The Unusual M&M's Rule In All Van Halen Contracts

During the height of Van Halen's popularity, reports circulated about the band's notorious eccentricity, an eccentricity bordering on insanity, even to many fans (per Snopes). Most famous was the rumor, per Business Management Daily, that they refused to accept any brown M&M's in their candy bowl backstage.

According to NPR and a famous interview with David Lee Roth (documented in his memoir "Crazy from the Heat"), the rumor was absolutely true (per The Wrap). Snopes even includes an image of the contract rider (under the "Munchies" category) which reads, in all caps: "M&M's: WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES."

What's up with the brown-candy hate, Van Halen? Did the band buy into the myth of the green M&M and somehow thought that would be an asset before a show? Or were they just a bunch of prima donnas, unable to tolerate a bowl of candy that looked just like everyone else's? The requirement seemed like an early example of high profile musician's extreme requests (like Mariah Carey's rider's bling expectations and the specific number of sesame seeds required on her McDonald's bun).

Van Halen's secret M&M's code

Actually, the M&M rule made a whole lot of sense — and (spoiler) — had absolutely nothing to do with Van Halen's taste in chocolate. In fact, it was a very clever visual litmus test. You see, Van Halen was one of the first bands that really pulled out all the stops when they put on a concert, per Insider. When they went on tour, they traveled with a tremendous amount of equipment: lights, cameras, the works. All that equipment required attentive setup, which many venues were unaccustomed to accommodating and would often fail to observe. Errors could lead to serious setbacks or even death, as Van Halen fortunately avoided once in Colorado, when producers didn't observe the weight requirements — negligence which would have led to the stage's collapse (as reported by TLNT). 

Van Halen needed to make sure that stage managers were observing the terms of their contract. But how? If he asked them, they'd swear they had followed his stipulations. He couldn't tell just by looking at the set if things had been done as they asked. But when he saw a bowl with brown M&M's in it, he knew something was off, and that bigger things were bound to have gone awry as well. The candies were his visual cue to check the rest of the operation before proceeding with the performance; they were Roth's code hidden in plain sight. The man had an eye (in addition to an ear) for detail.