Bob Lefsetz: Welcome To My World - "5150"

Friday, June 14, 2013
Bob Lefsetz: Welcome To My World - "5150"

I know, I know, we're supposed to like David Lee Roth Van Halen better, and I do, but...

That does not mean that Sammy's version of the band was no good...

So Dave thinks he's a star, a veritable one man band, covering classics and promoting them with extravaganzas on the breakout MTV. And then...

Word comes down that the Van Halens have hooked up with Sammy Hagar. Who they famously met through their exotic car mechanic, back when musicians were rich, before everybody found out the money was in tech and players invested in startups instead of iron.

And I'm a Sammy fan. Probably because of Montrose, but even more the Capitol years, with you know the second solo, which started off with "Red," but had the hilarious "The Pits" on side two? I bought it, I became a fan.

But then...

John Kalodner recognizes Sammy's greatness, signs him to Geffen and he starts having hits. The debut had two, "There's Only One Way To Rock" and..."I'll Fall In Love Again"! Produced by Keith Olsen, I won't say you hear the Fleetwood Mac influence, but there's a melody, a subtlety, sonic extras that were absent previously.

And then, on the follow-up, there's another one of these melodic smashes, "Your Love Is Driving Me Crazy"...

And then comes the apotheosis, the ubiquitous "I Can't Drive 55."

The track was great, it's just that Sammy looked like such a doofus in the video, wearing the one piece yellow outfit. Huh? I thought the guy was a heartland rocker. But now Sammy inhabited a place somewhere between Fontana and Hollywood...a no man's land. I mean it was a great track, but did you have to chew the scenery?

That's MTV... Everybody knows your name overnight, and then everybody looks at each other and says...eewww!

Now Eddie Van Halen's trajectory was just the opposite. Seen as a Starwood/Gazzarri's metalhead in new wave crazy L.A., with every album the cognoscenti shifted its opinion, suddenly Eddie was seen as possibly the world's best guitarist, certainly the most innovative player with any traction. But he had no lead singer, his was a band without a frontman.

So you match the credible with the cartoon and..?

Sammy tones down his act. Retires the clothes and becomes about the music. Although it takes the better part of two years to hear the result. And when "Why Can't This Be Love" hit the first you weren't sure, but almost immediately thereafter you couldn't hear it enough.

It was Eddie's playing, the sound. From the intro to the breaks, it was an Eddie tour-de-force, with Sammy doing what a frontman should do...SING! Sammy was the anti-Dave, he was a team player, with no antics...and he could hit the notes! Despite being so heavy, there was a certain melody in the track, suddenly Eddie was playing with someone who could sing.

As Sammy did all over the album.

The opener was a little atonal, but after experiencing the single, you were gonna give the album a chance. But really, it was the two songs that finished side one that closed you...

"Dreams"...that's what we all have, and Eddie mastered the keyboard once again, as he did with "Jump," and created something infectious, that just made you feel good.

But his guitar skills were back in "Summer Nights." It was the perfect melding of Eddie and Sammy. Eddie was wailing and Sammy was singing about the good times. Far different from the Dave days, when the songs had a twist, a deeper meaning, could not deny that unlike Dave, Sammy could sing. Sure, it was a different band, a different thing, but it was bigger than the sum of its parts... Very few Dave-era fans were lost, Sammy's came aboard and a whole bunch of new fans were made, stoked by the ear-friendly music.

But I wouldn't be writing this if it weren't for the cut that opens side two, my favorite on the album, the absolute highlight of the Sammy era, "Best Of Both Worlds." And Sammy's good, but really it's all about Eddie, the dynamics. From loud to quiet to loud once again, it's positively Zeppelinesque, without being a rip-off. It's a roller coaster, with hills and dives, twists and turns, I can listen to it all day long, it makes me feel so good, powerful, like the rest of the world doesn't matter.

And "Love Walks In" is a gorgeous ballad, something Dave could never do. And instantaneously the almost impossible is achieved. Yes, Genesis replaced its lead singer, but they were not superstars when they did. Van Halen was at the top, and then they got Sammy and they were BIGGER!

And from there...

"OU812" was almost as good.

But then sophomoric Sammy gained undue influence and despite great sales, the music was less meaningful and more pedestrian. "Poundcake"? Dave would never sing that. Sammy doesn't believe in subtlety, and he continued to pull the rest of the band along with him and then...

It all expired.

The Van Halens got together with Gary Cherone, a blatant mistake.

And then reunited with Dave.

Then Sammy.

Then Dave.

But one thing's for sure, the star is Eddie... Who's got nothing in his life other than music, that was Sammy's bitch with him, that he never wanted to take time off.

And Eddie was so good, that hooked up with journeyman Sam, he once again made memorable music, he didn't need Dave.

But Eddie always needs somebody.