't Tell Me (What Love Can Do)." There were a few too many ballads for the taste of some old-school fans, but it still sold by the millions and spawned an enormous tour. Shortly after that ended, the group fell completely apart.
Back in 1988, people still wondered whether David Lee Roth or Van Halen would fare better after their split three years earlier. The latter got off to a very strong start with 5150, but Roth also landed a bunch of songs on the radio and his wild persona made him perfect for MTV. In January of 1988, he released created Skyscraper, containing the hits "Just Like Paradise" and "Damn Good." Steve Vai was writing with him and it seemed like he might become a genuine solo star.
Van Halen responded four months later with OU812, a slick album that reached Number One and produced "Finish What Ya Started," "Black and Blue," "When It's Love" and "Feels So Good." It ultimately went platinum four times over. Roth just couldn't compete, and over the next few years he saw his solo career turn to dust while Van Halen continued to be one of the biggest bands in the land.
It's hard to blame Van Halen for being a little tapped out by the time the band began work on 1982's Diver Down. They'd released an album every single year since 1978 and toured steadily that whole time. When sales dipped, their label pressured them to record some covers that might turn into easy hits. Reluctantly, they cut "Pretty Woman" and "Dancing in the Street," which became the first two singles from the disc. The gambit worked, but it was two years before the next album. By then they were determined to do things on their own terms.
Van Halen were a fairly established hard rock band when they cut Women and Children First in late 1979, so they felt free to craft a heavier album lacking any covers. The result is a killer disc of originals that contains immortal classics like "Everybody Wants Some!!" and "And the Cradle Will Rock." It was the perfect way to kick off the 1980s.
It should be noted that"Everybody Wants Some!!" has the single greatest Roth spoken-word interlude in the Van Halen catalog. "I like the way the line runs up the back of the stockings," he says. "I've always liked those kind of high heels too. You know, I… No no no no, don't take 'em off, don't take… Leave 'em on, leave 'em on. Yeah, that's it, a little more to the right, a little more…" The man is a poet.
Many have forgotten that Van Halen were beginning to fade when they dropped 1984 in the first week of the year made famous by George Orwell. Their last non-cover song to hit the Top 40 was released back in 1979, and album sales were decreasing. Then came 1984: It was the first mega-album of that super-charged year, and "Panama," "Jump" and "Hot for Teacher" were all over the radio and MTV. The album sold by the millions, even if some original fans were alienated by the poppy tunes and use of synthesizers. This was the peak of Van Halen's popularity, and the final time the original lineup worked together.
Not many bands survive the loss of its lead singer, especially one as iconic as charismatic as David Lee Roth. But thankfully Eddie had the state of mind to call his group Van Halen and not the David Lee Roth Project. Not long after things went south with Dave, the brothers simply brought in Sammy Hagar, headed into 5150 Studios in Studio City, California, and cut an album named after the studio. Anticipation was high for the project, and they delivered with songs like "Dreams," "Best of Both Worlds" and "Why Can't This Be Love." It was one of the most seamless transitions to a new singer (outside of AC/DC) in rock history and it gave the band another 10 years at the top of the rock world.
Back in the early 1980s, most bands recorded an album a year without even thinking about it. Not long after Van Halen finishing touring behind Women and Children First, they began sessions for a follow-up. The Ted Templeman-produced disc is a somewhat dark affair highlighted by "Unchained," "Mean Street" and "So This Is Love." Because it wasn't as immediately accessible as the previous records, it was a relative slow seller. Today, Van Halen diehards see it as one of their best works.
Van Halen remains one of the strongest debuts in rock history. The first half alone reads like a greatest hits album: "Runnin' With the Devil," "Eruption," "You Really Got Me," "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" and "I'm the One." Then flip the thing over and you've got "Jamie's Cryin'" and "Atomic Punk." The whole thing is just explosive. If this was the only album they ever made they'd still be legends, but they were just getting started. Expect the band to play a huge chunk of it on the road this summer.