Sam Halen or Van Hagar? Box set showcases Van Halen’s magnificent Sammy Hagar years

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This cover image released by Rhino Records shows The Collection II” by Van Halen. (Rhino Records via AP)
This cover image released by Rhino Records shows The Collection II” by Van Halen. (Rhino Records via AP)AP

Some debates will never be settled. Like, is it better to have the edge of a toilet paper roll in front of or behind the rest of the roll? What animal makes a better pet, dogs or cats? Another one of these unanswerable questions: Was Van Halen better with David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar on lead vocals?

On Friday, Rhino Records will release a five-LP Van Halen box set called “The Collection ll.” It encompasses the four studio albums on which Hagar sang (1986’s “5150,” 1988’s “OU812”, 1991’s “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge”, and 1995’s “Balance.”) The fifth is a disc of rarities including instrumentals, B-sides, and song that were once only available as bonus tracks.

It follows “The Collection,” released in 2015, a box set of Roth-era Van Halen.

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Simply put, the four albums that make up “The Collection ll” are some of the best rock ‘n’ roll made during the 1980s and ‘90s (and a hot minute in 2004), chock full of hits and memorable deep tracks created during what certainly sounds like the most motivated period of this legendary band’s career.

Hagar audaciously announces his presence in an a capella “Hello, baaaaaaybeee!” greeting at the start of “Good Enough,” kicking off the “5150” album. It was his first with Van Halen and remains one of the band’s best — and best-selling — albums, with mega-hits including “Why Can’t This Be Love,” “Dreams,” “Love Walks In” and “Best of Both Worlds,” all of which dominated rock radio for years.

“OU812,” the cleverly titled follow-up, is every bit as good as “5150,” and finds Hagar and guitarist Eddie Van Halen delving even more deeply into keyboard-heavy hits, like “When It’s Love.” It also includes the twangy guitar hit “Finish What Ya Started,” and the bruising “Black and Blue,” along with some of Eddie’s finest guitar work throughout the album.

“For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” and “Balance” complete the studio portion of the box set, including the hits “Poundcake,” “Runaround,” “Right Now,” and “Top of the World,” on the former; “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You” and “Don’t Tell Me (What Love Can Do)” on the latter.

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Rarities include a cover of Little Feat’s “A Apolitical Blues” and the instrumental “Baluchitherium,” which were originally left off the vinyl versions of “OU812” and “Balance,” respectively.

“Crossing Over,” a B-side track, is spellbinding. Two tracks from the soundtrack to the 1996 thriller “Twister,” “Humans Being” and “Respect the Wind,” are featured next to “It’s About Time,” “Up for Breakfast” and “Learning to See,” which were recorded during the band’s temporary reunion with Hagar in 2004. They also appeared on Van Halen’s second greatest hits collection, “The Best of Both Worlds” in the same year.

As they say, the hits just keep coming.

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