30 Years Ago: ‘VOA’ Makes Sammy Hagar a Household Name
30 years ago, Sammy Hagar stood on a career precipice that neither he, nor anyone else paying attention, could possibly have glimpsed. Heck, he and everyone else probably simply thought he was releasing his eighth solo studio album, ‘VOA.’ But, as history would soon carve indelibly in stone, the album would mark the line in the sand that has since defined his long and colorful career. The line between “before Van Halen” and “after Van Halen.”
Don’t point this out to to poor Sammy, though. He’d be the first to slap his forehead and quite understandably ask, “How can you possibly reduce decades of work to a single event, however momentous this one may be?” And he’d be right because, after all, Hagar built his solo career the old fashioned way: he earned it!
Year by year, concert by concert, and album by album, beginning with his 1976 solo debut ‘Nine on a Ten Scale’ — not to mention his previous stint as the singer for Montrose — Hagar had painstakingly established himself as a force to be reckoned with. And then, after a handful of solid, but modestly performing LPs, Hagar really hit his stride as the ’80s got under way: swapping Capitol for Geffen Records, scoring his first platinum album with 1981’s ‘Standing Hampton,’ and making his maiden voyage into the Billboard Top 20 with 1982’s gold-certified ‘Three Lock Box.’
It was therefore with great optimism that Hagar and his faithful backing band (guitarist Gary Pihl, keyboardist Jesse Harms, drummer David Lauser and bassist Bill Church — a fellow Montrose survivor) dove headlong into recording the eight tracks that would drive ‘VOA,’ higher and faster into the music-buying public conscience than any Hagar product preceding it. “Drive” being the operative word, of course, since it was ‘VOA’s’ first song and single — the irrepressible ‘I Can’t Drive 55‘ — which accelerated Hagar onto the rock radio airwaves and into the public consciousness like never before. (It should be noted that 1983’s ‘Your Love is Driving Me Crazy’ went higher on the pop charts.) Thanks to the rising reach and influence of MTV, the song’s high-octane video made him a household name as well.
Watch Sammy Hagar’s ‘I Can’t Drive 55′ Video
Follow-up focus tracks like ‘Two Sides of Love’ (an expertly designed power ballad) and ‘VOA’s’ title track (named after the State Department’s international ‘Voice of America’ radio broadcasts) kept the Hagar chatter, uh, chattering, and convinced many new fans to take a chance on buying his new LP. There, they found a virtually filler-free selection of FDA-certified, 100% beef red rockers, including the fierce ‘Rock is in My Blood,’ the chuckle-inducing ‘Dick in the Dirt,’ another ballad-to-die-for in ‘Don’t Make Me Wait,’ and a cleverly worded tribute to New York City graffiti artists named ‘Burnin’ Down the City.’
In sum, Sammy Hagar’s eighth solo LP crowned a decade of dedicated hard work and self-improvement, and one can only guess how much further this momentum may have carried him, if not for the freak series of coincidences that brought him to Van Halen instead.