One of the great music debates of all time is without a doubt the one about the 2 great Van Halen singers. On one side you have the very first singer that helped get Van Halen off the ground, David Lee Roth. On the other side you got the well established singer that already made a name for himself in other bands, Sammy Hagar. Both men have brought a lot to the famed band and have done a lot for it. Til this day, people are constantly debating who is the better singer in Van Halen and it is one topic that I personally have wanted to give my 2 cents on. With that, lets get started
Pros of David Lee Roth
It goes without saying that David Lee Roth is very good at showmanship. From his outfits, to his energetic and athletic stunts on stage. During his time in Van Halen he was also a good singer and was very entertaining to listen to. I love hearing him in songs like Panama and Hot For Teacher. He had a real party, good time feel to his voice and it was conveyed perfectly on those first 4 Van Halen albums. It is also something he would go on to carry in his solo career.
Cons of David Lee Roth
One of his cons is that, while he is a good singer he isn't great. His voice doesn't have a great range that limits what he is capable of. He was also very narrow in his musical approach. Like I said, he was a party, feel good type of singer. This was his approach to music, not just in Van Halen, but in his solo career as well. You listen to songs like Yankee Rose and Going Crazy and the message is pretty much about partying and girls. Luckily for him, he would have great musicians like Steve Vai and Billy Sheehan who would play a huge part in the success of his solo career. If not for them, his message and music could of gotten old very quickly and his solo career would have been short lived.
Pros of Sammy Hagar
Sammy Hagar is without a doubt an amazing singer that still sounds great today. He has a great range that allows him to go in several directions and experiment a lot musically. He is also a good guitar player as well. Don't get me wrong, he is not even close to the capability of Eddie Van Halen. However, he is still good at guitar, which is very well showcased in songs like There's Only One Way To Rock, the times he played guitar on Love Walks In, and Eagles Fly. He is also a great song writer. He has written so many great songs from Cant Drive 55 to Why Can't This Be Love, the man truly is very talented and diverse.
Cons of Sammy Hagar
When objectively compared to David Lee Roth, Sammy Hagar does not have the same level of showmanship as David Lee Roth had. Where David Lee Roth was athletic and had the outfits to execute good showmanship, Sammy Hagar was pretty average, going out in normal close and while energetic was still not at the level of David Lee Roth. Sammy Hagar is not a bad at showmanship but he didn't reach the level that Roth had.
Both singers have their talents and are certainly worth recognizing. However, when I look at them overall, I have to give it to Sammy Hagar. While Sammy Hagar didn't have the showmanship of David Lee Roth, he more then made up for it in his music capability. Replacing David Lee Roth was no easy task and the fact Sammy Hagar took that on and did it well is worth recognizing. Also, people are quick to blame Sammy Hagar for the direction that Van Halen went in when he joined the band. However, when you think about it, Eddie Van Halen wanted to go in this direction before Hagar joined. When you listen to 1984 and hear songs like Jump you realize in retrospect that 1984 was a precursor of things to come.
However, the big thing that makes me pick Sammy Hagar over David Lee Roth is their difference in musical talent. No matter how much you love the Roth era music, you have to admit that Sammy Hagar was musically way ahead of David Lee Roth. While you can argue that Sammy Hagar may not have sounded as good on Panama and Jump as David Lee Roth was, Sammy Hagar could still sing those songs and make them sound good. When David Lee Roth tries to sing Sammy Hagar songs he can't do it. David Lee Roth cannot match Sammy Hagar vocally. The difference in their singing ability is especially clear today. When you listen to them today, Sammy Hagar still sounds amazing and his voice hasn't changed all that much. However, David Lee Roth doesn't sound like he used to today. You can hear the difference in the videos shown below
I want to be clear, I am not taking shots at David Lee Roth here. I love those early Van Halen records and think they are amazing. However, I cannot deny the musical genius that Sammy Hagar has, and for a guy like me who is more focused on musical talent then showmanship I got to give it to Sammy Hagar. I turn to recent talk that Eddie Trunk did on his radio show about this topic. He covers these points very well and gives very good perspective on them. Check out the video below to listen to his talk. Like I said, I love both era's and both these guys deserve their place in the rock n roll hall of fame, but when I look at their musical talent objectively, I cannot deny that Sammy Hagar has the edge.