5150 (pronounced "fifty-one-fifty") is the seventh studio album by American hard rock band Van Halen, released in 1986 on Warner Bros. Records. It was the first of four albums to be recorded with new lead singer Sammy Hagar, who replaced David Lee Roth.
It was named after Eddie Van Halen's home studio, 5150, itself named after a California law enforcement term for a mentally disturbed person (a reference to Section 5150 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code). The 5150 name has been used several times by Van Halen. The album hit number 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, surpassing the band's previous album, 1984, which had peaked at number 2 at the same time as Michael Jackson's Thriller album, on which Eddie Van Halen made a guest appearance.
Before the album was released, Van Halen had considerable difficulty finding a replacement for the popular David Lee Roth. To make matters worse, Warner Bros. Records advised them to discontinue the Van Halen name; in the beginning of 1986, Eddie and Alex Van Halen formally refused. The trio even considered having a series of temporary singers on the album to replace Roth, including Patty Smyth, Eric Martin and Jimmy Barnes. However, in July 1985, Eddie was referred to former Montrose singer Sammy Hagar by the mechanic who was working on his Ferrari. The pair hit it off and the new singer and band immediately began work on new songs.
Van Halen went to work on the album in November 1985; it would be finished in February 1986, just one month before its release.
The album was notable for a number of love songs and ballads, which were not a feature of the straightforward rock stylings of the Roth-fronted era of the band. Many who had heard the previous incarnation of Van Halen called the new iteration "Van Hagar" either derisively or affectionately, a nickname widespread enough that, as Hagar points out in his book, Warner Bros. asked them to consider renaming the band as such. Further increasing criticism was the loss of Ted Templeman, who, having produced every previous album for the band, left in order to produce Roth's solo LP debut, Eat 'Em and Smile. Templeman would return to contribute production to Van Halen's For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge album a few years later, which Andy Johns was tapped for. Donn Landee took over producer duties for 5150 after having served as an engineer on the previous albums. However, many noticed that the production on this album was markedly different from their earlier albums with Templeman. Eddie's guitar, which previously sat high in the mix and frequently pushed to the left channel (to simulate a "live" sound"), now sat equal in the mix and its overall sound had changed. This may have been his doing, as he was not a fan of the "live mix" that Templeman created with the Roth band. This is also the first Van Halen album not to feature any instrumental tracks.
Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones was also brought in as a producer, after Warner Bros. denied the band full creative latitude. According to Jones, the Van Halen brothers were "going through a particularly charged emotional relationship at the time, and there were some crazy situations that went on there." Jones feels that his biggest contribution to the album was working with Hagar on his dynamic vocal performances.
Despite the controversy associated with replacing Roth, the album itself was the first album by the band to hit #1 in sales. Although each prior Van Halen album had gone platinum, the band had not managed previously to top the album sales chart. The album was also Hagar's first #1 album, as stated by him on the Live Without a Net concert video.
A live video was created during the tour for this album, which was released as Van Halen - Live Without a Net, which has since been released on DVD. The tour itself was a significant change from previous tours. Where Van Halen had previously had years of material to work with, even on tour supporting the first album, Hagar was uncomfortable performing a number of Van Halen's Roth-penned hits. Therefore, almost all of the band's back catalog was dropped from the set lists. Instead, the band's live shows consisted of almost the entire 5150 track list, a few Hagar solo hits ("I Can't Drive 55", and "There's Only One Way to Rock") and assorted covers (such as Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" and Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll"). Of the Roth-era tracks, "Jump", "Panama", "Ain't Talkin' 'bout Love" and "You Really Got Me" were performed with regularity. Also, unlike Roth, Hagar was a technically proficient lead guitarist, which allowed Eddie to play live keyboards.
The opening song "Good Enough" can be heard in the movie Spaceballs.
To further introduce the new era for the band, a new Van Halen logo was introduced on the cover of the album. The new icon retained the VH of the original logo, but now it had curved, rather than straight, "wings".
The artwork features a retrofuturistic depiction of Atlas holding a sphere on his shoulders while kneeling; the model for the album was ESPN BodyShaping's Rick Valente. The Van Halen logo is wrapped around the sphere. The back cover of the album sees the Atlas character collapsed, with the sphere dropped and broken open, revealing the band inside.
Reviews for 5150 were initially mixed. The Village Voice's Robert Christgau rated the album a C+, which signifies "a not disreputable performance, most likely a failed experiment or a pleasant piece of hackwork." He wondered how "the guitar mavens who thought Eddie equalled Van Halen are going to like his fireworks displays and balls-to-the-wall hooks now that video star David Lee Roth has given way to one of the biggest schmucks in the known biz." He also stated that "no musician with something to say could stomach responding to Sammy Hagar's call".
Furthermore, Tim Holmes for Rolling Stone rated the album three out of five stars. He noted that "when it was announced that Van Halen had completed its talent search and the new voice was Sammy "I Can't Drive 55" Hagar, the response — even among hardened DLR detractors — tended more toward a bewildered "Huh? Montrose? What?" than resounding hosannas, huzzahs and what-a-good-idea's." Despite this, he stated that "part of Eddie Van Halen's cheeky genius [...] lies in his ability to think in terms of both complex orchestration and rock banalities". He also said that "Eddie can still split the atom with his axe, and he knows it. It's a Van Halen world with or without David Lee Roth, and 5150 shoots off all the bombastic fireworks of a band at the peak of its powers." He concluded that "ultimately, it is Eddie Van Halen's uncanny and intuitive ability to orchestrate these contradictions that gives the Van Halen machinery its velocity and amplitude, the qualities that blast the roof off the garage. There's plenty of hot party action down in rockland, but Eddie's band is the one with the chops — not just notes and chords and string-bashing Sturm und Drang, but the filigree detail that makes a simple-minded riff a symphony. [...] On 5150, Eddie Van Halen and Sammy Hagar speak each other's language."
A retrospective review from AllMusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine was fairly positive. Erlewine noted that "Eddie Van Halen wanted respect to go along with his gargantuan fame, and Roth wasn't willing to play. Bizarrely enough, Sammy Hagar – the former Montrose lead singer who had carved out a successful solo career – was ready to play, possibly because the Red Rocker was never afraid of being earnest, nor was he afraid of synthesizers, for that matter." He stated that "where Diamond Dave would have strutted through the song with his tongue firmly in cheek, Hagar plays it right down the middle, never winking, never joking. Even when he takes a stab at humor on the closing "Inside"—joshing around about why the guys chose him as a replacement—it never feels funny, probably because, unlike Dave, he's not a born comedian." He concluded that "it worked because they had the songs and the desire to party, so those good intentions and slow tunes don't slow the album down; they give it variety and help make the album a pretty impressive opening act for Van Halen Mach II."
All tracks written by Sammy Hagar, Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony.
NoteOriginally, there was going to be another song, "I Want Some Action", as a fifth B-side track. This song was never released.
Eddie Van Halen – lead guitar, keyboards, backing vocals
Alex Van Halen – drums, percussion
Sammy Hagar – lead and backing vocals
Michael Anthony – bass guitar, backing vocals
Mick Jones – producers
Donn Landee – producer, engineer
Eddie Van Halen – producer
Alex Van Halen – producer
Ken Deane – engineer
Bobby Hata – mastering
Jeri McManus – art direction
Van Halen – art direction
Aaron Rapoport – photography
Dan Chapman – illustration
Billboard (North America)
Billboard (United States)