On Van Halan’s bizarre second studio album with Sammy Hagar
Van Halen was just coming off their 1986 smash hit and first number one record, 5150, and were poised to go into the studio and deliver a killer follow up that would firmly entrench Hagar as a new singer that could carry the mantle for the biggest band in rock.
What followed was a strange 10 track (9 if you include the throw-away at the end) album that was devoid of the classic hits that made 5150 so popular. I remember loving this album as a kid. But I’m sad to say it don’t hold up for me.
I gave the entire thing re-listen recently during a long car trip, and I was perplexed about not only how it didn’t seem to derail the Van Hagar train at all, and also about how I never realized how juvenile Sammy’s lyrics were. This is not to say I can’t enjoy music with bad lyrics, mind you.
Let’s go track by track to see what I mean.
1. “Mine All Mine”
We start with some dated keyboard rock, a great solo by Eddie, and some head-scratching, quasi-existentialist lyrics by Sammy.
you got Allah in the east/you got Jesus in the west/Christ! what’s a man to do? . . . stop looking’ out/start looking’ in/be your own best friend)
This song is decent if you can get past the keyboard tones. You could see a progression from 5150 and be hopeful. In my opinion, though, it’s all downhill from here.
2. “When It’s Love”
More keyboards, this time power ballad style. Look, I don’t hate keyboards, it’s just that a keyboard ballad isn’t my favorite thing Van Halen is capable of doing. Pretty catchy hook here, you can see why is was the highest charting single off the album. Some high reaching vocals in the chorus and a big ending with lots of na-na-nas.
So far, these first two songs aren’t so bad. A little keyboard heavy, though. First-time listeners – just coming off a great initial album with Hagar – were probably a little skeptical about what came next. You could see it being a much more soft rock evolution from 5150, and that had to scare people (though, ultimately, isn’t that what Van Hagar became?). Luckily, there’s only one more keyboard song left.
3. “A.F.U. (Naturally Wired)”
Great intro. Very promising. The main riff is something that would have fit right in with the previous album. I even love the rhythm guitar in the verses, during which Sammy is belting out some crap about how excited he can get. I swear Sammy must have had super early access in ’88 to a high tech text generator where he could just say “gimme a song about getting pumped about playing’ songs! Preferably with an acronym!” and out would spit “A.F.U. (Naturally Wired).” Another classic Eddie solo follows. The song gets a little repetitive and for the last minute or so is just the chorus, which you’re hoping will end sooner than later. It sounds to me like Eddie had a riff, they toyed around with a cool intro and then just recorded the damn thing.
This one was clearly not a hit song, just a fun, guitar-heavy album filler. And as far as those go, it could be worse.
4. “Cabo Wabo”
This one was my favorite song when I was a 7-year-old Van Halen fan. It’s got a cool, if somewhat plodding riff. The thing is, it clock in at 7 MINUTES. The lyrics aren’t that bad for what they are, I suppose. It’s an ode to Cabo San Lucas, and isn’t quite as cheesy as Sammy could’ve made it. Except for the whole “make love in the sea” bit. (Sidenote – whenever I picture Hagar or for that matter any of the glam rock dudes that sung about getting laid all the time eg. Poison, Warrant, Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi, etc., I can’t help but picture how ridiculous they looked actually doing it, with their long hair and makeup and jewelry and thin, drugged-out bodies. It’s amazing that women of the era were so into it)
This song sounds like more album filler. Decent enough, but clearly not a single. It’s just not catchy enough, and you’d have to whittle about 3 minutes off of it.
5. “Source of Infection”
Another promising guitar intro. Then, we get these lyrics for the verse:
Hey!/All right!/Woooo!/How boutcha, now/come on/oh yeah/dig it!/that’s right/is everybody ready?/let’s goooooo!!!!!!
I know what you’re thinking. Dana, this isn’t the verse, it’s just, like part of the intro when you’re getting excited for the song to really start.
Nope. After those lyrics, we go right in to the chorus. Or what seems like a chorus. Could be a bridge. Who knows what it is. Right after, we get verse #2:
crank it!/blow out/uhhhh!/Ouch!/oh help me/now flip on over/oh baby, you know what I like
Then another bridge . . . thingy. Soon they get to what I guess is the real chorus where we get the song’s namesake. Again, it’s not catchy IN THE LEAST. After some back and forth between Sammy and Eddie (well, Eddie’s guitar), there’s more of the real chorus.
Then the song ends.
What the hell was this guys?
6. “Feels So Good”
And you thought “Mine All Mine” had dated keyboards. This is vintage 1988 adult contemporary rock. It’s got a somewhat catchy hook, but, man. It’s just not VAN HALEN. All the lyrics have going for them is that they rhyme. We have more Sammy using the lyrics generator machine: “gimme a love song about the beach and stuff,” and out came this banal garbage.
7. “Finish What Ya Started”
A Van Halen acoustic that’s pretty damn catchy. They branch out to an almost country-ish sounding pop song, but with a Van Halenish edge to it that makes it their own.
As far as the lyrics go, well, I must inform to you that the whole song is about getting blue balls. There’s some cheesy innuendo (I got the tools/to satisfy), and a lot of pleading in the form of, “come on, baby.”
Again, it’s a catchy pop song that charted well for good reason. The problem is, with stuff like this, you’re not getting the Van Halen you want. Why couldn’t they turn “Source of Infection” or “A.F.U. (Naturally Wired)” into something as catchy as this?
8. “Black and Blue”
Are you guys sick of sexual innuendo? Sammy was too on this one. Instead, he elects to just come right out and get to the heart of the matter.
Slip n slide/push it in/the bitch sure got the rhythm/holding back/yeah, I got control/hooked in to her system.
And then there’s the chorus, which boasts:
harder the better/we’ll do it till we’re black and blue
That’s just super. Now I think we know what Sammy’s “Source of Infection” was. Oh and thanks for more long haired dude making sweet love mental images. I was never a fan of the riff here that much. It’s a bluesy, slow rocker that somehow charted really well as a single. But, I guess, what else from this album was single worthy? This song also adopted the bad habit from a few of the previous ones of being over a minute or so before it actually ends.
9. “Sucker in a 3 Piece”
A simplistic guitar riff with the usual Sammy lyrics about female body parts.
she’s so fine/how bout a 9 on a 10 scale/with long legs/straight on up to the lunch pail
Ohhhh Sammy the ladies love that one! Give them some more!
sweet little wishbone/don’t wanna break it in half/lick up one side, down the other/always makes her laugh
Sorry to have to report all that to you guys. The rest of the song is about how Sammy is upset that the woman he’s after is instead going after a “sugar daddy” who’s clad in the song’s namesake. Which is weird because Sammy clearly is rich enough to be a sugar daddy himself. Why is this guy in the suit the “sucker?” Isn’t Sammy the sucker because he’s got money too but he can’t get the girl? Especially since the suit guy has “a big ol belly?” Why am I analyzing Sammy Hagar lyrics?
10. “A Apolitical Blues”
Some cover song they did for fun(?). I dare you not to press skip after 10 seconds.
Anyway, just some thoughts for a random Thursday afternoon. By the way, their next album was much better, if you’re interested. Although . . . it is called F.U.C.K.