David Lee Roth is just about a week away from beginning a long American run of arena dates with Kiss as part of their supposed farewell tour. If his recent Las Vegas shows are any guide, expect lots of Van Halen classics, a sprinkling of solo tunes, and plenty of complaints about the state of his singing voice.
Where exactly this leaves Van Halen is anyone’s guess, though Roth has repeatedly told the press the band is “finished.” It’s hardly the first time that the public was left in a state of extreme confusion regarding Van Halen. Back in 1996, Sammy Hagar left the group after a bitter dispute over, of all things, the recording of a song for the Twister soundtrack. The group quickly got David Lee Roth on the phone and brought him into the studio to record two songs for the compilation album Best Of — Volume 1. (We’re still waiting for Volume 2.)
Take a listen right here to “Can’t Get This Stuff No More” from the album. This song and “Me Wise Magic” were the group’s first recordings with Roth since 1984. The songs generated a ton of excitement in the Van Halen fan community and appeared on the Modern Rock Radio chart, though neither even dinged the Hot 100. “Can’t Get This Stuff No More” is also notable for a very rare use of a talk box by Eddie Van Halen.
The tracks seemed to pave the way for a big reunion tour with Roth. After all, this was a time when bands like the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Kiss, and two-thirds of the surviving members of Led Zeppelin were reforming and minting money on the arena circuit. Speculation only grew when Van Halen (with Roth) appeared at the MTV Video Music Awards weeks before the Best Of album hit.
What nobody knew was that the group had already recruited former Extreme singer Gary Cherone to replace Hagar. “I remember one morning getting up to go to the studio and no one told me all this press was interviewing the Van Halen guys because of the VMAs and all this stuff,” Cherone told Rolling Stone in 2012. “They told me, ‘Gary, no one knows you’re in the band.’ I remember bumping into a photographer from Japan, and he knew me from Extreme. He goes, ‘What are you doing here?’ I go, ‘Nothing.’ “
The world learned about Cherone the next year, though his sole release with the band, Van Halen III, was a commercial disappointment and he was fired soon after the tour ended. What followed was a period of chaos for the band, where Hagar rejoined for a reunion tour in 2004, but then three years later they rehired Roth and fired bassist Michael Anthony. That means, oddly enough, that the most recent work by the classic Van Halen lineup remains “Me Wise Magic” and “Can’t Get This Stuff No More.” The tracks may not be the best final statement by one of the best hard-rock groups of all time, but things haven’t gone right in the Van Halen world for a very long time.