Why Sammy Hagar didn’t give everything to Van Halen

Sammy Hagar

There has always been something indisputable about Van Halen. They were always going to rule the music world from the moment Eddie Van Halen picked up a guitar and used his signature shredding/tapping technique to create fast-paced, explosive riffs. In addition to mastering solos, his innovative approach set the stage for their dominance. Van Halen was expected to soar to new heights when Sammy Hagar joined the band in 1985, following David Lee Roth’s original formation. With Hagar’s arrival, anticipation for the band’s evolution and success reached a fever pitch.

With Hagar leading the group, they all of a sudden clicked. Over an 11-year period, they were able to release four multi-platinum albums and numerous number-one albums. For what reason was this? Indeed, it is largely due to the fact that Hagar greatly enhanced the band’s sound, which they were able to capitalize on. But it’s also because he and Eddie Van Halen brought out the best in each other.

Organized chaos is the best way to characterize Van Halen’s sound. The speed of the song and Hagar’s shaky vocals when it’s played give it an urgency not found in many other rock songs. Despite occasional chaos, the band maintains control, showcasing their mastery and musical cohesion.

What then is the formula for creating music of this caliber? Hagar believes that it all boils down to not taking things so seriously. Hagar, as a new member of the band and the lead singer, prioritized fostering a positive atmosphere. Producing music took a backseat to his concern for creating a harmonious environment. As it happens, the two were closely related.

He declared, “I think I write better lyrics now than when I was in Van Halen. Some of those songs were great, but I was clowning around a lot because Eddie and I were always having so much fun.” Hagar continued by discussing the various ways that he and Eddie would play around. Eddie would go crazy on the guitar while I would sing crazy lines in our crazy acrobatic routines back then. It was all about having fun when I was in Van Halen, at least in the beginning.

While some may roll their eyes at this tale and maintain that band members should take their work seriously, the outcomes speak for themselves. Hagar’s more inventive and thrilling sound allowed the band to soar to new heights. Undoubtedly, they discovered some of the riffs and licks that flooded Van Halen’s music after Hagar joined. They did so by participating in those musical acrobatics.

When attempting to push musical boundaries, a band should feel free to introduce new ideas. The laid-back environment that the group creates will help facilitate this process. If Van Halen hadn’t been encouraged by Sammy Hagar to loosen up, we might not have heard some of the great music that did.

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