28 Years Ago: Sammy Hagar Releases (What He Thought Was) His Last Solo Album
When Sammy Hagar joined Van Halen in 1985, he still had some solo career business to finish. So the Red Rocker recruited none other than Eddie Van Halen to play bass on what was expected to be his last solo album, I Never Said Goodbye, which was released in June 1987.
Hagar decided to join Van Halen hot off the success of his 1984 solo album VOA and the anti-speed limit anthem “I Can’t Drive 55,” which had finally helped make the long-climbing, hard-working veteran an arena headliner all over the country.
His label, Geffen records, was understandably not eager to lose one of their biggest moneymakers, but a deal was struck allowing Hagar to join Van Halen as long as he recorded one last solo album (and a pair of new tracks for a future greatest hits album.)
So once Van Halen completed the tour in support of 5150, their debut album with Hagar, the singer recruited Eddie to play bass — “Otherwise, he’d have been hounding me to play guitar,” he told Guitar Player in October 1987 — along with drummer David Lauser and keyboardist Jesse Harms from his former solo band.
Determined not to be typecast as “that guy who sings about fast cars,” and freed from the pressure of maintaining a commercially successful solo career, Hagar stretched out both musically and lyrically to deliver his most mature and diverse album to date. As he explained at the time, “Musically, being in Van Halen has been an inspiration. All of a sudden my solo career is no longer bread and butter, like it used to be … it gives you a little more confidence to be yourself and to say, ‘Hey, this is what I like.'”
Nowhere is this attitude more clear than on the album’s lead single, the uplifting self-help anthem “Give to Live.” As Hagar told InTheStudio.net, “I’ve gotten more letters, I can’t tell you, thousands of letters (from) people that — their mother, their father, their brother, their sister, their best friend or the person themselves — have written me saying ‘you saved my life,’ or ‘you saved my daughter’s life,’ you know? Someone was gonna commit suicide, and their friend said, ‘you gotta hear this song.’ It sounds corny, but it’s really true. You save one person’s life, you know how good that makes you feel?”
Another highlight from the album — originally titled Sammy Hagar but changed as part of a promotional contest on MTV — was the soaring, dynamic (and yes, very heart-on-its-sleeve) “Eagles Fly,” which was rejected for inclusion on 5150 but went on to become a fan favorite when Hagar performed it during his solo spotlight section on future tours by the band.
I Never Said Goodbye also featured follow-ups of sorts to two of Hagar’s older songs. The progressive-rock influenced “Returning Home” continues the story of alien abduction started on “Silver Lights” from Hagar’s 1976 solo debut Nine on a Ten Scale. “Privacy,” which prominently features a particularly deep bass groove from Van Halen, revisits “55” territory a bit as our hero details the trouble he’s had maintaining his solitude while driving.
Twenty-five years after its release, one major mystery remains regarding I Never Said Goodbye: Which guitar part did Eddie Van Halen play? Both he and Hagar admit there is one “mystery lick” from the guitar hero on the record.
As Van Halen told Guitar Player, “I told him that before the record’s done, I’ll have played at least one note on the guitar. And I did!” Hagar confirmed the story: “Towards the end of the album he said, ‘Why don’t you try playing something like this?’ And I said, ‘Why don’t you just do it? There’s your lick on my record!'”
The Hagar-fronted version of Van Halen went on to record three more hit albums together before splitting up quite nastily in 1996, prompting the singer to restart his solo career (and unleash some venom on his old buddies) with the 1997 album Marching to Mars.
The Top 100 Rock Albums of the ’70s
Van Halen Albums: Worst to Best