Van Halen

In the first issue of Bands I Useta Like, I explained the story behind my thought bubble in panel 2, as part of a brief series of reprinted strips with added commentary. This site became a better receptacle for that kind of thing, particularly since I can link videos as examples, so I stopped doing it in print. Here’s the “DVD commentary” for the above strip, from BIUL #1:

I still feel bad about calling the Boy Scouts “fascists” when I was 14. I had a great troop and we did lots of wholesome, fun things. I didn’t have the motivation to earn any badges, and our troop included the Gandhi brothers, two Indian boys who made the rest of us look like lazy bums. Anything I could do, the Gandhis could do faster and better. My dad would ask, “Why can’t you deliver papers like that Gandhi kid? He’s a ball of fire.” I said “Dad, he’s Indian. Plus all I’ve had for breakfast is a jelly donut.”

“Happy Trails” is the reason a lot of folks don’t like Diver Down. The album is padded out with covers like this, because Van Halen was running short on original tunes by 1982, and Warner Bros. was pushing for more product. “Happy Trails” was originally recorded for the band’s demo in 1977, as a joke. Can you tell?

“Joke ’em if they can’t take a fuck, Sylvie! You wouldn’t believe the number of TV commercials and radio jingles this band can sing in four-part harmony. I was nannied and weaned by TV — that’s the babysitter around here when you’re growing up, to sit in front of the tube. You turn into a vidiot. I remember all the commercials. We’ve been singing ‘Happy Trails’ for general airport use for years. And we wanted to do something wonderful and different for you.”

-David Lee Roth, interviewed by Sylvie Simmons for Sounds, June 23, 1982

That quote explains a lot about Roth, wouldn’t you agree?

The true secret of the best Van Halen songs is a man with two names: Michael Anthony. Mike is the glue that holds the group together. Not just because he performed alchemy with one repeated bass note; because he could back Diamond Dave on vocals, and make him sound better.

Michael Anthony’s backing vocals on “Jamie’s Cryin'” are as important as David Lee Roth’s distinctive singing, or Eddie Van Halen’s classic “uh-oh” guitar lick. See for yourself:

This is not to say that Roth was any kind of a slouch on lead vocals. “Ice Cream Man”, also from Van Halen (1978), is a DLR master class, with typically dexterous drums courtesy of Alex VH.

You know why I didn’t have Van Halen’s first four albums, while I was growing up? Because they were always sold out. Diver Down and 1984 were easier to get because more copies were made available. 5150 was practically given away.

Look, I don’t need to go into the whole “Van Hagar” thing, do I? I experienced it in real-time. I stuck with it briefly, defending songs like “Summer Nights” and “Why Can’t This Be Love”. Sammy Hagar has a knack for making songs sound like Sammy Hagar. God love him, but Sammy’s voice is stuck in an upper register, like Rod Stewart’s. He can only go so low. Granted, Hagar can belt out high notes and looks half his age, but David Lee Roth’s vocal depth is sorely missed from 1985 onward.

Check out one of Dave’s final songs with VH, from 1984 (written about Top Jimmy & The Rhythm Pigs):

See how Dave and Mike’s vocals are still the secret weapon of the band? The Van Halen brothers touch it off, as in the style of all their best songs, then Dave and Mike tear the roof off with deft lyrical harmonies. Sammy Hagar just didn’t possess the same natural elasticity. However, his finest song accompanies one of the best parts of Heavy Metal (1981), which is a priceless honor few share.

Three years later, Hagar informed the world that he could not drive 55. Not long after that, he was replacing David Lee Roth as the lead singer of Van Halen. He left the band in 1996 after several ugly album covers. Still, Sammy’s pedigree and success were visible. I suppose that’s true of his replacement, but only on a much briefer timeline.

In 1998, a reformed Val Halen released Van Halen III, their final album for Warner Bros. and their longest, at just over an hour. It’s Michael Anthony’s last jaunt with the band, before Eddie Van Halen’s kid jumped his spot. It looks like you feel when you first hear the choice of lead singer.

Gary Cherone from ExtremeUNFFF

Gary Cherone. They picked half of Extreme, one of the absolute shittiest wuss-rock bands ever to ooze out of Beantown. Gary Cherone, who, with fucking Nuno Bettencourt, subjected the world to suicide-inducing ballads like “More Than Words”, and corncob fake-folk like “Hole Hearted”. Their stupid, stupid, shitty album was called Pornograffiti (A Funked Up Fairy Tale). We had to tolerate these douche-barrels on MTV at the same time as Nelson (Matthew and Gunnar), Jesus Jones, Spin Doctors and Crash Test Dummies.

Also with a ‘III’ in the title. Coincidence??

Ladies and gentlemen, there are few bands in existence whom I despise with greater fury than Extreme. It is, to use technical terms, early 1990s crap. Look at that stupid, shitty cover. Here’s the stupid, shitty concept behind it:

The album is structured as a concept album in three sections labeled as “sides” — a play on the notion of “different sides to a story” and that of “sides” of an album (in LP and cassette media). The sides, mentioned in the song “Cupid’s Dead” as “three sides to every story” are named “Yours”, “Mine” and “The Truth”, and each features a distinct musical style and lyrical imagery.

Yours is made of hard rock songs, the guitar-centric style which the band had explored the most on their previous albums. Their funk-metal tendencies are present in tracks such as “Cupid’s Dead”, which also features a rap section performed by guest John Preziosa Jr. As a whole, this side deals with political subjects: war (“Warheads”), peace (“Rest In Peace”), government (“Politicalamity”), racism (“Color Me Blind”), media (“Cupid’s Dead”). Summing up these matters, the side closes with “Peacemaker Die”, a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., which features a recording of his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. [Wikipedia]

I put a link there so I wouldn’t have to bloat my word count with even more douche liquid. I shudder to think why you would be compelled to learn more about that album after reading those two paragraphs.

That is from whence the legendary Van Halen culled their new lead singer. A band with the tin balls to feature a “rap section” from some random unknown Italian, and sample MLK Jr.  It’s like the work of a fourth-grader, or a writer of DC Comics in 2018.

“Extreme”.

Do YOU want to hear anything that is represented by this image?

Some years later, Van Halen more or less came to their senses, swallowed their pride, and cut a new album with their original lineup, excepting Michael Anthony. (Wolfgang still needs work, I guess.) Van Halen III is relatively forgotten- can you think of a single song on it? Do you even know what it sounded like? I’ll save you a trip to YouTube; it sounds like Van Hagar on an off night. Cherone can’t project with the velocity that Hagar did, so he settles for a softer Sammy facsimile, and as a result, nothing soars. It’s weak, but it’s still serviceable Van Halen, which is about all anyone could say about 2012’s A Different Kind Of Truth, with Diamond Dave back at the microphone.

Hey, a song about tattoos. For the video, you could have lots of people displaying their tattoos. You know, interspersed with footage of the band performing the song, that makes them look less old and more active than they actually are. Something for guys to bicker with their dads over, for a couple weeks.

I haven’t seen any such video, I’ve just assumed it exists as described.

The kicker in the third panel is wearing “Roos”, which were a brand of kids’ sneakers with a small zippered pouch on the outside of each foot. You could stash a house key in there, gradually expressing the outline of the key over time so that “latchkey kids” could be easily identified and pursued by predators. Reflective areas ensured that even after dark, kids with late-working parents could be spotted and chased into their homes by enterprising strong-arm robbers.

KangaROOS shoes still exist today, but they’ve long since toned down the elements that clearly telegraph the pouch. The average pedophile or monster would have to know the KangaROOS logo on sight, at a distance, to ascertain a house key (or many-folded five-dollar bill) might be aboard some kid’s shoe-pouch. The designers threw potential child-killers a bone by switching to Velcro enclosures, so that kids could announce their vulnerability with an easily-heard ripping sound. Just for context, in the 1980s, we drank milk out of cartons with pictures of missing kids on them.

My favorite Van Halen song is either “Hot For Teacher”, “Girl Gone Bad”, or “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”. Just like I told you before.

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