Was Sammy Hagar Really As Big As Van Halen When He Joined The Band?
Is the Red Rocker off his rocker?
Sammy Hagar was recently interviewed by Dan Rather for his AXS TV show The Big Interview and in it he made a statement I wouldn’t have believed he made unless I heard him say it. He told Rather that he was, “As big as Van Halen” when he joined the group in 1985. If you don't believe me, just watch the clip in the video above.
Let me just say that I’m a huge Sammy fan. Anyone who knows me will tell you that. I love pretty much everything he’s done from his days with Montrose to his solo career to Van Halen to Chickenfoot and beyond. Calling him out is not something I take pleasure in, but this is just crazy.
I guess you could go with two different approaches to this argument. One would be to look at straight numbers as far as record sales, radio single success and concert attendance numbers. The other, would be to just go on what I remember experiencing as a 13-year-old in 1985, around the time Sammy joined the band.
As far as numbers go, Sammy had released 8 solo albums between 1976 and 1984. The highest charting album he released was 1982’s Three Lock Box which went to #17. The rest barely cracked the top 30 at best. Of those eight albums, two of them went platinum for a million copies sold, while one went gold with 500,000 copies sold. The rest never reached the 500,000 sales mark.
As far as singles, Sammy had released about 15 throughout his solo career. He had one top 20 single and two Top 40 singles, the highest being 1982's “Your Love Is Driving Me Crazy” which went to #13.
As for concert sales, concert insiders would know more than we would, I suppose, but, according to Sammy in the Dan Rather interview, he was selling out double nights everywhere in the country.
Now, let’s look at Van Halen with David Lee Roth from 1978 to 1984. The band released six albums during that time. The 1978 debut went to #19, while all five following albums went to the top 10, with 1984 reaching the highest at #2.
Then, there are record sales. Van Halen’s debut has sold 10 million copies. 1979’s Van Halen II sold five million. 1980's Women & Children First sold three million. 1981’s Fair Warning sold two million, 1982’s Diver Down sold four million, and 1984? That album sold 10 million copies.
Now let's take a look at the band's singles. Van Halen churned out 20 during the classic era, and seven of them hit the Top 40. Four of them went Top 20, and then there’s the #1 single, “Jump”.
As far as concert numbers go, I don’t know the exacts, but I do know the band played in front of 300,000 people as headliners at the 1983 US Festival. That’s not too shabby. As for the 1984 tour, it was gargantuan. Van Halen played up to three nights in Maryland, San Francisco, Houston, and Dallas. They were the biggest band in the world in 1984. MTV loved them. How many times a day were they playing “Jump”, “Panama” and “Hot For Teacher”? A lot.
The numbers clearly tell a different story than the one Sammy told Dan Rather.
As far as I can remember, I knew a little of Sammy Hagar in 1985, and it was based solely on his “I Can’t Drive 55” video from 1984 which had gotten a lot of rotation on MTV in those days. The album it came off of, VOA, made Sammy a household name.
I still remember a classmate of mine at St. Thomas Junior High School in Southington brought the VOA cassette with him to school, and was showing it off to a kid sitting next to him before class started. Dale Boucher was his name. I still remember it well because he couldn't wait to point out the song title, "Dick In The Dirt" to us. We were real rebels, weren't we? Anyway, back to my argument. Was Sammy on the level of a Van Halen? No way. He was getting radio airplay, but not nearly as much as VH, at least on the Connecticut stations I listened to at the time.
Maybe there are people reading this, who are older than me, that remember things differently. I was about 13 in 1985, so maybe I missed out on something. I know Sammy had been around for a while, and had a successful solo career, maybe it was bigger than I thought.
Part of me wonders if Sammy needed to believe he was as big as Van Halen in order to take the pressure off of him going in because, let’s face it, he was under a ton of pressure. Nobody thought Van Halen stood a chance with Sammy in the band. Nobody.
What he did as lead singer of that band is still hard to believe. They not only succeeded as a band, they thrived with four consecutive #1 albums. That's something the band never achieved with David Lee Roth, which leads us to the inevitable argument: Which era of Van Halen is better: The Dave era or the Sammy era? I’m gonna go 50/50 on that one. Or is it 51/50?