The story of legendary hard rock outfit Van Halen begins with their namesake: Brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen, who grew up in a musical family in Pasadena, California. Both were drawn to rock 'n' roll as teenagers, with Eddie learning drums and Alex learning guitar before the two eventually switched. They started a band called Mammoth in 1974, bringing in locals David Lee Roth and Michael Anthony as vocalist and bass player respectively. They needed to change their name after finding out there was another Mammoth, and settled on Van Halen after seriously considering calling themselves Rat Salade. Gigging in and around Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Pasadena, they became a formidable live act, eventually getting the attention of Gene Simmons from Kiss, who paid for a demo recording and brought the band to the attention of Warner Bros., who signed them before the band released their landmark self-titled debut in 1978.
They scored three major radio hits with their first album: "Jamie's Cryin'," "Runnin' with the Devil," and their cover of the Kinks' "You Really Got Me." Eddie's sophisticated guitar-playing technique and Roth's flamboyant personality quickly became iconic, and the band's next several albums all fared very well. The following year's Van Halen II continued in the same vein of hard rock, scoring a hit with "Dance the Night Away" and touring the world as a headliner for the first time. Women and Children First and Fair Warning did fairly well (though weren't quite as popular as their predecessors), but the band did score a hit with 1984's Diver Down, featuring a charting cover of Roy Orbison's "(Oh) Pretty Woman."
It was 1984 that would make the band major superstars, boasting their biggest hit yet with the synth-driven "Jump," as well as canonical anthems "Panama" and "Hot for Teacher." The tensions within by the band by this time were enormous, however, given differences of musical vision between the members of the band, exemplified by David Lee Roth's exuberant solo outing Crazy from the Heat in 1985, which scored him a major novelty hit with "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody," an Al Jolson/Louis Prima medley. Roth was fired from Van Halen about this time, quickly replaced by singer Sammy Hagar. The "Red Rocker" had forged both a popular solo career and had already served as frontman for Montrose, and brought his own singing style to 1986's 5150 and 1988's OU812, both of which continued the band's streak of hits with "Why Can't This Be Love," "Love Walks In," and "When It's Love" among others. The video for "Right Now," off of 1991's For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, was an MTV hit.
By 1995, Hagar and Eddie Van Halen's relationship was strained due to Eddie's alcoholism and Hagar's reluctance to take part in a greatest hits compilation. It is unclear whether Hagar quit or was fired, but for a short period after his departure, Roth rejoined the group, and was fired shortly thereafter following an MTV appearance. In 1998, the band released Van Halen III, marking their first and only outing with Gary Cherone as lead singer. Following relatively poor album and ticket sales, Cherone was dismissed in 1999, and despite news of new recordings and several reunion rumors in the following decade, no concrete Van Halen plans emerged until 2007, when Eddie's son Wolfgang replaced Michael Anthony on bass guitar for a successful Roth-fronted reunion tour.
Read more about Van Halen in Crawdaddy!:
"Cease-and-Desist's Greatest Hits"
"For Unlawful Cuomo Knowledge: Van Halen vs. Weezer"
"Risk-Free Rebellion: The Music of Heavy Metal"