Michael Anthony (bass, vocals; born June 20, 1954), Sammy Hagar (vocals; born October 13, 1947), David Lee Roth (vocals; born October 10, 1955), Alex Van Halen (drums; born May 8, 1953), Eddie Van Halen (guitar, synthesizer; January 26, 1955)
Van Halen formed in 1974 but emerged in public view with the 1978 release of their self-titled debut album, which quickly established them as the hottest American hard-rock band since Aerosmith. Van Halen reinvigorated hard rock during a period of doldrums by bringing youthful, West Coast bravado and blistering virtuosity to the genre. Much of the latter was provided by Eddie Van Halen, who exhibited blinding speed, control and innovation on the guitar. His two-handed fretboard-tapping was just one technique that he introduced to legions of young guitarists. Counterpointing Eddie’s musical genius was vocalist David Lee Roth, a flamboyant extrovert whose gruff voice, salacious wit and gymnastic moves sparked Van Halen’s live shows. Rounding out the quartet were Alex Van Halen (Eddie’s brother), a thunderous and inventive drummer, and bassist and harmony singer Michael Anthony.
Van Halen came together in
Released in 1978, Van Halen’s self-titled album opened with a virtuosic blast of energy from Eddie entitled “Eruption.”
It included a hard-rock remake of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” and such powerhouse originals as “Running with the Devil” and “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love.” Van Halen peaked at Number 19 but stayed on the charts for more than three years. After 30 years and 11 studio releases—four of which reached Number One—Van Halen remains the band’s top seller, with
Van Halen followed up its initial success with a string of dependably hard-rocking albums on a yearly timetable: Van Halen II (1979), Women and Children First (1980), Fair Warning (1981) and Diver Down (1982). In concert, the group delivered its self-described “big rock” with deafening intensity and bacchanalian abandon. Roth derived inspiration from such pre-rock entertainers as Al Jolson and Louis Prima, and the combination of his showmanship and the Van Halen brothers’ musical acumen proved irresistible.
The band hit a pinnacle with 1984, which was issued in that portentous year. The album had little to do with George Orwell’s novel of the same name, except for implicitly debunking its dire prophecies with some of the year’s hardest-rocking party music. 1984 contains three classics—"Jump," “
However, interpersonal strains between Roth —who cut a successful solo EP (Crazy from the Heat) and began eying a film career— and his band mates resulted in what Roth later termed a “bitter and ugly divorce” in the wake of their 1984 world tour.
However, Van Halen bounced back strong following Roth’s departure. The group recruited Sammy Hagar, who sang and played guitar. Hagar had started out with the hard-rock group Montrose and had a highly successful solo career. He fit well with Van Halen, with whom he was more personally compatible than his predecessor. In fact, the newly harmonious group scored its first Number One album with 5150, on which Hagar handles lead vocals.
It was the first of four consecutive chart-topping studio albums—the others being OU812, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge and Balance—from the reconfigured lineup. Even the 1993 double-disc Live: Right Here, Right Now made the Top Five. Meanwhile, the second incarnation of Van Halen often found itself on the singles charts with such hits as “Why Can’t This Be Love” (Number Three),
“When It’s Love” (Number Five),
“Top of the World” (Number 27) and “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You” (Number 30).
Much less successful was Van Halen III, the sole Van Halen album recorded with former Extreme vocalist Gary Cherone after Hagar’s ouster in 1996. Despite that commercial lapse, the Van Halen catalog has otherwise displayed remarkable consistency, with all 10 studio albums from the Roth and Hagar eras having been certified multi-platinum (more than one million copies sold). Although the merits of each vocalist’s tenure have been hotly debated, it should be noted that both halves of Van Halen’s career succeeded for different reasons. The first era worked because of the band members’ differences with Roth, while the second half worked because of their similarities with Hagar.
October 13, 1947: Vocalist Sammy Hagar is born in
October 10, 1953: David Lee Roth is born in
May 8, 1953: Drummer Alex Van Halen is born in
June 20, 1954: Bassist Michael Anthony of Van Halen is born in
January 26, 1955: Guitarist Eddie Van Halen is born in
1962: Eddie and Alex Van Halen move to
1977: Van Halen is signed to Warner Bros. after label executives catch one of their performances at
March 11, 1978: Van Halen’s self-titled debut album enters the album charts, where it will remain for 169 weeks and peak at #19.
April 24, 1978: Six weeks after its release, Van Halen is certified gold (500,000 sold). Eighteen years later, it will be certified 10 times platinum (10 million sold).
July 14, 1979: “Dance the Night Away,” from Van Halen II, becomes the group’s first Top Twenty single, reaching #15.
April 11, 1981: Guitarist Eddie Van Halen marries actress Valerie Bertinelli.
April 3, 1983: Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” which features a ripping solo from guitarist Eddie Van Halen, hits #1.
May 28, 1983: Van Halen performs at the second US Festival in
February 25, 1984: “Jump,” by Van Halen, reaches #1 on the Billboard singles Top 100, where it will remain for five weeks.
January 28, 1984: 1984, the sixth and final Van Halen album to feature vocalist David Lee Roth, debuts on the charts, where it will stay for a year and a half and peak at #2. Hit singles: “Jump” (#1), “
April 26, 1986: 5150, the first Van Halen album with vocalist/guitarist Sammy Hagar, tops the chart for the first of four weeks. It will sell 6 million copies and launch three hits: “Why Can’t This Be Love” (#3), “Love Walks In” (#22) and “Dreams”
June 25, 1988: OU812 becomes the second consecutive Van Halen album to top the album chart.
July 6, 1991: Van Halen’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge enters the album chart at #1, where it will remain for three weeks.
June 1996: Vocalist Sammy Hagar leaves Van Halen. His replacement is Gary Cherone, formerly of the progressive-rock group Extreme.
November 9, 1996: The Best of Van Halen, Volume 1, is released. The retrospective includes two new songs recorded with original vocalist David Lee Roth. It becomes Van Halen’s fifth #1 album.
November 1997: Van Halen III - the first and last album to feature the group’s short-lived third singer, Gary Cherone - is released.
February 8, 1999: 1984, by Van Halen, receives multi-platinum certification from the RIAA for 10 million copies sold.
July 20, 2004: The Best of Both Worlds, a double-CD Van Halen compilation, is released. It includes three new songs recorded with vocalist Sammy Hagar.
February 2, 2007: Van Halen announces that original vocalist David Lee Roth is rejoining the group for its 2007 world tour and that Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang is bassist Michael Anthony’s replacement.
March 12, 2007: Van Halen is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the 22nd annual induction dinner.
love walks in