20 Years Ago: Sammy Hagar’s ‘Unboxed’ LP Leads to Van Halen Split
Although he says his bandmates understood and agreed with his reasons for adding two new songs to this contractually-obligated album at the time, in the coming years ‘Unboxed’ would be the cause of much dispute for this lineup of the famous group. In fact, looking back, Hagar believes the project is where “all the bad blood started” that ultimately led to his 1996 departure from Van Halen.
In order for Hagar to leave his platinum-plus solo career behind to join Van Halen in 1985, he had to promise to deliver one more full-length solo album to his record label, Geffen. With new bandmate Eddie Van Halen on bass duty, Hagar dutifully released ‘I Never Said Goodbye‘ in 1987, hot on the heels of his Van Halen debut, ‘5150.’
However, the contract also allowed Geffen to release a best-of album from Hagar’s time with the label. He wasn’t obligated to contribute any new music for this collection, but he was offered enough extra money to do so to neatly resolve a messy personal financial situation. “By including two new songs for the ‘Unboxed’ project, I got Geffen to pay me exactly the amount of money I owed my wife for our divorce settlement.” Hagar explained to Guitar World magazine in 1997. “I paid her off with all the money I received for that album and didn’t make a dime off it.”
Hagar says he got approval from all of his bandmates for this plan. But a couple of years later, when Hagar objected to Van Halen’s plan to release their own hits compilation — declaring it a move only bands who are at the end of a stage in their career, not riding a hot streak of four straight No. 1 albums, should do — he says the Van Halen brothers accused him of being a hypocrite. The disagreements escalated as the pair allegedly pressured Hagar into recording a new song for that collection, as well as the song ‘Human Beings’ for the ‘Twister’ soundtrack, during what had been planned to be time off for the group.
Ultimately, in an angry phone call on Father’s Day 1996, Hagar quit or was fired from Van Halen, depending on which side you believe. Which meant ‘Unboxed’ wasn’t the solo career-capping statement he had intended it to be. “I’m telling you this as an honest man,” Hagar states. “If I would have ever dreamed that I wouldn’t be in Van Halen anymore and was going to have resume my solo career again, I would have never contributed anything towards my own greatest hits package, even for the money.” Hagar vented much of his frustration from this situation quite clearly on his first post-Van Halen solo album, 1997′s ‘Marching to Mars.’
So… was ‘Unboxed’ worth all this trouble? Well, that’s not really fair to ask, since it was coming out whether or not Hagar had contributed the two new songs (‘High Hopes‘ and ‘Buying My Way Into Heaven,’ both catchy and rousing but hardly legacy-enhancing). But apart from the intentional and somewhat perverse exclusion of Hagar’s highest-charting hit to date, 1982′s ‘Your Love is Driving Me Crazy,’ it’s a great collection of highlights from his time with Geffen, full of strong, hooky anthems like ‘There’s Only One Way to Rock, ‘I Can’t Drive 55′ and ‘Heavy Metal.’