Eddie Van Halen's lead vocal on "How Many Say I" was one of the more polarizing moments of Van Halen III. In a new interview, Gary Cherone, who fronted Van Halen on the 1998 release, defended the song and explained why he wanted Van Halen to sing it.

Speaking to Rolling Stone, Cherone recalled the song's origin. "It was at the end of the night, and that was just a lyric I was writing, and he was looking for something and he grabbed it and took it back. The next day, he told me he was in bed with Valerie [Bertinelli] and he had to ask permission to go downstairs to the piano. But he’s a night owl. I’m sure Valerie was like, 'It’s time to go to bed.' He went downstairs and made a real shitty recording of it — the quality of the recording. It was probably made on a cassette. And he goes, 'Hey, man, I wrote something to ‘How Many Say I.'' And he plays it for me, and I go, 'That’s beautiful, Ed. Your voice reminds me of Roger Waters and Leonard Cohen.' He didn’t necessarily want to sing it — he just wrote to it — and I encouraged him, 'No, that’s beautiful.'

"Maybe we were being too artsy-fartsy," the longtime Extreme frontman continued, "but I thought it was great. And of course it got ripped apart by the fans. But I was proud of the fact that it was the only record where Eddie sang on it. I’m sure people appreciate that now. I’m proud of that. I’ve always loved the song; the middle of it was like a soundtrack."

At the time, the guitarist told Billboard that he sang lead on the track because, "They forced me. Don't be shocked when you hear the vocal. I sound like a cross between Tom Waits and Roger Waters. ... I've got a pretty low voice. We added some harmonies, so when I do it live I'm not alone."

The lead vocal on "How Many Say I" helped create the narrative that III played out more like an Eddie Van Halen solo record than a true band effort, but Cherone sees it differently. Instead, he believes that the change in the creative process, with Van Halen writing music to Cherone's lyrics instead of composing the tune first, brought out a different side of the guitarist.

"Maybe to a fault, there was a freedom that we had on Van Halen III that was maybe too eclectic for the Van Halen fans," Cherone added. "When he sat down at the piano and played, I would sit there in awe. I encouraged that. I think he enjoyed that freedom. Some people critique it as an Eddie Van Halen solo record. I don’t think that’s fair. I think Eddie found a new freedom in his writing."

Listen to Van Halen's "How Many Say I"

 

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