Awesome Totally Awesome Van Halen 5150

A Look Back at the Making of Van Halen’s 5150 Album

After parting ways with original singer David Lee Roth (who left to pursue an ill-fated solo/acting career) after the 1984 tour, Van Halen was a band without a singer.

In the spring of 1985, Eddie, Alex and bassist Michael Anthony were having a tough time finding a suitable vocalist to step into Diamond Dave’s large shoes. To that end, they even considered using temporary singers on the 5150 record after auditioning the likes of Eric Martin, Jimmy Barnes and even Patty Smyth.

Heck, their record company, Warner Bros., even advised Eddie and Alex to discontinue the Van Halen name. Naturally, they refused.

Then, in July 1985 Eddie met Sammy Hagar after a referral from his Ferrari mechanic. Hagar instantly hit it off with the band, and they began working on the songs that would appear on the album. The first time Hagar appeared live with Eddie was at Farm Aid, in Sept. 1985, and the Red Rocker was formally announced as Van Halen’s new vocalist shortly thereafter.

Recorded at Eddie’s 5150 studio at his house in LA’s Coldwater Canyon, the album was released in March 1986, with nine songs as it came in as the band’s longest record to date.

It’s the first VH record without Ted Templeman producing, so Eddie, Donn Landee and Mick Jones of Foreigner fame, handled the production duties. According to Hagar he and Landee didn’t get along all that well at first.

“Ted Templeman had done all of the albums up to that point,” Hagar told Ultimate Classic Rock. “And Donn Landee was the engineer who was running Eddie’s studio and he’d done every album they had done and here was I, walking in from a completely different place in a way and stepping in [(with a) ‘Who’s this guy?’ kind of thing. I got that feeling at the beginning from Donn Landee. He wasn’t particularly thrilled to see me, I don’t think.”

So Hagar called up Jones, who kind of took over, which pissed off Landee somewhat, who reportedly locked himself in a room and threatened to burn the tapes up to that point.

“(Jones) came right in to do it and started making decisions about mixing and stuff, like ‘No no no, we need the vocals louder,’ or, ‘No, hey, Ed’s guitar has got to be on the left and not the right,'” recalled Hagar. “I think Donn freaked out or something. I don’t remember why, but yeah, that happened.”

New Sound and Mix for Eddie’s Guitar

Of note regarding the new sound on that album is Eddie’s guitar, which previously sat high in the mix and was often pushed to the left channel (to simulate a “live” sound”). On 5150 his guitar tracks sat equal in the mix and while his overall sound had changed. This may have been Eddie’s doing, as he was not a fan of the “live mix” that Templeman created on the previous Halen records. This is also the first Van Halen album not to feature any instrumental tracks.

Many of the songs were already written by Eddie before Hagar got onto the scene, so his main contribution was adding lyrics.

The Red Rocker described the 5150 studio as somewhat of a shambles, noting ” There must have been 300 beer bottles and cans laying around. Half of them had beer in them and old cigarettes. Every ashtray was overflowing with cigarette butts. There were butts left burnt on the floor. That place stunk like a fucking bar that hadn’t been cleaned for a hundred years. Eddie’s guitars were everywhere – maybe 30 guitars, laying against walls, on the floor, just knocked over.”

Despite, at first, being nervous singing with the band, Hagar and the boys quickly got into the songs, while Hagar began scatting lyrics and instantly came up with “Summer nights and my radio…”

In fact, Hagar would make up many of the lyrics on the spot, as they were jamming.

“Love Walks In” was one of the first songs Eddie and Sammy worked on together and it’s a perfect example of the more poppy, keyboard-influenced sound that permeates several tracks on 5150 like “Why Can’t This be Love?”and “Dreams”.

But there are some hard rocking songs like “Good Enough”, “Get Up” and the hugely underrated title track, which is one of the best Hagar-era Van Halen tracks.

Many hardcore Van Halen fans dismissed the album and Hagar as the new singer, many old and new fans embraced the tracks for what they are: Fantastic rock songs, bottom line.

Check out more of Cam Maxwell’s Rock ‘N Roll Insight.

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