Van Halen “5150”: 30 Years Since The Birth of Van Hagar

Discografía Van Halen – 5150 (1986)

March 24th, 1986 saw the release of Van Halen’s 7th studio album “5150”, which defied widespread skepticism, surpassed all expectations and, for better or worse, changed the fortunes and career course of one of the most popular hard rock bands to have ever existed.

In 1985, Pasadena, California’s Van Halen (founding members vocalist David Lee Roth, bassist Michael Anthony, drummer Alex Van Halen and his brother, guitarist Eddie Van Halen) had reached a crossroads. After 6 studio albums, culminating in their masterwork “1984”, relationships in the band were at their breaking point. Constant touring, massive success, critical indifference, devoted fan allegiance, bruised massive egos, as well as drug and alcohol abuse finally forced a wedge between Roth and the other 3 members. Roth, making a persona change into Diamond Dave, left to pursue a briefly brilliantly successful solo career and a still born screen career.

Roth was the high profile face and recognizable voice of the band. Van Halen’s members needed to replace him to continue, and with the success of lead vocalist switches with Genesis and the failure with the J. Geils Band, a line-up change could break either way. After giving consideration to Scandal’s Patty Smythe, or even having a rotating number of different singers, Sammy Hagar was chosen. As the former lead vocalist for the band Montrose, Hagar’s solo career was at a fever pitch in the wake of his single “I Can’t Drive 55” breaking through nationally.

Hagar signed on, even though he was feeling burned out. Solo success was weighing heavy, and group membership was a relief. Bringing songwriting skills, a broad and soaring vocal range and formidable guitar chops into the mix, Hagar’s presence allowed Eddie Van Halen to employ more electronic keyboards into the band’s sound. Stalwart sound engineer Donn Landee took over producing chores from veteran Ted Templeman, and Landee was joined behind the boards by Spooky Tooth/Foreigner founding guitarist Mick Jones and the Van Halen brothers.

The sound of the band took a turn, with more synthesizers blending with the dependable Van Halen hard rock style, and ballads were now a regular item on the menu. “Good Enough”, “Get Up”, and “Best of Both Worlds” cracked and sizzled with flare, and immaculate production and layered arrangements made “Why Can’t This Be Love” and “Dreams” major hits and radio playlist staples.

While it might have been a joke that “5150” is police code for a mentally disturbed person, the only thing crazy was the fan reaction to the album and subsequent live performances. A few diehards questioned the line-up change and detour in musical direction, but the bulk of the returning audience and a throng of new converts gave the foursome the first #1 album any of them had seen. This configuration of Van Halen would make 3 more albums together, and what seemed a match made in heaven had a quick but glorious honeymoon period. “5150” would sell 6 million copies before Hagar’s acrimonious split with the band in 1996. It was, briefly, the best of both worlds.

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