The best "Van Hagar" songs -- as in, Van Halen songs featuring Sammy Hagar on lead vocals -- point out the dramatic musical shift that occurred when the band switched out original flamboyant frontman David Lee Roth for the veteran solo star back in 1985. Many fans still blame Sammy for pulling the group away from the raw guitar magic that marked their first six albums, but in retrospect it seems much more likely that resident musical genius Eddie Van Halen was already heading to more diverse territory regardless of who was singing. Besides, the range and quality of the music the so-called 'Van Hagar' created over 4 studio albums and eleven years together stands on its own. Here are the 10 best songs of the "Van Hagar" era:
'Cabo Wabo'From 'OU812' (1988)
Van Halen's second album with Sammy Hagar on vocals featured this woozy, Zeppelin-esque ode to walking drunk (as in "wobbling") on the beaches of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Hagar frequently vacationed there, and in 1990 the band opened the city's Cabo Wabo nightclub. Eventually Sammy bought the band out, and also started a tequila company under the same banner.
'When it's Love'From 'OU812' (1988)
The mature, loving sentiments on display in this stately, keyboard-heavy "Van Hagar" love song probably weren't aimed at former lead singer David Lee Roth. If you believe he took a shot at his former bandmates by naming his first solo album 'Eat 'Em and Smile,' you don't need to be a numerologist to read the "Oh, you ate one too" response inside their second album title.
'Top of the World'From 'For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge' (1991)
This upbeat prediction of future sucess from 1991's charmingly titled 'For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge' (obvious hint: it's an acronym) is pretty much the only song on the otherwise back-to-basics album to spotlight the pop sensibilities of Van Hagar's previous two records. It also literally starts with the ending guitar riff from Van Halen Mach 1's 1984 smash 'Jump.'
'Love Walks In'From '5150' (1986)
Sammy Hagar found his job as the vocalist for all these "Van Hagar" songs in a way that you might expect rich rock stars to meet: he shared a Lamborghini mechanic with Eddie Van Halen. Reportedly this lush, keyboard-heavy love song, somehow involving aliens, was one of the first tunes the pair worked on, an early example of how different this new version of the band would sound.
'Poundcake'From 'For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge' (1991)
Apparently heeding some fans' concerns that their music had gotten a little keyboard heavy, Van Halen stuck almost exclusively to loud guitar-based rock for their third album with Sammy Hagar. The first single, allegedly Hagar's tribute to his wife's cooking, featured six string wizard Eddie Van Halen playing the opening guitar riff with, of all things, an electric drill.
'Best of Both Worlds'From '5150' (1986)
One of the most sophisticated and forward-thinking songs from '5150,' 'Best of Both Worlds' not only met, but actually raised expectations as to what this new lineup could accomplish. Eddie alternates between over-driven and clean variations on the same musical theme, building tension as Sammy's lyrics make you believe this new group is truly aiming for higher ground together.
'Finish What Ya Started'From 'OU812' (1988)
Eddie Van Halen's countrified guitar picking meets brother Alex Van Halen's best "Honky Tonk Woman" tribute in this lively, semi-acoustic number from '0U812.' Meanwhile, Sammy Hagar, taking a rare shot at playing rhythm guitar in the band, implores his woman to allow him to finish something ( he never does say what) that the two of them started together.
'Why Can't This Be Love?'From '5150' (1986)
Many wondered if songs from "Van Hagar," as fans dubbed the Sammy Hagar-led version of Van Halen, would be concerned with living up to the hard-rock sound featured so prominently on previous albums from their past careers. Well, if so, they sure hid it well on their first single together, which featured gurgling keyboards, sunny pop harmonies and - gasp! - hardly any guitar soloing.
'Right Now'From 'For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge' (1991)
1991's 'For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge' doesn't feature any pop songs or keyboards, but amidst an album full of distorted guitar, 'Right Now' stands out as the band's first rock song composed around an actual, old-school piano. Hagar's inspirational "there's no tomorrow" lyrics and an innovative, text-heavy video helped make this one of Van Halen's most enduring songs.
'Dreams'From '5150' (1986)
Throughout the "Van Hagar" era, it became increasingly clear that Eddie Van Halen's true, or perhaps new, love was music, not rock and roll. This understandably threw some fans of the Roth era for a loop, but if you can accept that Sammy Hagar's powerful voice and diverse (if conventional) songwriting skills helped your hero get where he wanted to go, how can you deny a soaring piece of pop magic like this?
You Think You Know Sammy Hagar?