June 1991: Van Halen Unlock 'Carnal Knowledge'

Van Halen in 1991
Photo Credit
Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Van Halen survived plenty of ups and downs in the '80s, replacing a vocalist at the height of their fame and losing none of their popularity. But their ninth album, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, might've been the biggest test yet.

Within less than a year of its release on June 17, 1991, the rock scene would shift dramatically to the more aggressive sounds of grunge. Whether Eddie Van Halen sensed this or not, Carnal Knowledge saw him shifting the band's sound a bit, shifting his guitar amplifier set-up (pivoting toward a prototype of a custom amp that Peavey would release as the "5150" model), trading keyboards for acoustic pianos and even creating out-there sounds on opening track "Poundcake," which featured Eddie on guitar and power drill.

READ MORE: April 1986: Van Halen Hits No. 1 with '5150'

But Van Halen wasn't above a throwback or two in creating a new album. The single "Top of the World" had roots in a riff Eddie had been playing since 1979 and fleshed out in part on the outro to their smash hit "Jump" back in 1984. The album also saw a reunion with Ted Templeman, producer of every VH album up to 1984. (Templeman shared duties with Andy Johns, who'd produced The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St. and several Led Zeppelin albums; Eddie later told Guitar World that Templeman's return was at the insistence of lead singer Sammy Hagar, "because Ted lets him get away with everything.")

One thing the whole band got away with was one of the year's most striking music videos, to the song "Right Now." Based around a piano riff Eddie had kicked around for some time, the song's live-for-the-moment lyrics were augmented by a stylized clip featuring stock footage and commentary on social events happening "right now." While Hagar was unconvinced people would pay attention to the band in the video - indeed, one of the images reads "Right now maybe we should pay attention to the lyrics" - it became a runaway smash, winning them three Moonmen at the MTV Video Music Awards, including Video of the Year. (It was, of course, also adapted into the ad campaign for the short-lived Crystal Pepsi soft drink.)

READ MORE: May 1996: Van Halen and Sammy Hagar Spin Apart in a 'Twister'

For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge was promoted by two years of touring, later captured in an album and video called Live: Right Here, Right Now. The tour was memorable for Hagar finally agreeing to regularly sing "Jump," the band's signature hit from the David Lee Roth era. (Only a few years later would the band attempt to reunite with Roth again - but that's another story for another time.)

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