Van Halen's Brown M&Ms

Van Halen's Brown M&MsI had tickets to see Radiohead at Downsview Park Saturday. I was preparing to leave when I saw the news on Twitter. The stage had collapsed, leaving a member of the crew dead, and the concert was cancelled.

That was a horrible accident, and it reminded me of Van Halen's brown M&Ms. Snopes explains it nicely.

By far the most notorious of these whimsical requests is the legend that Van Halen's standard concert contract called for them to be provided with a bowl of M&Ms backstage, but with provision that all the brown candies must be removed. The presence of even a single brown M&M in that bowl, rumor had it, was sufficient legal cause for Van Halen to peremptorily cancel a scheduled appearance without advance notice (and usually an excuse for them to go on a destructive rampage as well).

The legendary "no brown M&Ms" contract clause was indeed real, but the purported motivation for it was not. The M&Ms provision was included in Van Halen's contracts not as an act of caprice, but because it served a practical purpose: to provide an easy way of determining whether the technical specifications of the contract had been thoroughly read (and complied with). As Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth explained in his autobiography:

Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets. We'd pull up with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max. And there were many, many technical errors — whether it was the girders couldn't support the weight, or the flooring would sink in, or the doors weren't big enough to move the gear through.

The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function. So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say "Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes . . ." This kind of thing. And article number 126, in the middle of nowhere, was: "There will be no brown M&M's in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation."

So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl . . . well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you're going to arrive at a technical error. They didn't read the contract. Guaranteed you'd run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.

Pretty smart. And to think we all just thought Van Halen were just prima donna assholes.

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Mississauga Phil

Why can't it be both...just because they are safety concious, doesn't mean they aren't also prima donna assholes....

oh and the new record was the biggest peice of crap I've ever heard...and yes that includes Justin Beiber...thats how bad Van Halens new ablum sucked!!!!

June 18, 2012 @ 3:46 PM

Toronto Mike Verified as the defacto Toronto Mike

@Mississauga Phil

True that... I added "just" to the prima donna statement.

June 18, 2012 @ 3:51 PM


@ Mississauga Phil:

Aww, do you miss Sammy Hagar's ballads?

"Only time will tell if we stand the test of time."

June 18, 2012 @ 5:36 PM


Hey Mike....what happened to Buck Martinez? Why is he not on the Jays broadcasts anymore?

June 18, 2012 @ 9:21 PM

Toronto Mike Verified as the defacto Toronto Mike


I think Buck's on vacation.

June 19, 2012 @ 12:09 AM

Mississauga Phil

@ Cory - Actually, I never cared for Van Halen, or 80's rock in general. If you look at my cd collection (or I gues mp3's now) there is a glaring gap between the 70's and 90's

June 19, 2012 @ 8:00 AM

Mississauga Phil

@ Cory - Actually, I never cared for Van Halen, or 80's rock in general. If you look at my cd collection (or I gues mp3's now) there is a glaring gap between the 70's and 90's

June 19, 2012 @ 8:00 AM

Mississauga Phil

@ Cory - Actually I never cared for Van Halen, or 80's rock in general. There is a glaring gap in my music collection between the 70's and 90's...I'm just saying the new album is particularly bad!

June 19, 2012 @ 8:02 AM


Hey Phil - wait a sec. You never cared for VH, but you bought their latest album? Why?

June 19, 2012 @ 8:24 AM

Mississauga Phil

Hey Cory - Haven't bought it, I've heard the 2 tracks they've released (both sucked!!) and a couple others when it was playing at a friends house....So I guess technically I haven't heard the entire album (thank god)...My statment still sucks!!!

June 19, 2012 @ 8:42 AM


@ Phil
I guess I'll take your opinion with a grain of salt then, since you haven't really listened the album, and you're not a fan of the genre anyway.  Growing up, in highschool I didn't really align myself with any one genre of music - I was into the Police, the Cure, INXS, just as much as I was in to Van Halen or the Cult. Which is all to say I was a big fan of Van Halen, up to 1984 (the album and the year).  After that they pretty much fell by the wayside for me, until this latest release.  So 28 years after I bought my last Van Halen record, I was pleasantly surprised to find how much I enjoyed the new one.  It wasn't just some feeble "comeback" album from a washed up band - IT SMOKES.  Eddie's playing is incredible, the band is tight and the songs are heavier (in a good way) then anything coming out by today's supposed "hard rock" bands.  Critically it was very well received, it hit #2 on Billboard (completely unheard of for a hard rock record in today's music scene), and everyone I know who is a fan of hard rock liked it as much as I do. 
(PS - why do you misspell my name everytime?!? Is it a deliberate signal of disrespect? j/k)

June 19, 2012 @ 11:55 AM

Mississauga Phil

@ Corey - No disrespect inteneded brother. My cousin is Cory without the "e" so I guess it's just what I'm used to. That being said I'll try to watch that, I have 2 "l's" in Phillip and it always irks me when it's miss-spelled.

Please do take my thoughts on Halen with a grain of salt, if you are a fan of the hair metal genre you may very well like it, I just didn't. (no surprise as I really do dislike 80's rock for the most part). That's the great thing about music, what speaks to one person, might not speak to another...

June 20, 2012 @ 8:12 AM


Actually, we agree on something - I hate(d) "hair metal" bands.  I actually don't even consider VH part of that genre.  Poison, Motley Crue, Ratt, etc., are all groups I feel defined Hair Metal, and were just pale imitators of who didn't actually "get" what made the Roth-era VH so entertaining.  While the may have had guys who could play the guitar, they didn't have the inherent musicianship to create memorable and suitable solos.  Where Van Halen could be witty and fun, these pretenders were witless apes - stupid, crass lyrics, annoying masturbatory soloing, and tacky, bombastic stage presentations.  That wasn't Van Halen. 

June 20, 2012 @ 10:46 AM

Mississauga Phil

@ Corey - I would agree that Van Halen is far better than the above mentioned bands. Still not a big fan of theirs, but as a guitarist myself I can completly appreciate the musical talent in the band...I don't know why I dislike them, I just do.

I'm sure part of it comes from the "you're one of us or one of them" mentality that a lot of the 90's era grunge bands had. I was born in '81 so I din't really start getting into music until the late 80's/early 90's. Well past the prime of most of the 80's rock bands.

I'd take STP or Soundgarden over Van Halen anyday

June 20, 2012 @ 11:26 AM


I have heard similar stories of artists pulling the old 'no brown M&Ms' type rule. At least it does ensure that the contracts have been fully read I suppose.

July 22, 2013 @ 12:31 AM

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