One of the most charismatic singers in rock n’ roll history, Sammy Hagar is famous as the frontman of Van Halen, having taken the place of David Lee Roth in 1985. However, his days with Van Halen aren’ t the only interesting days of Sammy Hagar. You see, The Red Rocker was the singer of Montrose in the ‘70s and released two wonderful albums with the band of guitarist Ronnie Montrose, the debut of 1973 (“Montrose”) and the sophomore album, “Paper Money” (1974). After being fired from Montrose in 1975, due to his conflict with Ronnie Montrose during a European tour, Sagar embarked on a solo career as a singer (he also played the guitar), taking with him Bill Church (bass) and Denny Carmassi (drums) from Montrose. During this solo career, the soon-to-be Van Halen singer released many albums, all of which have a great hard rock quality and finesse. Here we will examine one of the most beautiful music gems that Sammy Hagar offered us, 1982’s “Standing Hampton”.
by Dimitris Zacharopoulos
In the beginning of the decade of the ‘80s, Sammy Hagar had published his fifth solo album, named “Danger Zone”, the last album that was out by Capitol Records. It was a fantastic hard rock album, which included great songs like “Love or Money”, “Run For Your Life” and “In the Night (Entering the Danger Zone)”. His vocals were furious and frenzied, the guitars wild and sharp and the melodies infectious. However, the legendary vocalist would soon move on. His next label would be the newly established Geffen Records. John Kalodner of Geffen Records liked the song “Love or Money” very much and that was a catalyst in getting Hagar signed to the new label.
During the spring and summer of 1981, Hagar entered the Goodnight L.A. Studios, in Los Angeles, USA – together with him were Gary Pihl (guitar, he later joined Boston), David Lauser (drums) and of course, Bill Church. The quartet worked with American producer and engineer Keith Olsen, who had also collaborated with Fleetwood Mac, Grateful Dead, Rick Springfield, Foreigner, Santana etc. The outcome was a selection of ten songs, nine original composed mainly by Hagar, and a cover of “Piece of My Heart” (recorded by Erma Franklin in 1967 and made famous by Janis Joplin). Finally “Standing Hampton”, as the album was titled, was released on January 6th, 1982 and was a big commercial success. It achieved RIAA certification (it went platinum in the United States) – the first solo album of Hagar to do so, and five of its singles charted in either the mainstream rock or pop singles charts; these singles were “Baby’s On Fire”, “Can’t Get Loose”, “I’ll Fall in Love Again”, “Piece of My Heart” and “There’s Only One Way To Rock”. The last one was one of Hagar’s biggest hits and, when Hagar became a member of Van Halen, they used to play that song plus “I Can’t Drive 55” (from Hagar’s eight solo album, 1984’s “VOA”) in their live shows.
But “Standing Hampton” wasn’t only a commercial success – indeed, it was an impelling hard rock album! It reflected the hard rock/heavy metal sound of the early ‘80s, it represented the way the Americans understood heavy and loud music and was highly influential for the bands of its time and the generations to come. Hagar’s sixth solo album merged all the ingredients of hard rock/heavy metal – killer riffs, soaring guitar solos, pounding drums, tight tempos and hard-knitt vocals! Apart from these, it has many nice and compositional ideas, which lead to catchy songs that stick to your brain; and if we add passion, real emotion and a lyrical tense, then we may understand the beauty of this album. Come on, let’s see the songs, one by one!
The album starts with “There’s Only One Way To Rock” – it’s a heavy metal thunder, a heavy metal anthem and a signature tune. That’s how 80s metal sounded, and that’s one of the songs which forged classic heavy metal. It could be a hit in a Saxon album, since it has the sharpness and immediacy of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal sound. Yet, it also reminds me of bands like Riot and Anvil. A driving heavy metal hit!
“I’ll Fall in Love Again” comes next. It gives me the impression it is a Foreigner song, but harder and heavier. It is the first song of the album that has a more emotional and sophisticated touch. Pure melodic hard rock, at its best!
Then we reach “Baby It’s You”, which continues from where the previous track stopped – compelling arena rock, which has the appropriate hook lines in both the verses and the refrain. I like the song’s bluesy character and the fine guitar work. Hagar seems to have a lot of fun in this song, he gives his very soul and the result is unique.
“Can’t Get Loose” is a first class AOR number, with delicate keyboards, elegant vocals and a pomp rock color that makes this song so different and irresistible.
“Heavy Metal” is my favorite song of the album, an extraordinary hymn about heavy metal music, with super riffs in the style of Led Zeppelin, an anthemic refrain and awesome guitar solos, which will make you head-bang!
After this glorious heavy metal song, comes “Baby It’s You”. Again the melodic, ethereal element is present here, in a mid-tempo dreamy composition, which will take you on an unforgettable ride. It’s so emotional, so sentimental - that’s a phenomenal Sammy Hagar moment!
“Surrender” stems from the AOR side of Sammy Hagar, it’s like an AOR rocker penned by Foreigner.
“Inside Lookin’ In” has the aforementioned charming, sophisticated style and belongs to the top tracks of this outstanding album. If you like the arena/pomp rock sound, you will surely love it!
“Sweet Hitchhiker” is an impressive rocker, which stands next to “Heavy Metal” and “There’s Only One Way to Rock”. Wild, dirty and fast, it is a furious number, devoted to every metalhead!
And the album ends with the excellent cover of “Piece of My Heart” – Sammy Hagar makes this classic blues rock song a true hard rocker, the best way to tell us goodbye … “Standing Hampton” is an ‘80s hard rock/heavy metal cornerstone, which must be discovered!
But, hey! What does the title “Standing Hampton” stand for? Hagar was originally going to call the album “One Way To Rock”. It was a British fan who told him of the term that came to be the title. In Cockney rhyming slang, "Hampton" is a synonym for penis. One that is "standing" would be a reference to an erection. This led to the cover art that shows a gentleman greeting a woman in various states of undress. The liner notes on the inner sleeve state that the cover graphics were inspired by the work of Surrealist painter Paul Delvaux.
Let’s see some trivia! The song “I’ll Fall in Love Again” was used in the soundtrack of the 1985 film “Vision Quest”, a romantic drama starring Matthew Modine and Linda Fiorentino. The song “Heavy Metal”, in a different version, was used for the soundtrack of the classic animated movie “Heavy Metal”. The non-albums songs "Don't Get Hooked" and "Satisfied" appeared as B-sides and have not been released in any other format since. The lyrics to the song "Inside Lookin' In" refers to "ringin' just like one UXB". UXB is an acronym for an "unexploded bomb". And the lyrics to the song "Sweet Hitchhiker" refers to "Blaupunkt blastin' my favorite song". Blaupunkt refers to the popular brand of car stereo. There are British some versions of the “Standing Hampton” album, where the first track isn’t “I’ll Fall in Love Again” but “There’s Only One Way To Rock” - the British version of the album was released with a bonus interview 45 rpm called “Conversations with Sammy Hagar”. Finally, recently, in his 2021 covers album (“Diamonds Unlocked II”) Axel Rudi Pell performed “There’s Only One Way To Rock” with his band.
To sum up, “Standing Hampton” shouldn’t be absent from any rock/metal record collection. It has the melodies, the riffs, the passion and the vibe that every heavy metal fan should enjoy. Most of us know Sammy Hagar from his Van Halen era, nevertheless, he had released some amazing solo albums – “Standing Hampton” is one of them for sure.