Van Hagar’s first album is a ripper. I have a soft spot for it because my first guitar amp was a Peavey EVH 5150 model, and that beast got me through a lot of gigs; but I actually prefer this album to 1984 – usually seen as the peak of the band’s involvement with David Lee Roth. In fact, Diamond Dave’s solo album Eat ‘Em And Smile, released the same year as 5150 and with Steve Vai on guitar, is an overlooked classic – and those three albums together are a great trifecta of mid-‘80s rock.
Unfortunately – whether it be Sammy Hagar’s influence or not – this is also where Van Halen start to drift into the middle of the road (it’s probably also the influence of Foreigner’s Mick Jones in the co-producer’ seat). Until this point, I’d say they were probably one of the most cutting-edge bands of the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s. Now, with soppy ballads like Dreams and Love Walks In, they showed that they were making records for middle-aged people, not teens at keg parties.
I used to play this record over and over when I was at University, and this was probably the time I was most in awe of Eddie’s guitar playing. The guitar intro to Summer Nights is one of my favourite Van Halen moments – a wonderful showcase of his warped ability. Listening now, I can’t quite handle some of the most dated aspects of the album, like the God-awful synth on Dreams and Love Walks In. Eddie used synths masterly on 1984’s Jump, but here he uses them to soundtrack how they might be played in the kind of heaven where Kenny G plays God.
Thankfully there’s only one song on the album – opener Good Enough – where Hagar seems to be doing his best David Lee Roth impression. He wails over the rest of the album more in his own style, which I like much more than the whelps and screams of his predecessor.
My least favourite part of the album is the closing song Inside. This dirge-like song really leaves a sour taste in the mouth after such a sunny and upbeat album.
Hit: Why Can’t This Be Love
Hidden Gem: Summer Nights