With their 1978 eponymous debut, Van Halen simultaneously rewrote the rules of rock guitar and hard rock in general. Guitarist Eddie Van Halen redefined what the electric guitar could do, developing a blindingly fast technique with a variety of self-taught two-handed tapping, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and effects that mimicked the sounds of machines and animals. It was wildly inventive and over the top, equaled only by vocalist David Lee Roth, who brought the role of a metal singer to near-performance art standards. Roth wasn’t blessed with great technique, unlike Eddie, but he had a flair for showmanship derived as much from lounge performers as Robert Plant. Together, they made Van Halen into the most popular American rock & roll band of the late ’70s and early ’80s, and in the process set the template for hard rock and heavy metal for the ’80s.

Throughout the ’80s, it was impossible not to hear Van Halen’s instrumental technique on records that ranged from the heaviest metal to soft pop. Furthermore, Roth’s irony-drenched antics were copied by singers who took everything literally. One of these was Sammy Hagar, an arena rock veteran from the ’70s who replaced Roth after the vocalist had a falling out with Van Halen in 1985. Hagar stayed with the band longer than Roth, helping the group remain a fixture on the top of the charts through the late ’80s and early ’90s. Halfway through the ’90s the group’s sales began to slide, just as tensions between Hagar and Eddie began to arise. As the group prepped a greatest hits album, Hagar was fired (or quit) and Roth was brought back on to sing two cuts on the compilation. He was subsequently replaced by Gary Cherone, a former member of Extreme, who lasted through one album before departing. After a half-decade hiatus, the band mounted a reunion tour with Hagar, who left in 2005 only to be replaced by Roth, with this reunion leading to a new album called A Different Kind of Truth in 2011.

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