Best Of Volume 1

Van Halen

Warner Brothers Records, 1996

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


In some ways, I hate greatest hits albums. I don't hate them because some labels add the obligatory one rare song that makes people like me (who have all the other albums already) want to go out and buy the same tracks for the fifth time. No, I hate them because no matter how good the intentions are, the package always seems to be lacking something. It's like getting into a water fight when the other competitors have fire hoses; in the end, you lose.

In the case of Best Of Volume 1, the package that was supposed to tie up the loose ends of Van Halen's first two chapters, it's not that the producers did a bad job on the set. If anything, this is a compilation that seems to beg for a second volume - and in the end, it seems far too short and narrow-sighted.

By focusing on only the tracks that get overplayed on rock radio, this set leaves out many of the gems of Van Halen's career that the true fans get off listening to. Also lost in the shuffle are the cover versions of songs - which acts as a relief in one sense (more on that in just a second) but also guarantees that 1982's Diver Down album will be missing in action in this set.

How can not hearing a cover song be a relief? Simple: it places Eddie Van Halen's groundbreaking solo "Eruption" in its own unique light without tieing it down to the same old material. If anything, this breathes new life into a 22-year-old piece - and it actually sounds natural to hear the solo fade out and lead into "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love". Unfortunately, natural is not the word to describe the hatchet job done to "Runnin' With The Devil" and its reconfiguration. I'm hoping this is just a glitch on my copy of the tape - but if this re-edited version (which criminally breaks up the song and ends up having Alex Van Halen's drum work start and stop erratically) was done on purpose, then I have one question: my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 what the fuck were you THINKING ?!?

I don't have much argument with the songs that were included in this package, to be honest. As overplayed as some of these tracks have gotten over the years, there is still a moment when my heart skips a beat when I hear the opening guitar and mellotron lead for "And The Cradle Will Rock...", or I hear the keyboard work that leads off both "Jump" and "Right Now".

The two new tracks recorded with David Lee Roth before he got sacked - again - from the band, "Can't Get This Stuff No More" and "Me Wise Magic", sound like they could have easily been leftovers from the days of Fair Warning or 1984, and suggested that had the band not been explosive like nitroglycerine, they easily could have gone back out and kicked the rock world's ass. (Rumors are now flying that Roth is back for his third stint with the band. I swear, he's becoming the Billy Martin of hard rock.)

My complaints - besides the piss-poor judgment shown on "Runnin' With The Devil"? I have two. First, Sammy Hagar really seems to get the short end of the stick on Best Of Volume 1. Roth is featured on 10 of the album's tracks; Hagar only gets seven. The band enjoyed its greatest commercial success under Hagar's watch, even though they only recorded four albums with him as lead throat. Somehow, I think he deserved a little more credit than he was shown here.

That kind of leads into complaint number two. I can think of numerous tracks that were just as worthy of inclusion on this compilation. What about "Ice Cream Man" off of Van Halen? "Beautiful Girls" from Van Halen II? "In A Simple Rhyme" from Women And Children First? "So This Is Love?" from Fair Warning? Anythingoff of Diver Down? "Black And Blue" or "Finish What You Started" from OU812? "Runaround" from For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge? For every Van Halen fan, there will be a list like this; only the song lists will differ. Had this been a two-disc set, I would have completely understood and graciously accepted it.

Make no mistake, there's plenty on Best Of Volume 1 to enjoy, and it does capture the popular appeal of Van Halen. But as it stands, it's still an incomplete picture - a picture that can only be finished by thorough listening of their entire catalog, warts and all.

Rating: B

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