Sammy Hagar Gave Until It Hurt for Van Halen’s ‘Black and Blue’
There's no great secret about what "Black and Blue," the first single from Van Halen's 1988 OU812 album, is about. "Oh, yeah, that's sex - you don't need to be a brain surgeon to figure that out," a laughing Sammy Hagar told this writer at the time of its release.
"If I ever write something like that, it's usually a true experience," Hagar told writer Martin Popoff in 2010. "It's a true experience I happened to have had on the 5150 tour where I was actually bruised up pretty band, and in the wrong areas, too. It took me out of condition for a week."
The song did put OU812 - Van Halen's second with Hagar after he replaced David Lee Roth - into high gear, however. It gave the quartet its fourth No. 1 hit on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and propelled OU812 to a No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200 in May of 1988.
Eddie Van Halen’s assessment of the song to Guitar World was that it was “a great, slippery, grungy heavy funk song,” and Hagar agreed it was "kind of a typical, goofy, old-time '80s rock 'n' roll lyric." But, he told Popoff, that didn't mean it was easy to write.
Listen to Van Halen's 'Black and Blue'
"My most proud thing about that lyric is the way it rhythmically phrases against the music," Hagar explained. "Because in Van Halen, when Eddie and [drummer] Alex [Van Halen] get together there weren’t many holes in the music to sing to. I like to sing in the holes. You don't sing over the lick; you should sing in holes. Well, there's never any holes in Van Halen. So lyrically I was a master on that song and ... it's not easy to do that, to find a word that's going to fit with what you're trying to say and rhymes and rhythms like that. So I think it's a masterpiece of phrasing if anything."
While an effective launch pad for OU812 - which went on to be certified quadruple-platinum - "Black and Blue" would wind up being eclipsed by its successor, "When It's Love," which became a Top 5 Hot 100 smash and a Van Halen signature. Nevertheless "Black and Blue" remained a touchstone throughout the Hagar era - though it largely fell out of the set list after the OU812 tour - and merited a spot on the 2004 compilation, The Best of Both Worlds.