"Well, helloooooooooooooooo, baby!" Thus begins one of the most successful 1980s albums ever, and what an album it is. So began my own personal journey into Van Halen's studio catalogue. My first Van Halen album was Best of Vol 1, and my first studio album that followed was this puppy, 5150. So let's get down to the album itself.
When Van Halen released 5150 in 1986, its fan base waited with baited breath due to the band having a new singer, Sammy Hagar. While the Hagar/Roth debate has been [going back and forth from that day to this] raging ever since, the public made it quite clear that overall, a significant portion of Van Halen's fans were big fans of the direction the band was going in, making 5150 the band's first number one album in its career.
When Van Halen jettisoned lead singer David Lee Roth in 1985 (or he left to pursue a solo career, depending on whose story you're listening too), they were left in quite a predicament. Not only did Roth leave, he took most of the band's management and their only producer up to that point, Ted Templeton, with him, to do his own albm, "Eat `Em and Smile". On that album, Roth would strip away the keyboards Eddie so adamantly added to the band's sound and returned to his earlier sound. So would Van Halen call it quits? They were all set for life, and had a very successful run of six multiplatnum albums. Or would they look for a new singer?
Well, we all know the answer to that. They began auditioning for new singers, and at one time entertained the idea of having different temp singers front the band for an album to see who the public liked (think Rock Star:INXS twenty years before they did a TV show about it). Naturally, this idea didn't pan out, as [Eddie discovered Sammy Hagar at a mechanic shop as he was getting his lamborgini serviced, and they hit it off.] Eddie discovered Sammy Hagar, lead singer to Monstrose from the 1970s and several successful solo discs on his own. Sammy says the first time he ever met Eddie (at nine in the morning) Eddie was smashed out of his mind on alcohol. The band got together with Sammy, and soon wrote several new songs.
Naturally, the new singer brought a totally new sound to Van Halen. Where the Van Roth band focused more on the rock and roll element and party hearty image, Van Hagar's focused were more on ballads and love songs, with a healthy measure of rock in there as well. Still, 5150 has a much different feel to it than the previous six Roth LPs as far as the front man's personality, personae, and image were concerned. It is quite clear from the get go that Eddie wanted to move the band into new directions, and he largely did that with Hagar.
The ironic thing, in all this, naturally, is, out of the four Van Hagar albums and the six Van Roth albums, 1984, their last record with Roth, and 5150, their first record with Hagar, are the mostly closely related between the two different eras [of all their albums]. While obviously Hagar is no Roth (but by the same token Roth's no Hagar either), the actual songwriting on 5150 has its foundations and roots in 1984. After the fiasco of DIVER DOWN, Eddie wanted control over the band's musical future and ultimately founded his own studio 5150, which this record's name is drawn from. It is in 1984 Eddie began to implement, and vary successfully at that, keyboards into the band's sound, and broaden out the band's overall musical approach more into a pop-metal sound than a pop-rock and roll sound. 1984 set up a whole new playing field for the band, with a much more mainstream, pop-metal sheen than the first four Van Halen albums and even DIVER DOWN, which is little more than a deliberate attempt to cash in.
5150 is a natural extension of the band's new sound that was largely established largely in 1984. Several of Van Hagar's best songs are right here on the first disc.
"Why Can't This Be Love" and "Dreams" were huge hits, and deservedly so. Both are among Van Hagar's best material, and "Dreams" is not only one of the band's best power ballads, but also one of the best ballads of the 1980s. "Best of Both Worlds" is one of Van Halen's most highly regarded songs. Great rock and roll, even given the fact they say you don't need to get born again to go to heaven (rather troubling line for the religiously inclined).
"Summer Nights" is one of those songs no person growing up in a small town and hanging out in parking lots at night can't help but look at fondly. That song always brings back a lot of memories for me, and I can relate to it very well.
"Get Up" is a great "get off your ass and make your life work" song. "Good Enough," the opening song to the disc with its very memorably opening line (probably VH's most memorable intro), is a adrenaline pumping, hard-rock celebration of sexual attraction at its most physical and basest of all levels. In other words - pure lust all the way baby.
"5150", Van Halen's second title cut to one of their albums, is actually one of the more minor songs on the record as far as popularity goes. Still, a good song. "Inside" is easily the strangest song on the album, and indeed one of the strangest in their entire catalogue. One of my favs, though I can see why people wouldn't like it.
That leaves us with one song left. "Love Walks In". A lyrical tour-de-force, this is easily the best song Van Halen ever wrote, at least lyrically. Sammy Hagar states it's about when aliens came down and visited him (no, I'm not making this up - he talked about it on Howard Stern and in a Guitar World interview). While the song definitely makes a lot of sense from the standpoint of a person remembering an alien encounter (and this is before Whitely Strieber's "Communion" came out), the beauty of this song is it doesn't have to be about aliens, but can have any number of meaning. For me, this is probably my favorite Van Halen song.
While both EAT `EM AND SMILE and 5150 are great competing albums, I have to give the edge to 5150. It's the tightest, single best album of the four that the band made with Hagar.