Most of my friends tend to be obsessive music geeks like myself so the usual music debates always tend to pop up in conversation: the Beatles vs. the Stones, the Ramones vs. the Sex Pistols vs. the Clash, 70's Aerosmith vs. 80's/90's/00's Aerosmith, why Rush do/don't suck, U2 vs. Queen, etc. Well, now that David Lee Roth has reunited with Eddie and Alex Van Halen for a successful comeback tour and now have a new studio album set to be released next month I figure now is a good time to weigh in on the Eternal Musical Question:
Diamond Dave or Sammy? Van Halen or Van Hagar?
To me, it's a no brainer. I'm a David Lee Roth fan all the way. It goes without saying that Sammy Hagar is/was a far superior singer. The dude has an amazing set of pipes. "Dreams" has to be one of the best male vocal performances in the history of 'rock n' roll... and it might even be my favourite Van Halen tune. So for pure vocal ability, Sammy wins in a landslide. It's no contest. However, rock n' roll isn't strictly about technical ability. If that were true, then Emerson, Lake and Palmer would be gods. David Lee Roth was never the best technical singer, but he made it work. He played to his strengths. But mostly, he had fun and he GOT IT.
DLR understood that a band like Van Halen should put on a a helluva show and HAVE FUN. The Roth version of the band wasn't trying to change the world. They were simply trying to provide the soundtrack to people having a good time. By combining the proto-heavy metal of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin with shades of glam rock and punk rock, Van Halen emerged from the L.A. club scene to gradually become arguably the biggest band in the world in 1984. For better or worse, Van Halen helped spawn all the hair metal bands of the mid-late 80's. Before Motley Crue could "Shout at the Devil", Van Halen were "Runnin' with the Devil." With Diamond Dave at the mic, the band understood that rock n' roll should be ridiculous at times. Most importantly, they never took themselves seriously as Artistes. Roth wasn't trying to be Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan. The lyric sheets for "Hot For Teacher" and "Everybody Wants Some!!" couldn't be mistaken for long lost Elvis Costello songs. With Diamond Dave, Van Halen were a party band with the best guitar player on the planet. And DLR was one of the best frontmen. He had a charisma and swagger that few possess. But ultimately, it's the songs that matter. "Runnin' with the Devil", "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love", "Panama", "Jump", etc, etc, etc. These songs still sound amazing today.
When Sammy Hagar joined the band, they pretty much became a new band. Diamond Dave probably left at a good time because it would be pretty hard to maintain that "party band" ethos for much longer before the schtick got old. With Sammy, Van Halen tried their best to be a Serious Rock Band. There's no way they could've done this this with DLR. I will admit that Van Halen had a few great tunes with Sammy ("Dreams", "Poundcake" and "Best of Both Worlds", for instance). However, I think Van Halen lost the plot when they decided to focus so much attention on power ballads. If you saw the song titles "Love Walks In", "When It's Love", "Why Can't This Be Love" and "Can't Stop Loving You" on a set list you'd think it was for an Air Supply concert... not a hard rock band. When Sammy joined the band, they went from "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" to songs that Dianne Warren could have written. In trying to be a Serious Rock Band, Sammy Hagar once referred to his lyrics as poetry. It's safe to say that Diamond Dave never made this claim. It's pretty obvious that DLR had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he wrote most of his lyrics. On the other hand, Sammy reaches beyond his capabilities in the lyric writing department. As much as I love "Dreams", the lyrics are pretty cliche and would be perfect for a Tony Robbins infomercial.
Diamond Dave left the band when they reached a commercial peak with "Jump". So when Sammy joined the band it was kind of like a free agent signing with the New York Yankees after winning the World Series. So unless your name was Gary Cherone, it was a pretty sweet gig. The band went on to have more commercial success with Sammy Hagar because their music headed into a far more MOR direction. But just because they appealed to more soccer moms doesn't make Van Hagar a better band.
Sammy Hagar seems like a really cool, laid back guy. He just seems like a normal guy. I would much rather sit down and go for a beer with Sammy than Dave because, quite frankly, Dave seems like a bit of a douchebag. However, if I ever listen to Van Halen I always tend to skip over the Sammy songs... and I would much prefer to see the DLR version of the band than the Sammy version. For me, a band like Van Halen should be all about turning your brain off, letting loose and having fun. When Sammy joined the band they lost that key ingredient.
And as for Van Halen's new single "Tattoo" with Diamond Dave? Well... at least he has a cool hat. Unfortunately, the new single doesn't exactly help my case. But at least they'll play "Panama" in concert. You can check out the video below.
So who do you prefer? Van Halen or Van Hagar? Or do you actually think Gary Cherone was the best singer in Van Halen? Or do you not even care? Feel free to post your comments below.