CRIT: MUSIC: Sammy Hagar's Top 10 Songs


Few are more representative of everything good/bad about 1980's rock than Mr. Samuel Roy Hagar.

Heck, I even like some of his songs (in a guilty pleasure kind of way) because they are not as bad as some of the worst of the worstest 80's rock, but that is not the issue here today. Like a lot of second generation rockers turned conservative (Ted Nugent, Bob Seger, Billy Squire, Dennis Miller, etc) Sammy paid his dues in some underdog bands of the late late 60s and 70s which were themselves minor, but by the end of the decade he had broken out on the strength of rock and roll itself.

So I guess what I hate about Sammy Hagar is that he seems to think he is rock and roll's President for life and that white guys showing you how to spend their rock and roll money is all the freedom and sex power the world could ever want or need.

Jumping from the journeyman class to icon status was a big leap for Sam because his leathery lothario look was/is a stretch for a youth obsessed music market. (Still, a goatee is an iconic look for the hipster set). In the 70's and before, age was supposedly worth wisdom rather than a summary dismissal. Amazingly, all kinds of sorta ugly but talented people got airplay and made decent livings as musicians, unlike today. So he was able to pull it off because he began in the pre-MTV era and when it came he used it well to sell his always sunny and superior lifestyle brand.

Yes, if only you'd heed the creed, that Sammy Hagar does everything better than you. Because roick and rool!

His car is better than your car. His weekend is going to better than your weekend. The color he likes is the best color, ever. His Van Halen is better than your Van Halen. There is only one way to rock: his. He is a better lover than you. His rocks have rocks and they're harder than your rocks' rocks. You are a sucker for hoping to touch his stuff. His entendres are double the size of your entendres. His women are hotter than your women. His flavor savor soul patch has got more soul than yours, if you even have one.

He knows, cause he's been all over the world to witness it and you probably haven't. He's pretty in parachute pants and posing like an action movie hero telling those in the Middle East to be on their toes. Because rowk.

He drinks more than you. He excites more women than you. Almost every hit song by the guy sells his rock and rule attitude, the one that makes what he does so much better than everyone else. Like America itself, he kicks ass and claims the right of male dominion over all he surveys, from the Mexican language and land to things he surely is not any more of an expert about than any other hard drinker, tequila. (We know, because tbh my band's artisan tequila is cooler than your band's artisan tequila).

He is rock n roll Jesus minus the facepaint but with a whole lot of Broadway bombast, almost as big as the great white way itself. If you would only let him touch you with his cheap sexuenndos or his Les Paul in your face you could be healed. He's an All American Rockin Romeo in The Danger Zone Who Is Going To Keep On Rockin. You betcha (wink).

And this is how America arrives at jingoism.

He cannot be constrained by traffic safety laws. He must not bend to common courtesy. (Well, he did have a point and now it's a 65 or 70 limit on some highways. Touche). Even when these kinds of rockers get sensitive and sing a ballad, it’s from a place of confidence and bravado. Hey, baby, you're lucky I can be such a vulnerable guy, too. Let me prove to you how open and soulful a white guy in a leather suit can be, before I mansplain love to you some more the manly way it was meant to be done, with guitars and come-ons.

After all is said and sung, it turns out that gets on your nerves.

It's not the musicianship, which is often decent despite being all power chords and licks. It's not that he can't write a sensitive song or a decent rocker. It's that music is often the sum of its parts. Even if the performance is ept instead of inept (I'm guessing that's a word), if the attitude of the singing --the tone, timbre, and connotation-- is grating or the posture is a little off or the lyrics don't charm, it just rubs wrong or gets raw.

The basic problem of listening to Sammaay Hagar is that he gets hackneyed so quick. How can you stomach another reverbed-out stadium-sized Ovation acoustic/electric song about Eagles soaring over America with a big drum chorus and big guit solo, as if the Eagles didn't already exist to universal disclaim? It's masculine mastur-theater, and then it starts hurting your brain, and then finally your ears.

Hagar has a limited vocal range but unlimited enthusiasm about his toys. It wears you down with its forced frivolity. Mandatory fun is no fun at all, as Prince's crew might tell you. Truth is, there are hundreds of rock singers with a voice like his, so that’s why I just give credit to Richie Blackmore and call it a day. Everyone else is a Deep Purple wannabe in the end. Saves me time.

Nevermind that he also infected Van Halen and led them to even more shallow waters than David Lee Roth could. Basically, almost anything good in the 70's went to seed in the 80s. It's a fact. Yet, Sammy offers no apologies. Apologies are for pussy libruls.

Fine. You can keep em, Mr Haggar and his slacks. Why? We've got better things to do with our time than accept your fake news style mea culpa even if you ever wanted to make one. Other guys are actually sincerely trying to make the world a better place with their humility.

For example, the other day I was reading Phil Collins' biography, and he starts by saying "sorry for Live Aid' in the introduction. Sorry, he admits. It was a mistake, though it wasn't really even his fault. But now, Sammy is a conservative. So despite the fact that 80's Van Halen has a lot of aesthetic transgressions to apologize for, in the end he is the type that would never admit to it. That would be unRedRocker of him. It violates his code.

And that's basically what's wrong with 80's rock and rollers in a nutshell. They never grow up, they never mature, and they just keep plowing the same fallow field like one of their tour-bus fat chicks they joke about rolling in flour to find the wet spot. Hardee har har, I guess I'll take Cindy Lee Berryhill over Sammy Lee Roth.

Still, what are his good songs? He does have some since his formula is surely a winner or we wouldn't be talking about him at all. People do like to live a rock and roll fantasy, like Bad Company promised. Sammy's got about ten decent songs and two good albums, tops. This is the kind of rock artist where a greatest hits package will be more rewarding than actually buying the early albums to see if there are some hidden jems. Let us save you some time: they're not worth it. Yet, which ones might be worth your time if you're like a millennial doing your due diligence on bad 80s rock? Here they are, worst to best.

10. Three Lock Box - Decently propulsive Billy Squire riff and lyrics that at least make you think he's not going to sing about his sex life or what's in his garage, mercifully, so there's that. May be a stab at courting the fundamentalist Midwest crowd, I dunno.

9. Plain Jane - Another simple riff turns into a mid-tempo pop rocker with shouted chorus, but with a fairly tuneful hook. This could have been a Bob Seger song like 'Her Strut' or something. Maybe 38 Special? This song style of Sam the Hams, which includes I'll Fall In Love Again and Your Love Is Driving Me Crazy, are all the same song, basically, but they work melodic rock pretty well. Pop chorus, less crunch in the verses, reassuring synths for radio. Somewhat optimistic twaddle about loving women that make life hard with their woman-ness. I'll Fall In Love has an interesting falling falsetto break and perhaps even more catchy hooks, but Jane is less cloying and more muscular. That is what we want from Sammy, not necessarily 80's Jefferson Starship style pop rock.

8. This Planet's On Fire (Burn In Hell) - Doing the AC/DC riff before AC/DC got to it, this song has a nice fast pace and a hummable chorus with a nice stop to make the "burn in hell" snarl pop just a little bit. Lacks a decent bridge, but this is one of his early hits.

7. Heavy Metal (soundtrack) - Amount as much power as his type of rock can generate, a decent riff with a stop start aspect that is gratifying. Singing about electricity and various degrees of amperage would probably give Tesla a hard on to hear this song. It must generate some kind of magnetic field. This explains why the Moon Over My Sammy's hair is always curly like he just got out of the shower. Or is it a perm?

6. There's Only One Way To Rock - It's a cliché, but the riff has energy. Plus, he does have a point. He drinks from a universal plasma pool of libido, just as everyone does, full of permutations of the Divine Oversoul. Right? He's a transcendentalist. Variety in music is an illusion, and we'd understand that if only we could hear the primal vibration of the original rock OM. But to pierce the veil, one must not succumb to the mental masturbation of people less assured than Sammy. He knows that anyone trying to rock at 8pm sharp is a loser proposition. Give the crowd an extra five minutes to stew in the intensity of their expectations before lifting the curtain.That's basically like an entertainment truism.

5. Can't Get Loose - An interesting amount of space in this song's production is due to the Pat Benetar style echo-pulse synth. The lyrics actually approach profundity here, though it's just some dualisms that are getting in the way of cosmic justice in the universe, according to Hagar the Horrible. Still, it shows a little pity or humanity regarding life's struggles rather than more of his empty triumphalism.

4. Fast times at Ridgemont High - A good primal Billy Squire beat and some hard guitar stabs leads to a decent chorus. The detuned synth mirroring the guitar riff makes it texturally interesting. The standoffish teenage oriented lyrics are exactly all up in Sammy's wheelhouse, too. The turbine winding down sound in the break is decent. Heck, just to extend the chorus he even does a truck driver's gearshift for exactly four bars, proving he really does care! Foreigner would have loved to write this.

3. Rock and Roll Weekend - Really, this song does get me excited for the weekend with a little boogie in there too. It really was a thing back in the days when all you could do was use your parent's landline telephone to plan a party. This song is just a tad bit better than the Bon Jovi before Bon Jovi-isms of Axe's Rock N Roll Party in the Streets, too.

2. Trans Am - His car is also his brand, and this song captures everything good and bad about Sammy in one song. The "Speak and Spell" bridge where they dictate Trans Am to us is just a hoot, but it has tension and release with that laughing guitar vamp to cap it off. Good little 8 bar "she shines" section, too. Overall, the song has a nice crunchy chugging boogie sound and Zeppelin Whole Lotta divebomb guitar, so what's not to like? Just hope the guy is not a terror on the road in this thing and sticks to the speed limit so that he doesn’t endanger innocent lives! But who knows if the squares can contain a guy who rock n roll elected president. As we know, if the President does it, it's not illegal.

1. Red - Let's face it, he knows his branding. Pick a haircut, pick a hat, pick a hometown or place you rep for, claim a crew, select a car model and some personal tic, then season with some identifiable facial hair. Never change it once it is set in stone.

And, of course, pick a color and stick with it. Easy to identify, easy to remember. Prince already claimed purple and CW McCall claimed chartruse, so those are right out. Still, I think no one has planted their foot on periwinkle yet.

Hey-- it's a good strategy. People know what to get you at Christmas. Like: Shirley is the type who loves elephants and here is this darling little paperweight, then for little Sammy all you have to do is get him a toy colored red, doesn't matter what kind, and you're done. A fire engine, or perhaps a vial of Billy O'Bob Thornton's blood. Viola, pour a bath and give yourself the night off, you've earned it.

Actually, this song is arranged pretty well, what with that fluttering synth breakdown and the shouty chorus. Good bubbling rotor organ sound, and the tempo is pretty fast which serves to build to the stop start arrangements. It's really not that bad though hackneyed. Too bad Bette Midler couldn't out-do the original. She makes it sound like the Disneyland Main Street Parade version.

So ends our list.Truly, after I Can't Drive 55, Sammy's music went into the crapper for the most part. One or two songs capture the old urgency and thrust (I tried listening to the project he joined that included Neil Schon from Journey and Rick Wakeman from Yes and there was one good song), but often as not his Voice Of America attitude is just too shiny and bombastic and jingoistic for me to tolerate following his peak in the 80's with Van Halen. What is hard to believe is that there is even worse 80s rock that this!

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