Perhaps you saw Van Halen on your TV recently gracing the stage at Jimmy Kimmel Live and the Ellen Show, fronted by a gum-chomping, ink-covered old singer and just shook your head. More likely, you clicked a link to watch one of the appearances online after the fact and maybe X’d out of it in disappointment at how The Mighty Van Halen has fallen.
What’s wrong with Van Halen in 2015? Well, first off, they seem to not have a promotional/PR team (or social media presence). In fact, a random slip-up by a Canadian DJ, followed by tireless “internet research” by members of the VHLinks message board, followed by “confirmation” from Billboard and Rolling Stone (citing sources that sited “internet chatter”) is how word of their upcoming live album first leaked (confirmed by the band a month later with those TV appearances).
That brings us to what else is wrong with Van Halen in 2015: they are just now finally releasing their first live album with iconic front man David Lee Roth and it’s a 2013 show (with no BluRay/DVD companion). Still no classic shows from the vaults.
So the problem with Van Halen isn’t just that they are old, although they are that. But old age has treated the Bruce Springsteens and Paul McCartneys of the world just fine. Van Halen has fallen down the next step: they’ve made themselves irrelevant. Since their heyday(s) with both Roth and his successor Sammy Hagar, they’ve brought both back for reunion tours of varying success and mostly wallowed in inactivity, save for the 2012 studio album they made with Roth (with Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang replacing Michael Anthony on bass).
But while other rock bands (from Van Halen contemporaries like Rush to disciples like Pearl Jam) have almost all released live DVDs from tours old and new, along with remasters with bonus tracks, Van Halen has been curiously silent and their remasters offer no previously unreleased material. Time to change that. Time to restore the greatest American rock band back atop the throne of stardom and glory. Time to fix Van Halen.
Make an album with multiple singers.
Sadly, to the casual pop culture observer, Van Halen is almost as famous for changing singers as they are for monster guitars and drums. Embrace it! Take that old trope about singer switches and run with it. Between old riffs from the vault, and whatever they might cook up on the spot when jamming with different collaborators, gotta figure there’s potential for 8 to 10 really good tracks. Again, all of these scenarios are making the huge never-gonna-happen hypothetical leap that brothers Edward and Alex would ever actually DO any of this shit. Which we know they won’t. But IF they did….
Do two tracks each with Roth and Hagar. That’s four songs. They could each do a rocker and then Sam could revive the classic Van Hagar Power Ballad vibe for his second song, and Dave could add another ditty involving ice cream, women’s undergarments, or both. Gary Cherone (aka the guy from Extreme who sang “More Than Words” and joined Van Halen at the worst moment in history) could get one track to redeem himself. Once we get to the singers who haven’t actually been in VH already, first on my wish list is Chris Cornell. The Soundgarden screamer has super-group experience after forming the (too-bland-for-my-tastes) Audioslave with the instrumental trio from Rage Against the Machine. I thought they’d be awesome, but they were not. (Millions of others disagree.) Either way, Soundgarden was awesome, and Cornell has the songwriting chops to go along with his superb vocal range and screaming rock god background. (In fact, scrap all these ideas and just hire Chris Cornell as the new singer for Van Halen and be done with it.)
Get Dave Grohl in there to sing a song, cuz he’s a very famous rock star, every project he touches turns to gold, and of course he’s a huge VH fan. Then you need one track with a curveball of a front man, maybe Zack de la Rocha (ex-Rage Against the Machine). Eddie VH has worked with LL Cool J recently (and Michael Jackson more infamously) so it wouldn’t be a huge stretch for him to get behind a funky groove for Zack to rhyme over.
So now we’ve got 8 songs (2 Roth, 2 Hager, 1 Cherone, 1 Cornell, 1 Grohl, 1 De La Rocha) and just need one or two more to round it out with a somewhat legendary veteran. I’m thinking Robert Plant and/or Ozzy Osbourne, if either or both would do it. Legendary vocalists as well as household names that would attract even more attention to the album. (Seriously, you wouldn’t click something to listen to Plant or Ozzy fronting Van Halen? Really?)
I realize record sales aren’t what they used to be. But a new Van Halen studio album, while a welcome sound for the sore ears of VH diehards everywhere, wouldn’t really move the needle quite like “a new Van Halen album… with Dave AND Sam! AND Dave Grohl, Chris Cornell, The Rage Guy, Ozzy Osbourne, and Robert Plant!” And, keep in mind, Eddie Van Halen actually considered a similar idea when Roth first quit the band in ’85. According to an interview with bassist Michael Anthony, “Ed had an idea to bring in different singers to sing different tracks and then Sammy’s name came up.”
Talent/Reality TV show like American Idol and The Voice with Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth as judges.
Combine the best aspects of the most popular reality/talent shows: the horrible early-round auditions, the idea of each judge taking on and coaching one of the finalists…. Maybe they audition with a backing track, then in the final round they jam with Ed/Al/Wolf Van Halen backing them live. (Of course, with Hagar and Roth as judges, the banter would be gold, DLR would be a household train wreck and Sammy would be the safe sweet one for soccer moms. They’d each “coincidentally” pick the guy who sings songs from their own era.) Maybe have a female contestant who can sing and pull off peak-era Diamond Dave outfits/jump-kicks. A reality show to find a singer for a famous band is not itself a brand new idea, but this show could tick ALL the reality show boxes, especially once you get Sam and Dave back-fighting behind the scenes. And, like so many popular shows from the Kardashians and Wahlbergs to the Duck Dynasty: it’s a family business.
Getting Dave Grohl to be the third judge would be a no-brainer, not just for his aforementioned Midas Touch, but also cuz he’s played with a famous front man in Kurt Cobain, and then went on to become one himself for the Foo Fighters. If Grohl is unwilling or unavailable, the third judge could almost be anyone from Howard Stern to Stephen Tyler (rock’n’roll ties plus reality/talent TV show experience) or even a supermodel hostess to just moderate Sam and Dave and stay out of the way. Maybe just have Ozzy as the third judge! And it feels like maybe Adam Lambert should be involved. Perhaps at some point there’s a Valerie Bertinelli cameo. Just a lot of possibilities.
Combine the first two ideas into the tour of the year.
Here comes the plot twist! These aren’t three different ideas on how to best save Van Halen. It’s all one idea with three parts! First, the album (Idea #1) comes out, and it’s got Dave AND Sam. It’s got a lineup of famous guest singers and that poor bastard who sang on Van Halen III. Something from that album will gain traction, if not a single turning into a hit then perhaps just the concept itself and all the crazy “can you believe they did this AND it’s actually a good album?” PR/hype. Then they do the TV show (Idea #2). Maybe some of the guest singers from the album also appear as guest hosts or judges on different episodes. Either way, an album of guest singers on a Van Halen album is a natural segue to the “So You Think You Can Be The Voice of Van Halen” TV show. Sure, everyone wants to be on the show, but the winner gets to be a part of The Tour.
What tour? Welcome to Idea #3, we’re already into the second paragraph. Imagine a Van Halen tour where you’d get three-song chunks by David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar (broken up by the patented guitar and drum solos that have long been implanted in Van Halen concert sets). Then you also mix in some singers that guested on the album, the now-famous winner of the reality TV series, or other random guests if the likes of Chris Cornell aren’t available in every city. (Gary Cherone is available for all dates.)
Van Halen would be back on top of the world. They’d have an unlikely but interesting hit album and the hottest new show on television. Would a cheesy reality show with Sam and Dave yuckin’ it up for the camera be a pretty uncool and very un-Van Halen-like move? Of course. Hardcore fans would hate it. But Van Halen would truly rule again.