Well, in honor of my close friend and part-time collaborator (See: Rocco’s Remote) I figured for this week’s Classic Albums we’d have a gander at one of my all-time Van Halen favorites, 5150. Now, it’s no secret that I am a bigger fan of Van Hagar than Van Halen, and that’s largely due to some of my silly teenage adventures I had with this album either on the boom box, rack system or the Walkman. Plus, I saw Sammy live first on the F.U.C.K. tour, and I never saw four guys having a better time onstage, but I digress.
It was spring 1986, and I was at my cousin Franc’s, who was the first one of us to have what at the time was the Holy Grail: a CD player. I was spending the weekend, and I oohed and ahhh’d over the entire rack system, but most importantly, the CD player. I remember he got 3 CDs with it: Boston’s Third Stage, something else, and 5150. THAT’S what I was there to hear! I was armed with a 5-pack of Maxell XL-II 90’s because we were having one of our world-famous (not really) all night vinyl-to-tape sessions, but tonight was gonna be different. Not only was I finally getting my hands on the new Van Halen album, but I was getting that sweet, sweet clarity that only a compact disc could deliver. My hands fumbled with the wrapping to open a fresh cassette (yes, I stopped to smell them. Like you didn’t?), and I was as nervous as a virgin on prom night.
After a few records it was time. I watched as the tray opened and that shiny disc made its way inside, and Sammy Hagar’s “Helloooooo, baaaby!!” got the party started on leadoff track “Good Enough”. Clearly, Van Halen hadn’t lost a step, despite being written off and left for dead by a lot of people (Six times platinum, bitches!). And while Eddie Van Halen’s guitars sounded slightly different due to a change in the recording mix, they were no less ferocious. I sat on the edge of Franc’s bed, barely able to keep still. Up next was the mega-smash “Why Can’t This Be Love”, a perfect blend of synth and guitar with a massive hook that propelled it all the way to #3 on Billboard’s Hot 100, and is also one I STILL play the shit out of! Guitars are back to the forefront with the high-speed “Get Up” and Alex Van Halen plays like he was just getting warmed up on “Hot For Teacher” not two years prior. Bassist Michael Anthony’s vocals blend perfectly with Sammy’s not only here, but across the board. I was in Van Heaven!
And now we come to the one and only “Dreams”. This is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, one of THE best songs to come from Van Halen in that era, case closed, chapter ended, and book done. If you don’t feel like you can take on the world and achieve ANYTHING after this little number, something is clearly wrong with you. That’s all I have to say about that. Closing out the side is one of my Top 5 Summer Songs, the aptly-titled “Summer Nights”. Every year, no matter where I’m living, first chance I get I go out in the backyard and crank this track good and loud with a frosty cold one at my side. Sheer bliss, I tell you.
Side two opens with the mid-tempo “Best of Both Worlds” which features a nifty breakdown over which Sammy preaches to the Rock & Roll Choir before the song goes back into full swing. Next is my favorite ballad from this group, and one of my favorites period…”Love Walks In”. Of course this one made its way onto several love song mix tapes all through high school for my unfortunate girlfriends, but even now, it makes me smile when I hear it because of all the good times and make-out sessions I had. “5150” is a straight-up rocker reminiscent of the Diver Down-era and is also a great driving song. And that’s the measure of an album or song to me, more often than not. How does it sound in the car? Well, this one jams! Closer “Inside” is a very bizarre tune by Van Halen standards, but it’s such a cool, tongue-in-check song that I have to love it.
When the smoke cleared in Franc’s room, all I could muster was a weak “Play it again”, because I was blown away by what had just happened over the past 43 minutes, and I was having a hard time thinking straight. Van Halen were back in a big way, and in the ensuing months I would go on to wear the shit out of my little taped copy till I finally got a CD player and picked up my own. 5150 marked a turning point for Van Halen, but I think it was also the perfect soundtrack to some of our early teenage years. This is especially true in “Love Walks In” when Sammy says, “Reach back, remember with all your might”. I do, and the flood of memories I have sometimes spills over and I get a little misty-eyed reliving them. But, I’m sure I’m not the only one. Right, Rocco? ~dc