Headbangers’ Brawl is a weekly column where Metal Insider’s Bram and Zach take a moment to debate and analyze two opposing sides of a topical issue occurring in the world of metal and/or the music industry.
Two classic hard rock bands made news this week as rumors of a Black Sabbath reunion and possible new song from Van Halen with David Lee Roth swirled around the interwebz. While the main thing to be taken out of both stories was not to hold your breath for new music from either band (especially since the latest Van Halen rumor has already been shot down), it got us thinking about the lineups of each band. It’s not often that bands replace their singers and soldier on, but that’s happened multiple times with both bands. So with that in mind, what we’re brawling about is which lineup of each band, other than the ones featured on their first albums, we like the most.
But instead of just Bram and Zach yelling at each other alone, we had some friends join in. Weighing in on the matter are Jon Freeman from Freeman Promotions as well as Melissa Meyers and Kodi McKinney from MI’s parent company The Syndicate.
Zach: Believe it or not, this is actually a tougher decision for me than you’d think. Pretty much it’s come down to two choices for me: Dio era Sabbath or Hagar era Van Halen. I’ve seen both lineups live multiple times, and both have great songs (yes, even Van Hagar. Don’t lie, you’ve blasted “Why Can’t This Be Love” on your car stereo). However, I’m going to have to go with Dio-era Sabbath.
They may not have had as many hits as the Ozzy era lineup, or than Van Hagar for that matter, but the material Sabbath wrote with Dio is still extremely solid. Heaven & Hell is a classic metal album that reintroduced the band who many felt couldn’t live on without Ozzy. Nothing against the songs Van Halen did with Hagar, but their poppiness arguably lost them a lot of cred.
Bram: It’s impossible to not go with Dio-era Sabbath. I mean, after Ozzy left, replacing him with someone that not only had a phenomenal voice, but was already a known commodity, was a great move. That said, I’ll always have a soft spot for 1989’s Headless Cross with Tony Martin singing and ELP drummer Cozy Powell stepping in for Bill Ward. I’d never call that the best lineup, since Tony Iommi was the only original member by then, but it was a pretty solid album nonetheless.
And as far as Van Halen, I can’t really say I liked any incarnation other than the original one. All four members were great musicians, they were charismatic, and they released six great albums in five years. Sam Halen was ok, and I can’t say Hagar is a bad singer, but I can say that he was the Jimmy Buffet of rock. There’s nothing metal about a guy in a Hawaiian shirt. EVER. And while that era of VH definitely had some great songs, I think that era of the band can be summed up best by this. And Van Halen without Michael Anthony isn’t Van Halen.
Jon: Well I’m not going to pick either the Dio or Hagar era lineup. And no my taste in music isn’t bad enough for me to say Van Halen with Gary Cherone. I think most people would like to forget about that time in music. My choice (like Bram’s) is Black Sabbath with Tony Martin on vocals. The album Headless Cross was in my opinion and is to many the best non-Ozzy Sabbath album. In this version of the band, there was only one original member, that being Tony Iommi. Laurence Cottle was on bass, Cozy Powell was on drums and Brian May of Queen guested on a track (making him the only guitarist to ever guest on a Sabbath record). Sure, this may not be the classic lineup or the obvious choice to most, but this lineup was pretty damn good. Together there were five albums recorded with Tony Martin on vocals (The Eternal Idol, Headless Cross, TYR, Cross Purposes and Forbidden), but by far and away the best was Headless Cross. Do yourself a favor and check out this album and lineup of Sabbath that you may have overlooked.
Melissa: I LOVE Black Sabbath, Dio, Ozzy and the whole nine. However, my reasoning for the following choice is for the sheer fact I HATE with a strong, vicious passion Sammy Hagar. If that man never lived, I would be happy. I have hand selected all of my Van Halen tunes that he sang on, and took them off my iTunes. HATE. In fact, I have such a personal vendetta against him and that Cabo Wabo shit because when I saw him open for a band who will remain nameless, the dick was PROMOTING his Cabo Wabo at a DRY VENUE, and singing every once and awhile.
Personal loathing aside, I will choose any of the Van Halen line ups not including the Red Rocker. When rumors escalated in 2007 about the reunion, people went ballistic. Bass player, Michael Anthony had been snubbed and excluded from the family tour and replaced with 16 year old, Wolfgang. Eddie quit his drinking and womanizing and completed rehab. Alex dusted off the skins and climbed back behind the four, YES FOUR kick drums that would make Tommy Lee jealous. Diamond Dave stretched out and did the splits with ease, while Wolfie lived out every kid’s dream and stood by his dad and uncle selling out arenas night after night.
Yes, I am fully aware that there have not been any recordings made public (yet) that Wolfgang has appeared on. However, it has been stated by the band, friends, and producers that the Van Halen family has finished their newest album earlier this year. Also, the 2007 line up was the highest grossing touring line up in the bands history, and reports claim that the band brought in almost 93 million dollars. Not to mention, it was a damn great fucking show!
This is as close to the original line up as you are EVER going to get. Fuck the Hagar and his measly 11 years in the band. I ain’t talkin’ about love here. Diamond Dave has all the showmanship, the ego, and the acrobatics anyone is ever going to need. Because of this consistency of rockatude, I am going to have to argue that this lineup is far superior than that of any reincarnation of Black Sabbath.
I love Dio, Ozzy, Iommi and all of Black Sabbath. However, I will never see Black Sabbath as they intended to be as they were with Heaven & Hell (RIP Ronnie). For the sake of argument, I will have to say that the Van Halen family and Dimond Dave lineup is far superior then the remnants of what can be pieced together of Black Sabbath.
Kodi: “Who had the better lineup after the original?” That’s a debate? Part of what made Van Halen work as well as they did was having David Lee Roth’s cornball personality to keep Eddie’s legendary chops from getting too overblown. He was never the most technically impressive singer, but he had range to work with and charisma for days. He also had a gigantic ego, but it worked for that band because it gave Eddie room to keep expanding his technique and kept them in the spotlight.
Now, it’s obvious that I’ve got to say something about Van Hagar here. While Eddie’s musical progression did eventually lead to the diluted ballads of Sammy Hagar’s time with the band, I can’t fault Hagar for that because it’s already where Eddie was going to go. So let’s not even talk about songwriting and instead talk about Sammy Hagar himself. I’ve just never been sold on him as a frontman. He has presence and he’s ridiculously talented, but think about how many singers of that era sounded better or, more importantly, sounded more unique than him. To me, he’s always just seemed very vanilla and completely replaceable. Combine where Eddie was going with what Hagar was, and it just seemed like Van Halen had diluted itself to sound closer to their inferior imitators of the period.
Black Sabbath with Ozzy Osbourne was kind of the opposite dynamic from Roth and EVH; Tony Iommi kept the riffs coming, and that diffused some of Ozzy’s cheesier tendencies. But more importantly, Black Sabbath has some straight-up classic material without Ozzy, in particular Heaven and Hell, which converted a lot of skeptical Ozzy fans at the time. The Ronnie James Dio-fronted Sabbath had an anthemic vibe that suited them just as well as their more ominous beginnings, and Dio’s time in the band is even preferable to Ozzy’s for some. I love the Ozzy lineup and the Dio lineup equally, and many of Black Sabbath’s fans do too. You’re unlikely to find such kind opinions on Van Hagar, and that’s before we even get into Gary Cherone or how Van Halen works now without Michael Anthony’s important harmonies. It’s barely even a comparison.