When Van Halen's 1996 reunion with David Lee Roth went off the rails, fans were left with a small amount of solace in the form of two original songs on the Best of – Volume I compilation. It was the first new material from the classic lineup in a dozen years. One of those tracks, “Me Wise Magic,” hit the top spot on the Mainstream Rock chart on Oct. 26, 1996.
Born out of an unlikely reconnection between Roth and Eddie Van Halen in July 1996 after the ousting of Sammy Hagar the previous month, “Me Wise Magic” was one of approximately 20 songs the guitarist presented to the singer as potential bonus tracks on the band's first compilation. (Spanning both the Roth and Hagar eras, the collection included the newish Hagar-led track “Humans Being,” “Me Wise Magic” is a wildly inventive and interesting part of the Van Halen catalog. Clocking in at a little more than six minutes, it’s the longest piece of music the band ever recorded with Roth. The singer’s signature wail had been tempered by age, seven months of rust and occasionally reduced to spoken-word portions, but Eddie Van Halen rips off chunky riffs between high-note squeals, often within mere seconds of one another, as Alex Van Halen provides a monstrous drumming bedrock.
A few days later, on Oct. 2, Roth released a statement to the press that the Van Halen reunion wouldn’t be taking place, and it was all Eddie Van Halen’s fault. Less than 24 hours later, the band delivered a vitriol-filled missive of its own; later that same day, radio stations began to play “Me Wise Magic” before receiving a cease-and-desist order from Warner Bros. Records, making them hold off until the official airdate of Oct. 7.
The song debuted at No. 4 on the Mainstream Rock chart, before going No. 1 and staying there for six weeks. The video was never made, a physical single was never released and the song is one of just a handful by the classic Van Halen lineup that was never performed live.