Van Halen was founded by brothers Alex Van Halen (drums), Eddie Van Halen (guitar) andMichael Anthony (bass), all ex-members of the Broken Combs, who in turn recruited David Lee Roth (ex-Real Ball Jets) for vocals in Passadina, California in 1974. On L.A.'s Sunset Strip they would cut their teeth on a library of '60's and '70's cover tunes and gradually introduced their original material. They originally went under the name Mammoth, and released a demo with the help of Gene Simmons (of Kiss), but soon changed their moniker when they realized the reason no record company would hear them - the name was already taken. Simmons would talk to producer Ted Templeton, who was impressed and got them a deal with 'Warner'.
1978 would see them release a self-titled debut album; the album charted 34 in the U.K. and made top 20 in the U.S. on the strength of tracks like Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love, Euruption, and a cover of the Kinks You Really Got Me. It received critical acclaim for its energy and sophistication and was compared to Montrose's debut in 1973. It was in quick order that David Lee Roth (chest hair, leather and all) would become a sex symbol, and Eddie Van Halen a guitar virtuoso; they were Glamorous as opposed to just Glam. Their debut 1978 self-titled sold in excess of 5 million copies, and became considered a classic Hard Rock album.
The follow-up, Van Halen II (1979), made the U.S. top 10 but didn't pack the same sales punch despite following the exact same formula. It did, however, spawn their first hit single, Dance The Night Away. The albums Women And Children First (1980) and Fair Warning (1981) improved their standings, both in the critical and commercial circles, but Diver Down (1982) would see them expand their horizons. A cover of Roy Orbison's Pretty Woman would give them another U.S. top 20 to pull the album into the top 5 standing; it was the strongest track of the mostly re-hashed '60's songs that held the record up. As strong as the album was it would end off proving to be one of their weakest efforts.
The next year Michael Jackson came calling, and Eddie answered it as a one off guitar guest player on his Beat It single; the track from which would be incorporated onto Michael Jackson's Thriller album shortly later, an album that would become the biggest selling record in history. It was a sales record yet to be beaten, and as a result it gave Eddie good crossover exposure. MCMLXXXIV (1984), released new year's eve that same year, would make Van Halen one of the biggest Rock bands in the world for the time. The accompanying hit track (turned single) Jump made it to number 1, and for many, especially in England and Europe, they saw 'Diamond' Dave and crew for the first time. Now their videos and live shows featured them doing acrobatic acts, death-defying feats and generally taking 1980s experimentation with ease. The album would spawn other lesser hits, such as the lewd tongue-in-cheek track Hot For The Teacher; and over-all spent a full year in the charts and went as high as number 2. It was clear that Van Halen were at the height of their career, but Roth decided to jump ship and start up his own circus with a solo venture.
Van Halen returned two years later with replacement Sammy Hagar (ex-Montrose) and the single Why Can't This Be Love, giving them a number 3 chart position. Even though the absence of Roth was obvious, and the record company executives even suggested they change the band name, they released their most ambitious project in 1986 titled 5150 (California police radio code for the criminally insane and later the name of Eddie Van Halen's studio). It was clear their chemistry had changed.There was still enough formula left, however, to give them their first U.S. number one for an album. After this they were virtually guaranteed a platinum release for everything they did. They got it with OU812 (1988), another number 1. The album was considered a weak effort by lacking direction and overly formulated, but Van Halen could do no wrong and went up the charts because of their name brand status. For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991; a.k.a. F.U.C.K.) was a highly improved effort with gritty and serious Rock. Due to its juvenile (but creative) name derived from their disgust over the Tipper Gore (PMRC) censorship issues, it raised controversy past the musical content. The album, however, proved to stand up to the contemporary 'Grunge' bands of the time and still sold well. Their first live recording, Right Here Right Now, finally came out in 1993. 1995's follow-up, Balance, got them another U.S. number 1, and their first top 10 in the U.K. It was released on both CD and vinyl at a time when the old black discs were starting to fade into history.
David Lee Roth would return for the Best Of: Volume One (1996) compilation by appearing on the only two new tracks the set offered, Can't Get This Stuff No More and Me Wise Magic, but was quickly out again when egos got in the way in favor, this time, for Gary Cherrone (ex-Extreme) who made his appearance on their 1998 Van Halen III, a 4 U.S./43 U.K. effort. Montrose went back to his solo effort in 1994. Roth, for his part,was not totally out in the cold for he had embarked on a semi-successful solo career in the mean time in his own right and returned to that effort.
In 2004 the operation's compilation Best of Both Worlds featured three new songs with Hagar that would lead to Hagar's return to the band full time for 2012's Tattoo that featured Eddie's son Wolfgang Van Halen on bass.
On August 30, 2012, Eddie Van Halen was diagnosed with diverticulitis and underwent surgery postponing the shows in Japan initially scheduled for November 2012. On April 20, 2013, the Roth-fronted Van Halen played its first show outside North America since 1984, and their first in Australia since 1998, at the Stone Festival in Sydney. This was followed by one show each in Tokyo and Nagoya, and two in Osaka, from June 18 to 26.
In February 2015, Van Halen would be released their first ever live album with original vocalist David Lee Roth, Tokyo Dome Live in Concert on March 31, 2015. The band also released newly remastered versions of their 1978 debut and MCMLXXXIV (1984) on CD, digital, and vinyl.
Footnote: Van Halen had a notable effect on the modern rock music tour with their use of the concert contract 'rider', a list of demands that must be satisfied for the band to perform, and a practice now used throughout the music industry. Their version of the 'rider' was notoriously extensive and detailed, often bordering on the outlandish or outright bizarre. Micro-managed details like electricity availability and stage construction details were written within the pages, along with the most famous of which: a bowl of M&M's, was to be present in their dressing room at all times with all the brown ones removed! The matter of the M&M's, although becoming a butt of many jokes, according to David Lee Roth, the requirement was listed within the technical portion of the contract - not because the band wanted to make silly demands - but as a test to see if the venue organizers had actually read the contract in all of its details. If the M&M's were present - with the brown ones missing - the band felt secure that the legitimate safety and legal matters had been fulfilled. Their concern for safety was real: during their earlier tours, not only had equipment been damaged, but several members of their road crew were nearly electrocuted, both due to inadequate safety measures and preparation on the part of the local venue.