Van Halen III
August 11, 2018
Clip of original Van Halen members harmonizing
Todd: [shouting with the band] VAN HALEN!!
Live performance of "Ain't Talkin' 'bout Love"
David Lee Roth: Ain't talkin' 'bout love
Todd (VO): Van Halen fuckin' rules! No, I mean it. It is hard to describe how influential Van Halen was to music in the '80s. Basically all of hard rock in that decade was predicated on their 1978 debut album. ["Panama" plays over concert footage] Bright, flashy party rock that combined the groove and enthusiasm of southern boogie with the hard, dangerous edge of heavy metal. Lead guitarist Eddie van Halen created his own new style of playing that was immediately copied by legions of imitators, David Lee Roth instantly made himself known as one of the most unique and unforgettable frontmen in rock, and teenage boys everywhere [image of...] doodled the logo on their notebooks.
Todd: But the '80s, the decade they basically created, was not one they would survive intact.
Clips of interviews with Eddie van Halen...
Eddie van Halen: He treated everybody like a little lower than him including us in the band.
...and David Lee Roth
David: I eat you for breakfast, pal.
Todd (VO): At the peak of their fame, they imploded in one of the most acrimonious breakups in music history. That would be rough on any band, but absolutely devastating when your frontman is such a force of personality as David Lee Roth. There was no band without him. Roth was irreplaceable.
Todd: But replace him they did.
Clip of Van Halen - "Dreams"
Sammy Hagar: We'll get higher and higher
Straight up we'll climb
Todd (VO): The person picked to lead Van Halen into the future was already successful solo artist, Sammy Hagar. And improbably, it worked. Van Halen would launch themselves forward to yet another decade of sustained success.
Todd: But that too would not last.
Clip of VH-1 Episode: History of Van Halen
Todd (VO): After almost the exact same length of time, Hagar exited the band in an equally ugly cloud of hostility in 1996.
Todd: But this is Van fucking Halen.
Concert footage of Van Halen performing "Poundcake"
Todd (VO): So what they lost their singer who led them through ten years of hits? They had switched singers before...
Todd: ...they could do it again. And they knew just the guy who was gonna lead them there.
Clip of MTV News broadcast
Kurt Loder: Gary Cherone, former frontman of the Boston band, Extreme, has been hired and is already rehearsing as Van Halen's new lead singer...
Todd: [pause] Who?
Todd: OK, that is Gary Cherone, previously the lead singer of the band, Extreme.
Todd (VO): Best known for the chart-topping power ballad, "More Than Words." Now, he seemed like an odd name to throw in there, [footage of interview of Van Halen with Gary Cherone] but he was ready to make Van Halen rock again. Van Halen's sound with Sammy had gotten stale. Gary Cherone was younger, more energetic, ready to throw down. Gary Cherone was the man who would lead them into their third decade, [video for "Without You" starts] and Van Halen was gonna continue to kick ass. Here it comes. It's gonna be so good.
Todd: [rubbing his hands together] Here it comes!
Trainwreckords intro, followed by album cover for Van Halen III
Todd: So let's ask this question first: Was it possible for any version of Van Halen to have a hit record?
Video for Van Halen - "Jump"
Todd (VO): I mean, don't get me wrong. I love Van Halen with David Lee Roth. [clip of promotional ad for Van Halen World Tour] And even if they weren't nearly as special with Sammy, that version of the band definitely had more than their share of highlights...
Todd: ...but, that's the past. Now, we're at 1998. No one wanted a new Van Halen record, right?
Video for Van Halen - "Panama"
Todd (VO): When Sammy joined, Van Halen was still at their peak. [clip of "Can't Stop Lovin' You"] When Sammy left and Gary joined, Van Halen was at a low point, coming off a...pretty disappointing album. [clip of Eve 6 - "Inside Out"] Plus, the alternative nation was thoroughly in control. Rock was completely different from Van Halen's heyday.
Montage clips of Foo Fighters - "My Hero"; Green Day - "Nice Guys Finish Last"; Marilyn Manson - "The Dope Show"; Marcy Playground - "Sex and Candy"
Kids wanted the Foo Fighters, Green Day, Marilyn Manson, Marcy...Playground, I guess. They wanted, grungy downbeat alternative. Who in 1998...
Todd: ...was going to listen to a dinosaur cock-rock band that started in the goddamn '70s?
Clip of Aerosmith - "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing"
Steven Tyler: Don't want to close my eyes
I don't want to fall...
Todd (VO): Yeah, that's my answer to that question. After all, Aerosmith was bigger than ever in the '90s, and they'd keep rolling into the next decade. [clips of Kiss - "Psycho Circus"...] Kiss also had a decently received return to the makeup that year. And beyond the legacy acts, [...Lenny Kravitz - "Fly Away"...] 1998 was a huge year for the retro-rock stylings of Lenny Kravitz...[...and Metallica - "Whiskey in the Jar"] and Metallica scored a couple big hits by covering classic rock songs. So...
Todd: ...no. It was not impossible for Van Halen to find a way back into the limelight.
Clip of earlier MTV interview of the band with Gary
Todd (VO): If you go back and check out interviews from the time, Eddie is super jazzed about the project.
Eddie: It was a strange excitement. It wasn't like, "Alright, we got a singer!" It was like...I don't know. Just on a much deeper level. It was...like...a musical soulmate.
Yeah, he's calling Gary his soulmate, long-lost brother. And how he's got none of the ego that the other two singers ruined everything with. And that just during their first conversation, Gary spat out some lyrics and Eddie wanted to immediately go write music for him. This was gonna be the real deal.
Todd: And so, two years after announcing their new lead singer, they finally released their first album with Cherone, [album cover for...] Van Halen III. Not a creative title, but a fitting one. [image of Van Halen with David Lee Roth next to album cover for...] 'Cause, you know, Van Halen I was their first album with David Lee Roth. [image of Van Halen with Sammy Hagar next to album cover for...] Van Halen II was their...[cuts back to David Lee Roth picture] second album with David Lee Roth. Okay, the numbering's not consistent, but the point is made. This is Van Halen Version 3.
Video for "Without You"
Todd (VO): And that album kicks off with a bang. [clip of live performance of "Neworld"] OK, technically it warms up with a brief instrumental.
Snippet of slow solo
That's pretty. But [back to "Without You"] then we get the first single, "Without You." Here we go.
Gary Cherone: Hey you, wake up, get yourself together
Todd stops dead in his tracks as he hears the song
Gary: Then you say you won't
Gary: There must be some kind of way
That we can make it right
But I, I just can't do it all
Todd: ...[shocked] What is this?
Todd (VO): Alright, you're already well aware Van Halen III was not well received. "Without You" was the only song on it that got any real radio play, and every critic seemed to agree that except for this lead single, every track was hookless and terrible. [shot of critic review from Rolling Stone] "'Without You'" was the only bright spot," was the critical consensus...
Todd: ...which is amazing 'cause this song is fuckin' awful!
Todd (VO): It's the worst song on the album, and one of the worst I've ever heard.
Todd: I don't even know where to start.
Gary: Yeah you
Todd (VO): It's tempting to throw all the blame on Cherone, 'cause that's the only thing that changed, so...
Todd: ...let's look at where he comes from.
Clip of Extreme - "Get the Funk Out"
Gary & Extreme: If you don't like what you see here
Get the funk out
Todd (VO): Extreme were part of the late '80s-early '90s metal scene that...for lack of a better name I call [clip from...] "Bill and Ted rock," 'cause Bill and Ted were all about that stuff.
Snippet of Bill and Ted air guitaring
Like, hair metal was still the big thing, but bands with more funk and thrash elements were also creeping into the sound. [montage of brief clips of Living Colour - "Cult of Personality", Faith No More - "Epic", Primus - "Jerry Was A Race Car Driver", and a Red Hot Chili Peppers performance] We're talking bands like Living Colour, Faith No More, Primus, and the biggest of them, the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Gary: Without you
Todd (VO): And I think Gary was maybe trying to bring some of that funk to Van Halen, which is...why all of a sudden they sound [video for...] like a high school garage band trying to cover "Give It Away."
Snippet of Eddie van Halen solo
Yeah, Van Halen isn't funky. Never was, never will be.
Todd: But the more important problem is that the song is completely incoherent.
Todd (VO): What are we even doing here? Is this part connected to the last part? What is this even about?
Todd: [pause] How do I describe this? ...OK. You ever play a...
Montage clips of Sonic the Hedgehog; Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare; Assassin's Creed; Uncharted 4: A Thief's End; Final Fantasy X HD
Todd (VO): ...video game that has, like, a billion features, and shoot things. But there's also stealth mode, plus you can hunt, and find treasure to sell. Find materials, craft them into different items, and build your homestead, and make potions that'll make you 1% faster. You can take your guns and turn them into other guns. But eventually you gotta be like, "What's the basic idea? What's the main mechanic that takes me from one step of the game to the next?"
Todd: Okay. Well, imagine that, but a song.
Todd (VO): Like, I count [list of song sections cover the screen: Verse. Solo 1. Verse. Pre-Chorus. Chorus. Verse. Pre-Chorus. Chorus. Slow part. Solo 2. Bridge. Solo 3. Chorus. Outro verse. Coda.] nine or ten distinct sections of "Without You", none of which have anything to do with each other.
Todd: Even lyrically, they don't connect.
Gary: Better make up your mind
Todd (VO): The verses are like, "Uh! Get it together, asshole!" But the chorus is like, "Oh, baby, I need you so bad." It's a disaster all arou...[brief clip of Eddie shredding a faster solo] Wait, w-we're just changing tempo now?!
Todd: [disgusted] Go eat me.
Clip of Van Halen: Live From Australia
Todd (VO): Maybe the next single was better. OK, this one was called, "One I Want."
Van Halen: The one I want
Gary: The only one I want (The one I want)
And it at least has more structure than the last one. And the lyrics are a little more, uh...
Gary: Poor man, he just want a little
Rich man, want a little bit more
Superman, he looking for Lois
Salesman, try and sell you his soul
Todd: Actually, hold up. What are these lyrics?
Gary: Fat man, he's ordering seconds
Pizza man, just want a slice
Todd is taken aback by the odd lyrics
Audio for "One I Want" plays over images of...
Todd (VO): [singing] Ant-Man, not in Infinity War
Giant-Man, that's actually Ant-Man again
Back to concert footage
Triangle Man, hates Particle Man
Todd: [still singing] They have a fight, Triangle Man wins.
Gary: Gay man, lookin' for another
Candy man, yeah the candy man can
Todd (VO): I-I'm trying, but I can't actually come up with funnier lyrics. But this is still better because I can find an actual hook.
Todd: And that's not something I can say for all the songs on here.
Gary: A year to the day
Todd (VO): Just like the last episode, this is a bad album because of its crushing length. During their prime years, they'd never wasted a note. And [snippet of intro solo from "Hot for Teacher"] they played a lot of notes. But when Sammy was in charge, the songs became too goddamn long...
Todd: ...and Van Halen III is even longer.
Clip of Gary and Eddie playing "Josephina"
Todd (VO): Imagine paying for this this album, or to see them live and having to sit through "Year to the Day" and "Josephina" back to back. That's a full twenty goddamn minutes on two songs!
Todd: So what went wrong? Sammy Hagar has a theory. [shot of article: "Sammy Hagar Says Eddie Van Halen Can't Write Songs"] Well, yes that, but...also more specifically. You know how I said that...
Clip of MTV interview
Todd (VO): ...Cherone spat out some lyrics and then Eddie wrote music for it? [clip of Rolling Stone interview with Sammy Hagar, March 2011] Well, Sammy says that's not how it worked at all when he was in the band.
Todd: Like, yes Eddie churned out a bunch of riffs and solos and stuff, and they'd be brilliant. And Sammy would write lyrics for him.
Todd (VO): But Sammy was also the guy who would have to turn the riffs into actual songs, put them in order, add a bridge, decide where the solos went, and so on.
Todd: I'm guessing that was also David Lee Roth's responsibility when he was there. That's why the two versions of the band sounded so different. [images of the band with David and Sammy's faces circled] 'Cause the singer dictated the style and the structure. But for Van Halen III, [image of band with Gary...] it sounds like the person in charge of this was [...and all their faces X'ed out] no one.
Todd (VO): Which is why all the songs are a malformed mess. These songs are [image of...] cancerous mutants. Now let's check out the third single, "Fire in the Hole." In my opinion, the best of them. By which I mean it sounds like a second tier Sammy song, or a fourth tier David Lee Roth song.
Now you may remember it from its bizarre appearance in Lethal Weapon 4, where Murtaugh and Riggs run across a Batman villain, who then pauses the action to turn on his music 'cause apparently [still shot from...] he's Baby Driver but with really shitty taste in music.
Gary: Fire in the hole
Todd (VO): The song is passable, but...again, the lyrics.
Gary: In a word to (yeah!) the wisdom tooth
Todd: A word to the wisdom tooth?!
Gary: So open up and say ahhh-men
Rinse cup, (hey!) and spit again
Todd (VO): Is that a play on words?
Todd: Is this like a really bad hashtag rap?
Todd (VO): And what do dentist puns have to do with fire in the hole?!
Gary: Ya got a mindful of decavities
Van Halen were never considered a very lyrical band, but Jesus Christ, I now realize how unappreciated they were!
Todd: Like, there's a song on here calling for revolution. It's called, "Ballot or the Bullet."
"Ballot or the Bullet" plays over Live From Australia footage
Gary: Give me liberty or give me death
The ballot or the bullet
Todd: The phrase, "ballot or the bullet," comes from [image of...] Malcolm X! Is Gary advocating for armed black nationalism here?!
Todd (VO): No, of course not. It's just vague "power to the people" crap. Like, people complained about Rage Against The Machine being too vague, but I at least understood what those guys stood for. Here, it's nothing. They stand for nothing.
Todd: And, okay. Now that I've played a few songs for you, so you know it's not a fluke, let's talk about the giant elephant in the room. Why the fuck does Gary sound like that?!
Clip of "Without You"
Gary: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Todd (VO): Yeah, that.
Video for "Fire in the Hole"
Gary: Yeah, yeah
It's amazing because he managed to sound almost exactly like Sammy Hagar, yet simultaneously four hundred times worse. I'm only lukewarm on Hagar, but in comparison, he is the Kurt Cobain to Cherone's Chad Kroeger.
Todd: And Cherone is not a bad singer!
Video for "More Than Words"
Todd (VO): I listened to those old Extreme albums. He sounds fine! And nothing like Sammy Hagar! [clip of "Without You"] And here, he sounds like something...
Todd: ...you'd play to scare raccoons out of your yard!
Todd (VO): Like, people say maybe they were still trying to find melodies for Sammy, and Gary just didn't have the range. Which raises the question...
Todd: ...why didn't they just lower the songs?
Todd (VO): Shouldn't someone have noticed? Who was in charge? Who was the producer? 'Cause also, the songs are mixed like shit! The vocals are unintelligible, Michael Anthony's bass and vocals can barely be heard at all. [clip of "Dance the Night Away"] Like, ask any fan. Michael Anthony's harmonies are incredibly important to Van Halen's sound, and they are just gone.
Todd: Whose fault is this?!
Todd (VO): [image of...] Okay, I'm reading the guy in charge was hard rock producer, Mike Post. I'm told he's been around for a while, won some awards.
Todd: OK, let's check out some of the classic tracks he's worked on.
Clip of "Believe It Or Not" from The Greatest American Hero
Joey Scarbury: Believe it or not, I'm walking on air
I never thought I could feel...
Todd: [pause] The Greatest American Hero theme? Really?
Todd (VO): Well, that's a weird little blip to have in your discography.
Todd: But, here's the stuff he's mainly known for.
Clip of opening for The A-Team...
Todd: Is this serious?
...followed by Law and Order title sequence
Todd: [incredulous] What the hell? It's just T.V. themes.
Montage opening clips of The Rockford Files; Hill Street Blues; Quantum Leap
Todd (VO): Nothing but T.V. themes! I mean, they're-they're really great T.V. themes, but it's still just T.V. themes!
Todd: When I called him a hard rock producer earlier, I was literally referring to [album cover for Van Halen III] just this one album! All he does...
Clip of The Commish intro
Todd (VO): ...is T.V. themes! His only experience with producing actual, like...
Todd: ...popular music...
Brief clips of Kenny Rogers and The First Edition - "Hurry Up, Love"; Dolly Parton - "9 to 5"
Todd (VO): ...is a little work with Kenny Rogers in the '60s, and with Dolly Parton in the '80s.
Todd: Nothing at all hard rock, 'cause he was too busy composing [brief clip of theme for...] music for Doogie Howser! The last anything that happened with Van Halen III is one last video for the song, "Once," that was released [shot of old MTV article: "Van Halen Video To Be Released Only On The Internet"; pretending to be excited] exclusively on the internet!
Video for "Once"
Todd (VO): Considering the streaming capabilities of PCs in 1998, they may as well as have just dropped it in the garbage. I found a copy of it on YouTube but, I-I'm guessing no better quality version of this was ever uploaded because the only copy I could find looks like it was filmed on ravioli. This is what all-internet video used to look like, kids.
Todd: And I do kinda hear Mike Post's involvement 'cause...
Clip from Hill Street Blues
Todd (VO): ...this song does kinda sound like background atmosphere music on a cop show.
Todd: But then again, maybe Mike Post did nothing. 'Cause...[shot of '90s monitor showing a Van Halen message board] and this is just 20-year old fan forum rumors here, but there's talk that Post bailed halfway through.
Clip of E! interview with Eddie van Halen
Todd (VO): And Eddie does say he did most of the work. People have called Van Halen III an Eddie van Halen solo record in disguise, and I believe it. People took Eddie's side during the first breakup 'cause...well David Lee Roth is famously a total asshole. But, overtime, Eddie and Alex have looked more and more like colossal dicks and dictators. [clip of "One I Want"] It's hard to escape the impression that Cherone got hired not for his voice or his lyrics, but because he'd do what he was told. And that Mike Post forced out because Eddie wanted to be in charge. Even the bass parts are mostly from Eddie, I understand.
Todd: Why didn't he just decide he didn't need Cherone either?
Todd (VO): Well, guess what? He did.
Todd: What, Todd? Do you mean another instrumental? Yes...
Snippet of "Primary"
Todd (VO): ...there is another instrumental. But...
Todd: ...no, that's not what I'm talking about.
Live performance of "How Many Say I"
Eddie: Are you ever so silent, when she wanted to talk?
Todd (VO): The album closes out with a six-minute acoustic piano ballad sung by Eddie himself.
Eddie: Have you ever looked down when the homeless walked by?
Or changed the channel when you saw a hungry child?
[sarcastically] Deep, man.
Todd: This is the most embarrassing thing Eddie van Halen ever did. And just a few years earlier [pictures of Eddie van Halen with...] he got himself a short haircut and goatee that made him look like the forgotten third member of Brooks & Dunn.
Todd (VO): And that sad pathetic note definitively ended the Van Halen story. [another clip of "Without You"] The album flopped, the tour underperformed, Cherone was gone a year later. [clip of Van Halen - "Tattoo"] They've brought both Dave and Sammy back at various points, but it's been disappointing. By all accounts, the van Halens took complete control of the band. And that must've fucked up the dynamic, 'cause however they treat the other band members, whatever the process is now, it is not working.
Todd: And it's just a shame that they couldn't find some kind of way to make it right with them because they just couldn't do it all without them. [beat] Hey, wait! Is that what that song's about?!
Video for "Without You"
Todd (VO): Did Eddie write the lyrics to this, too?
Todd: Is this about the other singers?!
Gary: Just can't do it all
Todd (VO): But he did do it all without them. That's why it sucked!
Todd: My God! It's like its own autopsy about why it failed!
Video for "Without You" ends
Ending music: Todd plays "Ain't Talkin' 'bout Love" on piano
"Van Halen III" is owned by Warner Bros. Records
This video is owned by me
THANK YOU TO THE LOYAL PATRONS!