The Friday Morning Listen: Van Halen – Women and Children First (1980)

It’s been kind of a fun week in music, mostly because of all of the buzz surrounding Van Halen’s tour and new album announcement. Yessir, Roth is back and the release of the single “Tattoo” has caused more than a little stir: “It sucks!” “It’s a retread!” Yeah, whatever. I think it’s kind of fun.

Maybe the best thing about this Van Halen deal is the reemergence of the great Roth vs. Hagar debates. I’ve spent more than a little time over the years (and over the last week) reading fan commentary on this and it never fails to entertain. I’ve written enough about musical resonance to know that people have their own reasons, from nostalgia to general musical leanings, for their preferences. What cracks me up is when guys (and let’s face it, it’s mostly guys) start plastering the opposition (because face it, they are now “the enemy”) with all sorts of nasty labels. Gees guys, it’s only rock ‘n roll, you know?

[READ OUR REVIEW OF 'TRUTH': In a pre-release review, we called the Van Halen reunion album "a return to form in the most complete sense of the word."]

OK, so I’m not trying to make this sound like I don’t have an opinion on this matter. It’s just that people tend to get “stuck” in the way they think about these things. So while I vastly prefer the original Van Halen lineup to the Sammy years, I tend to think about them as two completely different bands, with the latter being more pop-oriented. In my mind, this makes defending one band over another kind of pointless.

The funny thing about all of this is that I’ve been a Sammy Hagar fan for years. I saw him open for Boston (Don’t Look Back tour) and he was fantastic. Check out his live album All Night Long for proof. And then there are those Montrose records. Absolutely killer stuff right there. I like his stuff with the Waboritas too. Chickenfoot? Not so much, but the point here is that I’m not a Sammy-hater.

When Sammy joined Van Halen, the music took a more pop turn. And hey, a successful one at that. It just wasn’t Van Halen, at least not to my ears. On 5150 and OU812, songs like “Love Walks In,” “Why Can’t This Be Love,” “Dreams,” “Feels So Good,” and “When It’s Love” made me wonder what was going on with this band. What happened to Eddie’s roaring guitar sound, like on “Everybody Wants Some!!”? Why did Alex’ drums sound like he was attaching contact microphones to pop tarts (frosted, I believe) and whackin’ them together? And why did I not enjoy Sammy’s voice in all of this?

They had become a different band, is all. Musicians are allowed to change and listeners are allowed to like the results…or not.

Me, I like this “new” change. What’s old is new again. Or something like that.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.

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