There have always been two camps of Van Halen fans. Those who always felt the one and only true Van Halen centered around the David Lee Roth years. Yet, there is a large camp of Van Halen fans that loved the Sammy Hagar years. Whatever time period you may be a fan of, it’s safe to say that both lineups of the band delivered amazing rock records that brought great joy to the rock and roll heart. We love both the Sammy Hagar Years and the David Lee Roth Years. What is even more significant is that all their albums have stood the test of time. They have become classics that continue to recruit new generations of rock and roll fans. Here is a list of our favorite Van Halen Albums in order.
# 10 – A Different Kind Of Truth
Van Halen’s A Different Kind of Truth was a great surprise for Van Halen fans. After so many years of waiting for a new Van Halen album, the release of A Different Kind of Truth was completely unexpected. Some fans complained that the album contained a few old unreleased Van Halen songs. But the unreleased songs had never been heard in the quality that they were presented in on A Different Kind of Truth. The new songs on the album were killer. Despite many fans arguing that David Lee Roth could no longer sing, Mr. Roth sounded great on the record. The rest of the band was in fine form as Eddie and Alex both displayed the virtuoso chops that made them legends. With Eddie’s son Wolfgang on bass, the album became a complete family affair.
# 9 – Diver Down
When Diver Down was first released, there was a lot of moaning by Van Halen fans because the album consisted of many cover songs. In fact, five out of the album’s twelve tracks were covers. However, Van Halen fans should not have been that shocked about the band doing cover versions because they had already released a few great cover songs on their first two albums. Can anyone say “You Really Got Me.” Van Halen always made cover songs their own. Actually, the band started out as a bar band covering songs. The other issue with the album that fans had was it was so short. Nonetheless, over the years we have come to appreciate this great rock and roll album, and even more so, both the cover songs and some of the great originals. It’s fun to dive back into this one occasionally.
# 8 – For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge
So many critics destroyed this record when if first came out. It’s sad that so many writers take the easy way out and jump on a bandwagon of harsh criticism that can ruin careers. Most critics have no idea what it takes to write and record an album of passionate rock and roll music. It is pathetic that a writer can spend twenty minutes bashing a work of art that a musician has spent maybe twenty years crafting.
Van Halen’s “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge,” record rocks hard and delivers great songwriting. Listen to “Right Here Right No w.” How can any writer criticize such a brilliant piano riff that explodes with such passionate vocals and fiery guitar, bass, and drum licks? Your listening to that song after having climbed back onto your seat after being blown away by “Poundcake.” Van Halen delivered a great record with “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.” Don’t listen to the critics, just turn it up.
# 7 – OU812
It’s interesting that Van Halen chose to mimic one of the most famous album covers of all time with the release of “OU812.” Any argument that the cover of “OU812,” coincidentally looked like “With The Beatles,” could be countered with the placement of Alex Van Halen in the same exact position as Ringo Starr. Eddie’s placement and the lighting on the guitarist’s face is also very similar to Paul’s image on the Beatles cover. The Van Halen cover was a definite homage to the Beatles album.
( The pictures display the U.S and British issues of the Beatles albums. “With the Beatles;” was the original Parlophone Records British issue. “Meet The Beatles” was the U.S Capitol records issue that came out after the original Beatles album and contained a track list that added some of the non-album Beatles singles)
Van Halen’s second album with lead singer Sammy Hagar displayed a very different vibe from the pop metal oriented sound of 5150. The OU812 record was Van Halen’s groove album. The album’s first single, “Finish What Ya Started, ” was one of the highlights of the record. It seemed Eddie bought himself a couple of fuzz boxes for his guitar as the production of the record featured less keyboard sounds than the bands previous two albums. It was a welcome change for many die-hard fans that were yearning for a return to the heavier sounds of albums like Fair Warning and Women and Children First.
While 0U812 is decidedly darker than the “1984,” and “5150”, it was in no way a dark album. “OU812,” contained very well-written songs, tight arrangements, and high-end sonic production that enabled the material to be radio friendly, yet maintain quality artistic value. In retrospect, the homage to The Beatles was not just about an album cover.
# 6 – 5150
If your band features one of the greatest rhythm sections and lead guitarists in rock and roll history, wouldn’t it make sense to recruit one of the strongest vocalist in the business for your newly vacated lead singer role? Sammy Hagar was the perfect choice to replace David Lee Roth simply for the reason that the man could sing his heart out. In many interviews Eddie did at the time Sammy joined the band, the lead guitarist boasted about Sammy’s vocal range and agreeable personality. It seemed Sammy Hagar’s talent had inspired Eddie to compose melodies and arrangements that took advantage of Sammy’s wide vocal range.
On the album “5150,” there were no other changes in personnel except for the lead singer; so why did the band sound so different? It simply came down to songwriting influenced by musical trends of the big hair 1980s. The 1980s were the decade of the power ballad and rock anthem. Van Halen’s 5150 featured songs that fit both genres. ” Love Walks In,” represented Van Halen’s big 80’s power ballad. “Dreams,’ displayed all the hallmarks of rock and roll 80s styles anthem with its rising chorus and pulsating synth sounds.
Many critics have written about the impact Sammy had on the band while failing to recognize the impact the musical styles of the 80s had on Eddie. It was evident on the album “1984,” that Eddie had been inspired by the developments in synthesizer technology. As great an album “1984,” was, it was also a transitional record. It would have been interesting to hear what the bad would have done if Roth had not left the group after 1984. However, on “5150,” Eddie found a lead singer that was capable of recognizing the guitarists’ new musical directions. It was a perfect match that presented Van Halen fans with a very different-sounding band. With the release of 5150, the Sammy Hagar versus David Lee Roth debate had begun. In retrospect, the band released great music with both singers, no matter how different they both were.
# 5 – Women And Children First
The days of working clubs and playing cover songs came to a close if not literally but artistically on Van Halen’s brilliant album Women and Children First. Van Halen’s third album is their first record to contain no cover songs. Furthermore, gone is the party atmosphere from the first two albums. Women and Children First is a much heavier record defined by a more powerful depth to the music. Both the musicianship and material on Van Halen’s third album displayed a new level of maturity and intensity that conveyed the promise of a legendary band in the making.
# 4 – 1984
The emergence of a new generation of synthesizers in the early 1980’s played a significant factor in the sound of Van Halen’s “1984,” album. A musician as talented as Eddie Van Halen had to have been inspired by the possibility of creating music with an orchestra of sounds available at the touch of a key.
Eddie’s creative talent and virtuosic musical skills combined with Roth’s playful lyrics created an album of golden pop/metal recordings that have withstood the test of time. While some fans may have disliked the keyboard-dominated sound of cuts like, “I’ll Wait,” “Panama,” and “Jump”, there was no denying the well-written song structures and guitar solos. Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony’s playing is top-notch on the record. David Lee Roth’s vocals performances were at the peak of his career as well as his lyrical contributions. “1984,” was a welcome addition to the Van Halen catalog, and one of the best of the band’s career.
# 3 – Van Halen II
Van Halen’s follow-up to their debut album featured radio-friendly pop-metal singles that assured the band of gaining mass cultural status. The album had a lighter feel than the previous album but still featured Eddie’s trademark guitar riffs and the dynamic interplay between drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony. With songs like “Dance the Night Away,” and “Beautiful Girls,” the band displayed a party atmosphere reminiscent of their club playing days.
# 2 – Fair Warning
Van Halen’s “Fair Warning,” may not have contained many hits, but it was one of the best and most underrated albums of the band’s career. Opening with the song,” Mean Street,” the album track introduced the listener to an album much darker and angrier compared to the band’s previous work. Even the album cover portrayed a dark edge within the angry drawings painted on the front sleeve. David Lee Roth’s usual playful banter that had graced Van Halen’s material was pretty much absent on the record. In return, Eddie Van Halen delivered deep dark riffs bound to his brother’s turbulent, brilliant, heart-pounding drum grooves locked into Michael Anthony’s blistering bass lines which were all wrapped up in Roth’s fair warning that this was no typical Van Halen album. Take a deep listen, the album is a true work of substance.
# 1 – Van Halen
Van Halen’s debut album was released at a time when metal music had taken a back seat to a new generation of artists gaining popularity in the genres of punk and new wave. Bands like The Sex Pistols, Ramones, Blondie, Television etc… had all captured the public interest. However, Van Halen’s debut album blew up the rock charts and put a dent in new wave’s popularity. Sounding like a greatest hits record, Van Halen debut stands as the band’s greatest work for simply the sheer amount of signature songs that have dominated the Van Halen catalog. Songs like ‘Runnin with the Devil, You Really Got Me, Jamie’s Cryin, Ain’t Talkin bout Love, Feel Your Love Tonight, Eruption, and Ice Cream Man,” have become fan favorites and staples of Classic Rock radio for the past thirty-seven years.
Top 10 Van Halen Albums article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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