The Van Halen song that divided the band

Meta Description: Discover the intense band drama within Van Halen, from David Lee Roth’s departure to the tumultuous Sammy Hagar era. Learn about the conflicts and creative differences that shaped their music.

It’s not hard to see why the members of Van Halen started to tire of David Lee Roth after a while. His insistence on sticking to a set formula for their songs was starting to limit Eddie Van Halen’s creativity, along with Roth famously being a humungous presence to deal with even on an average day. It was only natural for them to transition to someone more easygoing like Sammy Hagar, but the next few years weren’t exactly stable either.

The Creative Shift with Sammy Hagar

When Hagar first joined the band, the differences between his voice and Roth’s played to the band’s strengths, offering a greater range for Eddie to work with when creating different melodic phrases. Although albums like For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge and 5150 remained classics in their catalog, the band members were not getting along when working on the album Balance.

Since it was released during the height of alternative rock, Van Halen was starting at a low point, with hardly any of the singles reaching the charts. Hagar had to drastically change the lyrics to the song “Don’t Tell Me What Love Can Do” because they reflected the death of Kurt Cobain too much. While those were changed at Eddie’s insistence, the one lyric that Hagar decided to keep was even more on the nose.

Controversial Lyrics and Band Tensions

Being a fun upbeat rock song, Hagar wrote “Amsterdam” about the wonders of the country through the eyes of an American, which often revolved around him getting high on as much grass as he could. While it might not be the most timeless song topic to write about, it got a lot more troubling when he presented it to the rest of the band, with Eddie and Alex Van Halen hailing from the Netherlands before moving to America.

Since Eddie put his foot down about “Don’t Tell Me,” Hagar’s lyrics stayed, which he complained about to Guitar World, saying: “I always hated the words ‘Wham, Bam Amsterdam’ from Balance because they were all about smoking pot—they were just stupid. Lyrics should plant some sort of seed for thought, or at least be a little more metamorphic.”

The Breaking Point

After finishing the album through gritted teeth, the band carried on through their next tour before deciding to take a creative break from each other. Once their label convinced them to write a song for the ‘90s action film Twister, Hagar’s lack of enthusiasm going into the studio was palpable from the minute he walked in, with Eddie criticizing him for some of the lyrics.

As the band was set to go back into the studio again for a new album, their label’s insistence on making a greatest hits package also didn’t sit well with Hagar, who thought that the band had at least one more decent record in them. After years of playing to the singer’s strength, Eddie was no longer looking to make compromises.

The Aftermath and Legacy

Over the next few months, the tension between Hagar and Eddie led to the band switching singers a second time, bringing in Gary Cherone for their often-maligned album Van Halen III. Though Sammy Hagar’s time with the band ended at the wrong time, Eddie’s son Wolfgang did stand up for what the band did during the ‘Van Hagar’ years as well. Eddie may have been right to stick to his guns at the time, but the amount of drama that went into creating this one Van Halen track led to one of the darkest periods in his life.

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