1988 Countdown #81: Van Halen, “Finish What Ya Started”


Kevin Seal returns, and ponders the question of whether the Van Halen album title OU812 was a shot at David Lee Roth’s Eat ’Em and Smile. He says that this video (“Finish What Ya Started”–he makes sure to overenunciate the “Ya”) was directed by Andy Morahan, “who did George Michael’s videos, which is why it has kind of a look to it.” Seal presses his fingertips to his forehead and then makes a vague hand-waving gesture. This is as close as I have ever seen anyone come to actually tugging on his forelock. I’m not sure what Seal’s gesture means (but then, I’m also not sure what tugging on your forelock meant). Andy Morahan makes his artists look gay, or possibly just British? Andy Morahan is overly fond of white backgrounds in videos? White backgrounds are so passé? “Not really that much of a look, I don’t suppose,” Seal concludes, and does a pro forma leap over his desk to celebrate the countdown reaching #81.


Right about now, I should be working up a fine froth of contempt for Sammy Hagar. But I’m not going to do it, for three reasons. (1) As time goes by, I become more convinced that the putrid nature of a lot of Van Halen after David Lee Roth left was the responsibility of the guy whose name was on the band. (No, I ain’t talkin’ ’bout Alex.) If “Dreams” comes on your car radio, sure, Hagar’s adenoidal cat yowl will be the most obviously annoying thing about it. But the whole overblown package of audio carbon monoxide? That’s Eddie’s fault. (2) Last year, when Van Halen was inducted into the Rock and Hall of Fame, only Hagar and bassist Michael Anthony showed up, which was a bit pathetic. But Hagar was not only grateful and humble (even acknowledging in his speech that the Hall could have easily not included him), he endeared himself to me during the big group singalong finale at the end of the musical portion. The song was Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power,” which I’m willing to bet he had never heard more than twenty seconds of before, but when his lines came up, he sang the hell out of them, not half-assing it for a second. (3) “When It’s Love” is almost certainly going to appear later in the countdown and I’ll have plenty of opportunity for venom then. This song, I actually don’t hate. In fact, I’d hazard that it’s the second-best Van Hagar song (after “Best of Both Worlds”).


The video’s in black-and-white: more specifically, it’s in overexposed, washed-out black-and-white. One has to assume that it’s because the band members are trying to hide their wrinkles. It makes for an unappealing clip, but it’s not as obvious as, say, Paula Abdul being digitally stretched out to look thinner three years later in the video for “The Promise of a New Day.”

Opening shots: a girl’s gyrating ass, a spinning whammy bar, Edward Van Halen with a guitar. He’s shirtless under a black suit jacket. Sammy Hagar, also shirtless underneath a jacket, appears to have raided Little Steven’s closet. He’s wearing sunglasses, batik patterned pants, and a puffy camouflage cap; strands of his blond hair spill out of it. He’s also, for no apparent reason, playing the guitar.


More shots of girls shaking their ass and bending over–and also spinning their pistols. Some of them are dressed up like stripper cowgirls. Very quick cuts from one band member to the next (although the cowgirls are getting equal time). No two band members are ever on camera together: in some groups, that would be a sign that they’ll be breaking up in a few weeks, but in this case, it feels like a stylistic choice by the director. A flirty mood has been edited together; Sammy and Eddie seem to smile at each other. A cowgirl blows on her pistol, and bassist Michael Anthony apparently winks at her. Everyone’s hamming it up except for Alex on the drums. Sammy kicks towards the camera, which evokes the “karate” “skills” of David Lee Roth but sadly, can’t compare to them. One cowgirl takes off her shirt, revealing the lacy black bra underneath.


Once Sammy starts singing, the cowgirls vanish from the scene so we can better focus on him giving a thumbs-up to the camera (proving to all his skeptics that he does indeed have opposable thumbs). Michael Anthony joins in on backing vocals, providing a huge part of the band’s trademark sound. (He was historically the most underrated member of Van Halen, but getting excluded from the reunion tour last year has brought his defenders out of the woodwork, causing a huge rise in his critical stock. I’m sure he’d rather have the money.)

Nothing much happens in this video beyond the band mugging for the camera in a mildly entertaining fashion. The song chugs along. It’s got a good lick, the sound is stripped down, and the lyrics never extend too far beyond “baby, come on,” which is for the best. The quartet genuinely appear to be having a good time. Hagar leers over the top of his sunglasses; I think that’s supposed to be charming.


Guitar solo: Eddie changes into a plaid lumberjack shirt, cowboy boots, and a cowboy hat. Unfortunately, the film is so overexposed, the white hat makes it look like the top of his head was sheared off in some grisly industrial accident. “Even with my frontal lobe removed,” Eddie seems to be thinking with a manic grin, “I can still rock out!” It’s not much of a solo, actually; it sounds more like he’s doing scales. Maybe he did need that frontal lobe after all.

Sammy slaps himself on the side of the head, which gives Eddie time to change back into his black jacket and reattach the missing portion of his skull. Sammy keeps goofing around for the camera, even counting on his fingers (which seems to give him a lot more trouble than it should). It feels like the stripper cowgirls should make a cameo appearance at the end, but apparently they were just this video’s opening act.

“Finish What Ya Started” hit #13 on the singles charts. You can watch the video here.

posted 18 September 2008 in 1988 and tagged , , , , . 6 comments

6 Comments on 1988 Countdown #81: Van Halen, “Finish What Ya Started”

  1. Chris M. Says:

    Hrmm…errr. I dunno, I have such mixed feelings about Van Hagar. Not as awful as detractors said, not as good as they should’ve been? Even with lowered expectations? And I agree, Sammy is a genuinely good guy, if minimally talented.

    I really liked this song back in ’88, but I must say it’s got a heavy ’80s sound that hasn’t aged well. (I find that virtually all “rootsy” music from that decade has aged especially badly viz. production values. And I guess this is VH’s “rootsy” country-rock entry, so the rule applies.)

    Weirdly, I think my favorite Van Hagar song is still their very first of the post-DLR period, “Why Can’t This Be Love.” Did I say I didn’t like ’80s production? That song is processed within an inch of its life, and weirdly that’s what I like about it — it’s almost a dance record, it’s so baldly overproduced. Sounds very 1986, like it could follow a Stacey Q or Bananarama song on the radio, and of course back then it probably did.

  2. Gavin Says:

    Yeah, this song is being presented as “country,” but I’m really not sure why. The solo, maybe?

    My personal litmus test for whether a song qualifies as country, under the broadest possible definition: Can I imagine Johnny Cash singing it? (This helps prove that Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” is secretly a country song.) And I can’t imagine him tackling this.

  3. Smoo Says:

    I’m a DLR/VH fan. I’m not rabid, I just thought VH sounded…ordinary… with Hagar. I don’t mind this one, I don’t change the channel, but the sexy factor would be exponentially more awesome with DLR’s growl on this tune.

  4. Gavin Says:

    I think you’ve touched on something important–this is the only Van Hagar song I can think of that I can imagine DLR singing. Which is probably a big part of why I like it.

    All this material becomes much more endearing if you think of it as the second half of Sammy Hagar’s career as opposed to the second half of Van Halen’s.

  5. Mark Stone Says:

    In that picture of Ed (w/ the hat), is that guitar he’s playing a “Teisco Del Rey”? Wasn’t that the first guitar Ed owned?

  6. Fred Says:

    If you really wish to test your Google-Fu, try to find the names of the dancers.

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