25 Years Ago: How ‘Humans Being’ Spelled Disaster for Van Halen and Sammy Hagar
Van Halen's initial 11-year association with Sammy Hagar ended slowly, and then all at once.
Sessions for “Humans Being,” a single released in April 1996 from the soundtrack to the big-budget disaster movie Twister, had devolved into he said/he said quibbling before everything exploded into a huge argument during a June phone call with Eddie Van Halen.
The band was coming off a lengthy tour in support of their fourth chart-topping studio album, 1995’s Balance, but the mood was hardly celebratory. This trek was so injury-plagued that it was nicknamed “The Ambulance Tour”: Growing pain in Eddie's hip, three ruptured vertebrae in Alex Van Halen's neck, and Hagar’s throat issues had led to a handful of rescheduled dates.
"We needed time off from each other after our last tour, because there was a lot of personal stuff we had to take care of,” Hagar told Guitar World in 1997, adding that there were a variety of reasons for slowing down over the first half of the new year. “Eddie needed hip replacement surgery. Al needed his back worked on. And I was going to have a baby. … We needed to regroup and retool ourselves before we hooked up again for a new album.”
New-ish manager Ray Danniels had other ideas, and brought the Twister opportunity to Alex and Eddie, who reached out to Hagar in early 1996 about doing a song or two for the soundtrack. They said they were expecting him to turn it down since he was newly married to his second wife Kari, and the couple had just moved to Hawaii in anticipation of having their first child together.
“To my surprise, Sam committed, while he was in Hawaii with a pregnant wife and soaking up the sun,” Eddie told the Album Network. “We had the tracks – done – six weeks before we could get him out here to sing. I kept saying, ‘Sam, why did you commit to this if you don’t want to do it?’ And he said to me, ‘Why is this so damn important to you?’ And I just went, ‘What?’”
Alex added: “Because we make music – that’s why,” laughing. “Yeah, it’s my life,” Eddie said. “All you had to say was, ‘Hey, I’m not into it.’”
“I was not down with it,” Hagar said in Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock. “All they wanted was to get me off the island. Ray Danniels would be on the phone saying things like, ‘If you’re not back tomorrow, we’re assuming that you’ve quit the band.’”
There were more bumps in the road ahead. For instance, Twister director Jan de Bont apparently told the Van Halen brothers that he didn’t want any songs about tornados.
“And so what does Sammy come back with? ‘Sky is turning black, knuckles turning white, headed for the hot zone,’” Eddie told Guitar World in 1996. “It was total tornado stuff! Not only did Alex tell him not to do that, but the director of the fucking movie told him, ‘Do not write about tornadoes.’”
Listen to Van Halen Perform 'Humans Being'
The opposite was true, according to Hagar. He said de Bont loved a demo cut remotely in Hawaii called “Drop Down,” and even provided “300 pages of technical weather terms that tornado chasers use.” Still, Hagar said the Van Halens “freaked out,” were overly critical of his lyrics and subject matter, and demanded he leave the island – as well as his pregnant wife – to come to 5150 Studios to work on the tracks in person.
They ended up recording a heavy, dark and moody number, “The Silent Extreme” which was rechristened “Humans Being,” a title Alex had kicking around during the Balance tour. The lyrics were written by Hagar and producer Bruce Fairbairn while a second song, the ballad “Between Us Two,” was completed.
Hagar said he was preparing to leave the studio to catch a plane, after having gone back and forth to Hawaii multiple times, when the band informed him that the producers of Twister no longer wanted to use the ballad. Instead, they now were asking for an additional minute and a half of music tacked onto “Humans Being.” Needing to be at the airport in a couple hours, a frustrated Hagar finally acquiesced – but continued pleading with Eddie to come up with enough to round things out.
“He wanted me to chant something like, ‘Bah, bah, bah. I hate this, I hate that, you dirty rat,’” Hagar later said. “I looked at Eddie and told him that sucked. He just said, ‘Well, do something. All they need is a minute and a half; otherwise, we'll just make an instrumental out of it.’
“Bruce told me that all we needed was 16 words, two verses, and the song would be complete,’” Hagar added. “I said okay and came up with this line: ‘There is just enough Christ in me to make me feel almost guilty. Is that why God made us bleed, to make us see we're humans being?’ I wrote those verses in about 10-15 minutes on the hood of a car with Bruce. It was so cheeseball, the way it was done. We wrote the lyrics, I sang the song in three parts in about an hour and a half and split.”
Their haste in extending “Humans Being” was revealed in double-tracked vocals done exclusively by Eddie, without Michael Anthony providing the usual harmony. Still, none of it took away from the success of “Humans Being,” which went to No. 1 on the Rock/Mainstream Rock chart – the band’s 11th in a row. The track also helped propel the Twister soundtrack to a respectable debut at No. 37 on the Billboard 200, where it ultimately topped out at No. 28.
Van Halen's accompanying video tied into the movie directly, with footage of the group performing on a soundstage intercut with scenes from Twister. In retrospect, it wasn’t a stretch to speculate that very little acting was taking place when Hagar and Eddie are seen yelling the lyrics at one another with their faces just inches apart.
Van Halen and their wives – along with Hagar’s new baby Kama – were all smiles on May 8, 1996 at the film's premiere. Some six weeks later, however, Hagar was out. It was soon revealed that David Lee Roth would be returning to the fold, but that became a twisted mess in its own right.
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