Growing up in a Christian home in the 80s had some challenges, especially when it came to a music fanatic finding good music to listen to. For one thing, music I was allowed to listen to was drastically limited to the shallow pool of “Christian” music of the time (as if music can be inherently Christian or secular…but I digress). For another, most of said Christian music was worship music, or a sad attempt at copying what the world was recording and releasing. That said, I didn’t have a lot of options, so I listened to Whiteheart and Petra. A lot of Petra.
If any of you remember cassette tapes (wow, I’m really showing my age here), you know that if you popped out the tabs at the top of the cassette and then put scotch tape over the tabs, you could record over the previously recorded material.
Sorry mom, but this is how I was able to listen to secular music when I was in high school.
I remember recording ‘Crazy Nights’ by Kiss over an Imperials cassette, or listening to the radio on my boom box while doing my homework, and just recording what the DJ played, just to own some “quality” music.
For whatever reason, I’ve always been drawn to the aggression of hard rock music. Heavy guitar riffs, thundering drums, dudes who sing way too high…I just connect with it. While living at home with my mom and siblings and only being allowed Christian music, I got into the likes of Stryper, Whitecross, Bride, etc….
Then college happened.
I went to Northwestern College in the tiny rural town of Orange City, Iowa as a music major. Almost immediately upon arriving at college, I started buying as much music as I could. Though I now own over 5,000 albums, 5150 by Van Halen still holds a special place in my heart. That record came out in 1986 when I was in 10th grade, but of course I was not allowed to own it. I remembered hearing specific songs from that album like ‘Why Can’t This Be Love’ or ‘Dreams’ for example, while traveling with the high school basketball team, and I knew that I had to own that record.
One day, my roommate Eric was making a trip to a nearby city that actually had a record store. I gave him some money and asked if he could pick up 5150 for me. I went to my classes throughout the day, wondering when he’d be back and I’d be holding that album in my hands. As I was at orchestra practice, banging on some tympani (in tune and in time, I might add), in walked Eric. My heart skipped a beat. Sorry Eric, not for you.
I waited until the conductor stopped to instruct the clarinets how to properly play a part, walked around the orchestra to where Eric was, got my new Van Halen cassette, and walked back to the percussion section. I was pretty much absent for the rest of that practice, just waiting as patiently as possible for class to be over so I could pump some heavy metal into my ears.
5150 is the first Van Halen record that had Sammy Hagar as the lead singer. Their previous singer, David Lee Roth, was a larger than life rock star who was beloved by most Van Halen fans. Needless to say, Hagar had some big shoes to fill. The first sound on 5150 wasn’t a scorching Eddie Van Halen guitar riff, or a banging Alex Van Halen drum intro, but simply Sammy Hagar screaming “Hello baaaaaaaaaaby!”
What an intro! It felt like he was saying “Hey, it’s me, I’m the guy now and despite your fears I am going to rock your world for the next 45 minutes!.” Sure enough, the song ‘Good Enough’ kicked the album off the right way and I was hooked.
Though I am a fan of the Roth-era Van Halen, thanks to 5150 and Sammy’s incredible performance, I will always prefer Hagar-era Van Halen. 5150 contains nine tracks of fantastic hard rock, such as the blistering double bass fueled “Get Up” and driving guitar riffs of the title track, yet also rocks with some synth infused songs, like ‘Dreams’ and one of my favorite Van Halen songs ever, ‘Love Walks In.’
As far as I’m concerned, 5150 can and should be looked at as the high standard for production quality and performance. The drums sound amazing, the guitars are so clean, the mix is perfect….this is the perfect hard rock album.
I’m not so much a nostalgic person, but whenever I listen to this album (and it’s quite often) I’m brought back to that fine day in 1990 when my roommate placed that newly purchased copy into my hands for the first time. Every time I here I still get that same feeling of pure joy that I felt thefirst time I heard the album from front to back.
That kind of joy is priceless, my friends.
Jeremy Orris is a mailman by day, and metal drummer by day and night. He currently drums for the bands Limbs Of The Arbitrator (https://www.facebook.com/limbsofthearbitrator) and Idekay (https://www.facebook.com/Idekay). He is a fan of MMA, music and movies, and is thankful to have a loving and supportive wife and son, who put up with his weirdness on a daily basis.