Lore and Legacy: Things You Might Not Know About Van Halen’s ‘OU812’ Album

‘OU812’ is an iconic installment in Van Halen’s catalog — and one with a truly wild history!

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SiriusXM Editor
June 14, 2023

Photo By John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images

On May 24, 1988, Van Halen released their eighth studio album, OU812. Thirty-five years on, OU812 remains an iconic installment in the band’s back catalog — and one with a truly wild history.

The album immediately hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 Chart, following the massive success of 1986’s 5150. It was the second of four consecutive albums to reach that spot for Van Halen and also spawned four top-40 singles. Selling 4 million copies, OU812 not only cemented the band’s already legendary status but also secured Sammy Hagar’s position as lead singer following David Lee Roth’s departure three years earlier.

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How do you pronounce the title?

There’s been some confusion over the years on how to pronounce the album’s name.

The answer is more simple than you might think! OU812 should be pronounced phonetically, like, “Oh You Ate One Too.” There’s a rumor that this was a jab at David Lee Roth’s first solo album, Eat ‘Em and Smile. That album was also believed to be aimed at his former Van Halen bandmates. This is just hearsay, though, and Sammy Hagar claims that he saw the serial number “OU812” on a delivery truck and thought it was a funny name.

It’s also worth noting that the working name for the album was Bone. Apparently, Alex Van Halen hated the name. As such, it was changed, and OU812 was born.

A tribute to Jan van Halen

The December prior to the start of recording OU812, Eddie and Alex’s father Jan passed away at the age of 66.

The inner lining of the album features the words “This one’s for you, Pa” — a touching tribute. Jan had appeared on a previous Van Halen album, Diver Down, playing the clarinet on “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now).” That technically made Jan the third of four Van Halens to perform in the band, with Eddie’s son, Wolfgang, joining in 2006.

Sammy Hagar’s insecurity over “Mine All Mine”

Loaded with Van Halen’s signature synth, “Mine All Mine” is far broodier and more introspective than one might expect.

Lyrics like “Staring at the sun, searchin’ for the light / Almost ended up blind” allude to struggling to find one’s place and losing sight of what’s important. As it turns out, these words embody Sammy Hagar’s own insecurities about the song. Reflecting on the album with music critic Martin Popoff, Sammy said, “It was the first time in my life I ever beat myself up, hurt myself, punished myself, practically threw things through windows, trying to write the lyrics.”

In the end, Sammy had nothing to worry about, as the song is a masterstroke and a fantastic way to kick off the album.

Eddie Van Halen’s “Source of Infection”

The ripping “Source of Infection” is one of the heavier songs on OU812.

This incredible and chaotic track actually started as a joke between Sammy and Alex Van Halen. Despite the humor, the inspiration for the song was incredibly serious. It was written about Eddie’s hospitalization after contracting Dengue Fever while vacationing in Australia with his then-wife, Valerie Bertinelli. The frantic, feverous lyrics reflect the symptoms Eddie would’ve endured at the time, adding a great deal of context to the song’s unique sound!

The legacy of “Cabo Wabo”

During the recording of OU812, Sammy Hagar took some time to travel to his home in Cabo San Lucas to work on more songs.

The trip inspired the lyrics for “Cabo Wabo,” although the melody is taken from “Make It Last” — a song he’d written for his previous band, Montrose. The song’s legacy lives on as it also serves as the name of Hagar’s nightclub in the city.

Hagar’s time in Cabo also inspired “Sucker in a 3 Piece.” He was drawn to write the song after seeing a beautiful young woman with a much older man. He questioned how she could be in love with him and assumed it had to do with wealth. Hence, the song was born.

References to other bands

Featuring the members of Van Halen half cast in shadow, the cover art for OU812 immediately evokes the Beatles’ legendary album With the Beatles.

The cover was clearly intended as an homage from one fab four to another. The style also references King Crimson’s Red. However, it’s not the only tribute to other musicians to be found. “Feels So Good” is one of the poppier tracks on the album, which Hagar admits was designed to be similar in style to Genesis. Interestingly, Genesis was an early name for Van Halen in the ’70s, before discovering that it was already in use by the British band.

The origin of “AFU (Naturally Wired)”

Whether it’s the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn” or Motörhead’s “(We Are) The Road Crew,” many bands record songs about being on the road.

“AFU (Naturally Wired)” represents Van Halen’s take on the theme. It’s a complete classic, and when Sammy first heard it, he considered it the perfect opener for the OU812 tour. The song was inspired by a particular show filled with what Alex called “mishaps.” These included the stage catching fire and the crowd being over-capacity.

It’s a surprising revelation. The band was renowned for its strict contract riders, including the famed bowl of M&Ms with all the brown ones removed. This was used to test whether their technical and safety requirements had been observed. In the case of the concert that inspired “AFU,” these requirements clearly hadn’t been met. At least we got a great track out of it!