20 Years Ago: Sammy Hagar Takes Aim at Van Halen on ‘Marching to Mars’
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Sammy Hagar released his first post-Van Halen album, Marching to Mars, in May 1997. Given the acrimonious nature of his departure from the group, it’s understandable that this surprisingly diverse album fires more than a few shots towards his old pals.
Depending on who you listen to, Hagar either quit or was fired from Van Halen in 1996, following arguments about soundtrack songs, best-of albums and the band’s clandestine recording sessions with former lead singer David Lee Roth.
As Hagar told The Road back in 1997, “When they went and got Roth back in the band… to me, that was the biggest backstab I could imagine. I wanted to be the lead singer of Van Halen for the rest of my life, but when Ed[die Van Halen] told me they were getting Roth back in the band, I was like, ‘F— you, f— Roth and f— everybody.’ I was pissed. It was like coming home and finding your wife in bed with her old boyfriend.” Clearly ticked off, Hagar wasted little time assembling a solo album, recruiting drummer Danny Carmassi from his Montrose and early solo career days, along with keyboardist Jesse Harms (who’d been with Sammy since 1984’s VOA) and bassist Jonathan Pierce.
Hagar enlisted several of his famous friends to help him exorcise his demons, with a full-out Montrose reunion taking place on “Leaving the Warmth of the Womb” and Slash adding guitar to the album’s not-so-subtly titled lead single “Little White Lie.”
The track is a fine example of the album’s sophistication and sense of dynamics. Clearly advancing from the straight-ahead riff-rock of ’80s albums such as (the fantastic) Standing Hampton, Hagar kicks things off with a swampy dobro riff, then slowly layers in acoustic guitars, drums and harmonica as tension builds. Soon enough, everything boils over in a more traditional, but newly resonant fashion, with Hagar repeatedly vowing all those lies will come back to haunt their owners — presumably, his former bandmates.
Among the most surprising collaborators on the album — granted, nothing can top the appearance of funk legend Bootsy Collins on “Would You Do It for Free” for “huh?” value — is Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, who provides percussion on several songs, including the undeniably stomping and upbeat album-closing title track.
The Van Halen breakup seems to turn up as subject matter on several tracks on the album, with Hagar’s mood varying from meditative (the brooding and ultimately explosive “Salvation on Sand Hill”) to comedic (“On the Other Hand”), and finally philosophical and maybe even forgiving on the shockingly mature, jangling heartland rocker “Both Sides Now.”
The album received some of the best reviews of Hagar’s solo career, with AllMusic declaring it “a lean, tough collection” that “stands out because of its immediate sound and sense of purpose.”
Hagar has gone on to release many more solo albums since Marching to Mars, and briefly rejoined Van Halen in 2004 to tour and record three new songs for a greatest hits compilation. That reunion ended in even more spectacularly bitter fashion, and bassist Michael Anthony jumped ship to join Hagar in the supergroup Chickenfoot.
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