1978 – Van Halen opens its first tour at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. The group’s contract specifies that M&Ms be provided to the group during the stint with the brown candies removed. Part of this first tour was to open up for Black Sabbath in several locations.
Van Halen is an American hard rock band formed in Pasadena, California in 1972. They enjoyed success from the release of their self titled debut album in 1978 until the late 1990s when various troubles overcame the band. As of 2007 Van Halen has sold more than 80 million albums worldwide and have had the most number one hits on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, Van Halen is the 19th best selling band/artist of all time with sales of over 56 million albums in the USA and is one of five rock bands that have had two albums sell more than 10 million copies in the USA.
In addition to being recognized for quality and success, the band is known for the drama surrounding the exits of former members. The (multiple) exits of singers Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth were surrounded in controversy and mass press coverage with various contrasting press statements between them and the band. More recently, founding bassist Michael Anthony was kicked out of the band for controversial reasons. Following their 2004 concert tour the band was on a hiatus from the public until September 2006, new bassist Wolfgang Van Halen’s place was confirmed and Roth-reunion rumours began to re-surface coinciding with the band’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction on March 12, 2007. After years of speculation, Van Halen began a tour with Roth in late 2007 across North America, which has been extended into early 2008.
David Lee Roth era (1972–1985)
The Van Halen brothers first started playing music together when Alex took up the guitar and Eddie the drums. However, after some time with this set up, the two switched places. Their first band, started in 1971 was named the “Trojan Rubber Company.” In 1972 the Van Halen brothers formed a band called “Mammoth” which featured Eddie as lead vocalist/guitarist, Alex Van Halen on drums and Tim McNulty on bass. They initially rented a sound system from David Lee Roth but decided to save money by letting him join as lead vocalist even though he had previously auditioned unsuccessfully for this. By 1974 the band decided to replace Stone. Michael Anthony, bassist and lead vocalist from local band “Snake” was auditioned. Following an all night jam session he was hired for bass and backing vocals.
Mammoth discovered in 1974 that their name was already being used and changed to “Van Halen”. According to Roth, this was his idea. They played backyard parties and on a flatbed truck at Hamilton Park. Van Halen played clubs in Pasadena and Hollywood to growing audiences, increasing their popularity through self promotion: before each gig they would pass out fliers at local high schools. This soon built them a major following.
The band became a staple on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip during the mid-1970s, consistently playing at well known clubs like the Whisky a Go Go. In 1977 Gene Simmons, from Kiss, saw Van Halen and financed their first demo tape, flying the band to the Electric Lady Studios, New York City to record “House of Pain” and “Runnin’ With the Devil”. Eddie disliked the demo, because he was not using his own equipment and had to overdub guitar parts. Simmons wanted to change the band’s name to “Daddy Longlegs” and had designed cover art (a daddy longlegs wearing a top hat), but the band stuck with Van Halen. Simmons then opted out of further involvement.
In 1977, Mo Ostin and Ted Templeman of Warner Bros. Records saw Van Halen perform at the Starwood in Hollywood. Although the audience was small, the two were so impressed with Van Halen that within a week they offered them a recording contract. In October of that year, Van Halen recorded their eponymous first album at Sunset Sound Recorders studio. All of the tracks were laid down in about three weeks, with little over-dubbing or double tracking. Minor mistakes were purposely left on the record and a simple musical set-up was used to give the record a live feel. Despite its simple components, Van Halen proved innovative in musical technique, production, and arrangement.
On release, Van Halen reached #12 on the Billboard pop music charts, one of rock’s most commercially successful debuts. It is a highly regarded hard rock album. The album included songs now regarded as Van Halen classics, like “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” and the guitar solo “Eruption”, which showcased Eddie’s use of a playing technique known as ‘finger-tapping’. The band toured for nearly a year, opening for Black Sabbath and establishing a reputation for their performances. The band’s chemistry came out of a contrast between Eddie Van Halen’s technical guitar wizardry and David Lee Roth’s flamboyant antics, which later turned them into rivals. They returned to the studio in 1979 for Van Halen II, similar in style to their debut. This album yielded the band’s first hit single, “Dance The Night Away.”
Over the next few years, the band alternated album releases and touring to increasing commercial and critical acclaim and became one of the world’s most successful and influential bands. Their party-loving spirit and hard rocking anthem-like sound made them popular with teenagers. Women and Children First was released in 1980 and further cemented Van Halen’s status. But in 1981, during the recording of the Fair Warning album, tensions rose. Eddie’s desire for more serious and complex songs was at odds with Roth’s poppy style. Although Roth (and producer Templeman) acquiesced to Eddie’s wishes, Fair Warning was a sales disappointment, with no hits. In later interviews Eddie would reveal that he was struggling with alcoholism during the production of Fair Warning and this resulted in the album’s darker tone.
Diver Down performed better. The band then earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest-paid single appearance of a band: $1 million for a 90 minute set at the 1983 US Festival. Despite this return to form, Roth and Eddie’s differences continued, and this caused friction with other band members. According to bassist Billy Sheehan, after his band Talas completed a tour with Van Halen, he was approached by Eddie Van Halen to replace Michael Anthony. The reasons for this were never clear to Sheehan, because nothing came out of it
Van Halen’s next album, 1984 (released on January 9, 1984) was their commercial pinnacle. Recorded at Eddie Van Halen’s newly-built 5150 Studios, the album featured keyboards which had only been used sporadically on previous albums. The lead single, “Jump”, featured a synthesizer hook and anthemic lyrics, and became the band’s first and only #1 pop hit, garnering them a Grammy nomination.. Other hit singles included “Panama”, “I’ll Wait”, and “Hot for Teacher”. Many of the songs had popular music videos on MTV. 1984 was praised by critics and fans alike, peaking at #2 on the Billboard charts.
However, the album was also a breaking point. In the midst of the tour, the artistic and personal tensions among the musicians reached a fever pitch. Reasons for the breakup vary based on the band member interviewed, but were rooted in control of the band’s sound and image. Roth was upset about Eddie playing music outside of Van Halen without checking with the band and Eddie was sick of Roth’s flamboyant behavior and stage persona. On April 1, 1985, Roth left Van Halen.