Top 10 Sammy Hagar ’90s Songs
Even as the chaos of breaking up with one of the biggest bands in the world surrounded Sammy Hagar, he managed to create a lot of great, upbeat songs during the ’90s. The Red Rocker spent the first half of his third decade in rock ‘n’ roll creating and promoting two albums with Van Halen, and the back half re-establishing himself as a solo artist after leaving the group in one of the more public feuds in music history. Naturally, a bit of that venom found its way into his music. But for the most part, the third list in our four-part Sammy Hagar: Four Decades of Rock series finds our hero in his typically unflappable frame of mind. Enjoy this list of the Top 10 Sammy Hagar ’90s Songs.
In order to get free from his contract so he could join Van Halen, Sammy Hagar agreed to make one more solo album — 1987’s ‘I Never Said Goodbye’ — and cut a couple of songs for a best-of collection. He makes the most of his first chance to cut loose on the guitar in seven years on this churning track, which gently cautions against making big life-changing plans while under the influence of recreational drugs.
‘Both Sides Now’
Quite understandably, Hagar spends a good bit of his first post-Van Halen breakup album expressing anger and pointing fingers. But overall, he’s a lover not a fighter. So it’s not long before he breaks out this surprisingly jangly and extremely hummable song about learning how to listen, understand and forgive.
‘Don’t Tell Me (What Love Can Do)’
Perhaps as a reaction to the rise of grunge rock, or maybe because they were starting to get a little sick of each other, the final “Van Hagar” album was a lot more serious and moody than its predecessors. Luckily, they didn’t need to be sunny bunnies to rock well, as this tension-ratcheting rumination on suicide and loss (partially inspired by the death of Kurt Cobain) demonstrates quite clearly.
‘High and Dry Again’
Hagar isn’t always lyrically subtle when it comes to sex — this is the man who wrote ‘Dick in the Dirt,’ after all. But he successfully toes the line between provocative and “eww, Dad, gross!” on this one, which tackles the eternal dilemma of blue balls. Now, if we could only think of a way to mention the warm organ sounds and deep groove featured on this track with the same level of maturity …
‘Take Me Back (Deja Vu)’
As life was getting more complicated within Van Halen (see No. 8 on our list of the Top 10 Sammy Hagar ’90s Songs), it made perfect sense that Hagar was longing to revisit happier memories on this track. Musically, the song is one of the best attempts at breaking new ground on the somewhat spotty ‘Balance’ album, effortlessly shifting from gentle acoustics to crunching, palm-muted distortion and back again.
Other tracks from Van Halen’s stripped-down 1991 album — like the power tool-assisted ‘Poundcake’ — got a lot more attention. But it’s on this supercharged surf-rock track where Hagar really shines, barely pausing for breath and confidently setting up camp in a dizzyingly high vocal range. For once, it almost seems like guitar whiz Eddie Van Halen is the one who’s straining to keep up.
‘Little White Lie’
The opening track from Hagar’s first album following his acrimonious departure from Van Halen may not literally name names or tell his side of the story. But it’s pretty obvious that he’s pissed, and at whom. More importantly, it’s a textured, dynamically arranged track that shows the Red Rocker wasn’t done learning new tricks yet. (A track outside our list of the Top 10 Sammy Hagar ’90s Songs, the clattering singalong ‘On the Other Hand,’ spells things out much more clearly.)
After experimenting with various keyboard-dominated tracks, blues and even a bit of country honk on 1988’s ‘OU812,’ Van Halen went back to basics on their electric guitar-dominated (and childishly titled) follow-up. Nowhere did this approach work better than on this track, which features “don’t take him for granted” guitar work from Eddie Van Halen and a huge, irresistible chorus courtesy of Hagar.
‘Marching to Mars’
With surprisingly hard-hitting help from the Grateful Dead‘s Mickey Hart, the alien- and outer space-obsessed Hagar rounds up his friends for an intergalactic mission to solve the problems on earth. As enthusiastic as the stomping drums and gang vocals make us for the trip, the lyrics seem to indicate that if we’re not careful, the same troubles are just going to follow us to the red planet.
Even though he’s been perched near the top of the hard-rock heap for more than four decades, when it comes right down to it, the Bay area-born Hagar is pretty much a hippie. Themes of peace, love, positivity and self-belief are easy to find in his lyrics. It’s hard to imagine any song helped deliver his message more than this piano-based pep talk, which dominated MTV and radio airwaves back in 1992.