Naturally Wired: Van Halen’s OU812 Turns 35
Why we’re still all fired up about their best album with Sammy Hagar
It was 35 years ago today when Van Halen released their eighth LP and second work with former Montrose singer Sammy Hagar, the excellent OU812.
For me, this remains the best album VH ever made with Sammy. Titled in response to their former singer David Lee Roth’s exceptional 1986 solo full-length Eat ‘Em And Smile, OU812 saw the Hagar-led Van Halen raise the bar they set with 5150 to a new level of craftsmanship. Here, we find the duality between Eddie Van Helen’s oscillation between guitars and synthesizers achieving its pinnacle of sophistication on such hit singles as “When It’s Love” and “Feels So Good.”
But at the same time, the band’s predominance as America’s greatest guitar band was escalated as well by way of material like the country fried “Finish What Ya Started,” the stomping “Black and Blue” and a rugged, bluesy cover of Little Feat’s “A Apolitical Blues.”
I remember reading David Fricke’s review in Rolling Stone, his prose pointing me directly to the Record World at the Mid-Island Plaza in Hicksville, NY, with my cousin William to pick it up.
“Van Halen, contrary to purist grumbling, did not wimp out when Diamond Dave hit the bricks,” Fricke wrote in the June 30, 1988 issue. Quite the contrary, rather, when you take into consideration the album’s higher octane material like opening track “Mine All Mine,” “Source of Infection” and the record’s loudest track “A.F.U. (Naturally Wired)”–a song that proved the reckless abandon of the DLR days was alive and well in Van Hagar.
And dare we fail to mention one of the other best tracks on the album in “Cabo Wabo,” the song that inspired Sammy to venture into the tequila business–back before rock stars were regularly getting into the liquor game. The fact that Hagar himself is a killer guitarist in his own right also played its hand in how evolved Van Halen sounds on this album.
As someone nearing the end of his 8th grade year when it was released on May 24, 1988, OU812 was an album that truly cemented not only my undying love for Van Halen but for contemporary rock in general. It was so cool to see these guys on MTV all the time, wishing I was old enough to have caught them on that epic Monsters of Rock tour with the Scorpions, Dokken, Metallica and Kingdom Clone, I mean Come. It really was the best of times.
Anyway, I just realized today marked the 35th anniversary of my second-favorite VH LP (behind 1984), so I wanted to give it a quick salute. Thanks for reading.
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