Following the success of the group’s first #1 album, 5150 (as well as the mammoth tour which followed), Van Halen scored similar success with the followed-up OU812 in 1988. These were the first two albums with lead vocalist Sammy Hagar (the “Van Hagar” era) and the first where Hagar began as a full and equal member of the group and his influence was reflected in the diversity and new direction of the music. None of the material for this album was written prior to the recording sessions at the band-owned 5150 studios and this led to a more improvised evolution to the material, resulting in OU812 being the final high quality output by the group overall.
The album also included no official production credit because the band felt there was no one who went in with a sold idea and dictated a sonic vision to everyone else. Unofficially, engineer Donn Landee and the band produced the record, which was the eighth overall for Van Halen. Work began on the album in September 1987 and continued for about seven months, with recordings taken place mere weeks before the album’s international release. While Hagar brought some elements of the band’s sound in new directions, guitarist Eddie Van Halen returned to the form of the band’s earliest work while continuing to purse keyboards as a second instrument for certain radio-friendly tracks.
The album’s unique title originated when Hagar spotted a delivery truck on the freeway with the serial number “OU812”. Finding this humorous when spoken aloud, he told the band and they decided to change the title in the 11th hour from the previously planned “Bone”, which no one really like all that much anyway.
OU812 by Van Halen
|Released: May 24, 1988 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Donn Landee & Van Halen
Recorded: 5150 Studios, Hollywood, September 1987 – April 1988
|Side One||Side Two|
|Mine All Mine
When It’s Love
A.F.U. (Naturally Wired)
Source of Infection
|Feels So Good
Finish What Ya Started
Black and Blue
Sucker In a 3 Piece
A Apolitical Blues
|Sammy Hagar – Lead Vocals
Eddie Van Halen – Guitars, Synthesizers, Vocals
Michael Anthony – Bass, Vocals
Alex Van Halen – Drums, Percussion
The rather awkward synth rhythm of “Mine All Mine” kicks off the album. The pure-eighties-soundtrack-like vibe does contain a bit of an off-beat edge by Alex Van Halen and a good lead guitar by Eddie Van Halen, but the corny ending makes it a parody of itself. “When It’s Love” is the album’s first classic with a great long synth intro before breaking into a 1984-era Van Halen riff. Hagar’s chorus melody is the real highlight here along with an excellent closing section which builds with intensity. “When It’s Love” reached the Top 10 and was the most popular song from that album.
After the album’s weakest moment, “A.F.U. (Naturally Wired)”, comes “Cabo Wabo”, which on the surface is a brochure for the Mexican resort town. That being said, this is still a pretty entertaining song with a good riff and harmonized vocals by bassist Michael Anthony. Hagar shines vocally on this extended track, came up with the song’s concept and later parlayed this into a premium tequila brand which later became a major point of contention between him and the Van Halen brothers. “Source of Infection” finishes the first side and was later dismissed by band members as a “joke song” with lyrics referring to a health scare.
Something totally unique for the band, “Feels So Good” is heavily synthesized but works its way through many interesting sections in an atypical arrangement. The unique drum beat by Alex Van Halen guides this pop song, which Hagar said was developed “Genesis style”. “Finish What Ya Started” is another one of the more unique songs in the Van Halen collection with a combination of picked electric and strummer acoustic throughout. The song was spawned on Eddie’s Malibu balcony when he jammed with Hagar with two acoustic guitars at 2:00am one morning.
“Black and Blue” contains a slow riff that is total Eddie Van Halen and raunchy lyrics inspired by groupies during the 5150 tour and became one of the most popular radio songs from the album. “Sucker In a 3 Piece” is the weakest point on the fine second side, seeming to be feeling its way through the first minute and a half, before settling on then vacuous lyrics and boilerplate melodies of the song proper. The closer “A Apolitical Blues” was originally recorded by Little Feat and written by Lowell George. This is pure blues, complete with piano and two bluesy guitars and was one of the rare covers during Hagar’s stint with the band.
OU812 was the second of four consecutive number one albums by Van Halen with Sammy Hagar at the helm, stretching into the mid 1990s.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1988 albums.