Maybe it was Eddie Van Halen’s impish grin as he zizzed jaw-dropping guitar licks through his amps like branches through a wood chipper. Maybe it was the amazingly congenial way that frontman David Lee Roth strutted the stage in his Spandex like some kind of all-American testosterone superhero… Libido Man. Whatever it was, it established Eddie, David, Eddie’s brother Alex, and bass man Michael Anthony as the friendliest metal band around, and proved that you didn’t have to be all scary to totally kick ass.
After six wildly successful albums, and such hits (now classic rock staples) as Jamie’s Cryin’, Running With The Devil, Panama and Jump (on which Eddie took up the synthesizer, to very good effect) stress fractures began showing, culminating in Roth’s dismissal and replacement with former Montrose singer Sammy Hagar.
Despite widely expressed doubt, the band pulled off the switch quite nicely, resulting in five more well-received recordings… well, four, and then a semi-dud. That is when Eddie pulled a stunt that proved none too good for his friendly image. He announced that David Lee Roth was returning to the band, and then when Roth had recorded two new songs for their upcoming Greatest Hits, Part One package, he booted Roth again, claiming his reunion had only been for that one project.
Roth’s version of the story differed, and as the rancor simmered, the band brought Gary Cherone on board. The resulting album, Van Halen III, opened strongly at number three, but spiraled quickly downward, as fans determined that Cherone had neither the je ne of Roth nor the se quoi of Hagar.
Since then, Eddie has weathered a frightening battle with cancer, and mended fences with Roth. Despite periodic buzzing about new material, however, none has been released, and in early 2002 the band broke with their longtime label, Warner Brothers. But what a ride it was.