Ever have something you kinda keep up with for fun? It’s not really something you’re into nor does it affect you but it’s something you follow just for kicks? That’s sorta like my interest in the music group Van Halen. I’m hardly a huge fan, but the drama sure is interesting.

Van Halen was formed in the late 1970’s. The name came from the last name of the two brothers in the band, Eddie and Alex. Their lead singer was the eccentric David Lee Roth. They took the world by storm and became larger than life celebrities.

After their 1984 album, 1984, Roth left the group. Van Halen replaced him with solo artist Sammy Hagar and drove on. A number of people didn’t come along, and a number of others joined up for the first time. Hagar made the group sound different, and there’s pretty much an even split on whether or not it was for the best. Still, even though the band, to some degree, had to start over from scratch they topped their previous success by the mid ’90’s, the culmination of which was their 1991 album, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.

One of the band’s dynamics has always been to bicker and fight, and apparently they never stopped this. In 1996 the members of the band, sans Hagar, decided to come out with a greatest hits album with some new songs. Hagar disagreed, saying it was not good for the group at the time, and refused to play along. So the band members decided to call Roth back up. Roth came in and recorded two new songs. The band members decided that it was time to kick Hagar out of the group and did so via a phone call on Father’s Day. The album, The Best Of Van Halen Volume 1, sold truckloads, mostly on the premise that the old band was back.

Now, at this point I must interject – I’ve listened to all of the Van Halen albums and I must say: they’re much better with Hagar. Make no mistake, these are two separate groups, but the Hagar years are better. He’s got a better voice, the songs are better, etc. So why does everyone get excited when Roth rejoins the group. Well, besides the notion that most people just disagree with me, there’s also the fact that I think most people just really want their past back – their lives were probably much easier in the early 1980’s and they would love it if they could get even a little of that back.

So the culmination of all of this was the reunited Van Halen at the MTV Video Music Awards. Afterwards though the honeymoon was already over. The band started fighting again and it has been said that it all started coming back why they didn’t want Roth in the group to begin with (debate continues to this day as to whether or not Roth left to persue his bizarre solo career or whether he was kicked out). Roth was fired from the group. What tends to happen when a departed band member comes back they don’t get to rejoin the group, they’re intead “hired” as an employee to the band. KISS even goes so far as to “contract” its former members. The key difference is the much easier ability to fire them (or let their contracts expire) and of course they only recieve a fraction of the money they would get as a member. Roth was brought on as an employee of Van Halen and then fired.

So since they fired Roth and had fired Hagar they decided to go look for a third lead singer. They plucked Gary Cherone, fresh from the newly broken up band Extreme, and hired him. The resulting album, 1998’s Van Halen III, is widely regarded as the worst Van Halen album ever. Cherone is a poor power singer trying to sound too much like Hagar, and the songs themselves are just generally poor. After three years and tired of all the criticism he was recieving for “ruining” Van Halen (the second time VH’s been ruined, apparently) he left the group.

This is where the story gets odd and, to some degree, undocumented. Van Halen is in shambles. They have to either disband, hire a fourth lead singer, or hire one of their former lead singers back. Cherone is out, since he just left. Sammy Hagar has since gone on to a fantastic second solo career, while Roth’s has sputtered and died. The word is they went and hooked up with Roth to record new material – and then that went south again.

So for a long time nothing happened. Roth created a new group, The DLR Band, and dived further into eccentricity. Hagar remained friends with the Van Halen drummer Alex Van Halen, much to the chagrin of the other band members. Hagar and Roth then decided to tour together, titling the tour “Sans Halen”. They finished out the tour but Hagar vowed never to tour with Roth again, as he was difficult to get along with and apparently was oblivious as to his modern day relevance (or lack thereof). Even dedicated sites like the Van Halen News Desk decided to pack it in and call it a day.

For the longest time it looked like Van Halen was done for. But then earlier this year the rumors came down that they had decided to re-hook up with Hagar. The rumors were confirmed when a press release was issued – Van Halen was back together with Sammy Hagar and getting ready for a summer tour. A new 2-CD greatest hits compilation, The Best Of Both Worlds, is due to be released on July 19th. It will have three new songs, and none of the songs from the Charone era or the Roth reunion songs.

I’ve heard one of the three new songs, “It’s About Time”. It’s pretty good – classic, non-boat rocking Van Halen. The song title brings to light the “double meaning” of new songs. One of the two new Roth songs on Best Of Can Halen Volume 1 was “Can’t Get This Stuff No More”, alluding (I believe) to the older sound of Van Halen (a title which turned ironic when Roth was fired). The new song on the Billy Idol album was a cover of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” – obviously a cry for a second chance. And you don’t have to even guess about the one new Michael Jackson song on Number Ones entitled “One More Chance” – another obvious cry for help even more ironic in the light of his recent round of litigation.

I’ve read they were experimenting with the Van Halen III album – the experiement failed. I’d usually say something about how bad it must be to be a group who can’t innovate – people (myself included) want them to sound the same way they always have (though in my case, I prefer their second incarnation), but hey – that’s life. There’s no law that says they have to continue at all, fired singers or no. They’ve tried the “we won’t do it” bit for six years now and apparently they’ve decided that their innovation or pride isn’t as important as continuing to do what they want to do.

Oh, and make piles upon piles of money off of now starved fans. Rock on.