To me, the hits part of this disc is just preamble. The reason everybody went out and bought this CD on October 22, 1996 was the return of David Lee Roth. Nobody cared about the hits. I remember working at the record store the day this was released. A lot of people thought it would be a new studio album. I had many comments that day saying, "But I already have most of these songs." One guy even bought it assuming it was a new studio album and returned it the next day -- I guess he didn't read the title?
Anyway, enough rambling. Best Of Volume I was much hyped due to "Can't Get This Stuff No More" and "Me Wise Magic", the first new songs by the original Van Halen in over a decade. For fans of this band, we were elated to hear new music that clearly harkened back to the pre-synth, pre-1984 sound of Van Halen. Dave's voice is now lower and less powerful, but his delivery is pure gleeful Dave, even on these darker songs. His lyrics (which according to Roth, Eddie didn't like) are as poetic as ever. Eddie's letting his guitar speak, basing both songs purely on riffage. This was a pretty cool about-face from the too-comercial sounds of Balance.
This album is worth it just for these two new songs alone. It is, thus far, the only place you can get them.
For Sammy fans, there is the excellent "Humans Being" with its angry modern verses and bright shiny chorus. This is the only Van Halen album where you can get "Humans Being" saving you from having to buy the terrible Twister soundtrack. (Missing is a track called "Respect The Wind" billed by Eddie & Alex Van Halen from the same soundtrack.)
The hits portion of this disc, gloriously remastered for the first time, is brief (it's a single disc, after all) but almost completely without filler. Only one track, Sammy's way-too-pop "Can't Stop Loving You", doesn't belong. However, to put this decision in context, in 1996 that was one of Van Halen's most recent hit singles, just over a year old. The rest of the album takes tracks from each studio record (sans Diver Down which Eddie doesn't speak highly of). The most notable omissions were "Hot For Teacher" (available on the Japanese release) and "Love Walks In" (which I can gladly do without). Presumably there would have been more tracks on a Volume II, which never materialized.
Of interest, if you're lucky enough to own a first pressing of this CD, you own a very rare alternate version of "Runnin' With the Devil" where the verses, chorus and solos were arranged in a different order than that of the original album version. Take a listen and see if you're one of the few lucky ones.
5 stars. Despite the brevity, this album doesn't overstay the party.