Van Halen and Brown M&Ms

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For years a story had circulated that the rock and roll group Van Halen had a contract that required that a bowl of M&Ms be left backstage wherever they performed, with all the brown M&Ms removed. If there were any brown M&Ms in the bowl, they would use it as an excuse to trash the room.

Is this just an urban legend, or was there something behind the story?

Find out the surprising truth on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily. 


There are all sorts of urban legends that are passed around, and the majority of them have no basis in reality. 

For example, Paul McCartney died and was replaced by a double, and that they hinted at this fact on the cover of the Abbey Road album.

Or that Phil Collins wrote the song “In the Air Tonight” about watching a man who drowned to death. 

Or that Tupac Shakur faked his own death.

Or that Richard Gere…..well, never mind that one. 

The point is that stories float around which usually have no basis in reality. 

The story about Van Halen was that the band had a rider in all of their contracts that a bowl of M&Ms was to be left backstage and that all the brown one be removed. If there were any brown M&Ms in the bowl, then the entire concert could be forfeited and the band might trash the room.

It sounds like something ridiculous that a demanding celebrity might make up because they think too highly of themselves and think they can get away with murder.

Well, in this case, the legend was true. Van Halen did have such a clause in their contracts and the bowl of M&Ms was one of the very first things which they checked when they arrived at a new venue. 

The reason for the brown M&M clause wasn’t to be difficult. It was a check to make sure that venues actually read the contract. 

When Van Halen was touring in the 1980s, they had one of the most complicated sets of technical requirements for a concert, and correspondingly one of the largest contracts in concert history.

The stage for the tour was extremely heavy and the lighting system was one of the largest and most power-hungry systems ever used by a touring concert.

Van Halen was one of the first acts to take large productions into smaller tertiary markets. Many of the venues they would perform in were not used to the requirements for such large productions and some simply couldn’t handle the requirements.

The brown M&Ms request was nothing more than a check to make sure that the venue actually read the contract. If they found brown M&Ms, they knew they would have to a line check on all of the electrical and physical infrastructure. 

They would also use finding brown M&Ms as an opportunity to trash their dressing rooms. 

David Lee Roth told the story in his autobiography about a time the band was going to perform in Pueblo, Colorado at a university. They had just installed a new rubberized floor and hadn’t read the contract carefully. 

Sure enough, there were brown M&Ms in the backstage area, and they knew something was probably wrong. 

They were right. The weight of the stage was far more than what the rubberized floor could could support and the entire structure sunk six inches into the floor, doing over a half-million dollars in damage, which could have been avoided if they had actually read the contract. 

The band trashed their dressing room in response. The media confused the two stories and reported that the band did over half a million dollars in damage to the backstage. The band let the story persist because they wanted future venues to know that they took their contract seriously, even the brown M&Ms part. 

In the process of researching this subject, I was taken down two very different paths. The first of which was the case of celebrity contract riders. These are the odd requests that celebrities make when they do appearances. 

Most of these are just them being difficult and demanding, and not technical contract checks as Van Halen did. 

Some of them are really odd. For example, David Hasselhoff requires a full size cut out backstage of……David Hasselhoff.

When doing a series of concerts at the O2 Arena in London, Prince once asked for a five-bedroom luxury home to be built for him. 

Joe Jonas required that not one, not two, but twelve puppies be there for him when he arrives in a city.

Mariah Carrey required someone to be available who’s job is to throw away her gum. 

Justin Timberlake requires an entire hotel floor to himself, and for someone to disinfect the doorknobs every two hours.

Christina Aguilera asks for soy cheese and flintstone chewable vitamins. 

Jack White wants guacamole in his room, but he is so fussy about it, that he has the entire guacamole recipe included in the contract.

The absolute best rider, however, has to be the Foo Fighters. The Foo Fighters has a 15 page rider for all the things necessary for them and their crew. They don’t hold back providing expository about the reasoning behind all their points.

For example, one of their requests is as follow:

“Vegetarians. Yep. The Crusades didn’t rid the world of them so we have to pretend to care. Seriously, a baked potato is not an acceptable dinner. I will go Jeffrey Dahmer on the staff and anyone in range if I see one more baked potato bar set up in a dank meeting room in the rectum of a basketball gym.”

Or this way of requesting condiments:

“Condiments: Since we are probably getting overbilled for lunch or dinner, how about having the condiment fairy drop off a gaggle of new, unopened condiments to enhance your radical cuisine. We don’t want the last few millimeters of sauce that Alice Cooper left in the mustard bottle.”

I highly recommend going and reading the full Foo Fighters rider. It is highly entertaining. 

The second path this story took me down was the history of M&Ms. 

When M&Ms were first released, they came in 5 colors: red, yellow, green, brown, and purple. Most people have no clue that the original M&Ms had a purple. In 1949, the purple ones were removed and replaced with tan.

In 1976, the red M&Ms were removed and replaced with orange due to a cancer scare from red food dye. In 1986, a group called the “Society for the Restoration and Preservation of Red M&M’s” and they brought red back.

In 1995, tan M&Ms were replaced with blue, which gives us the colors we have today.

Brown M&Ms used to be the most common color. The M&M website reported back in 1997 the breakdown of colors, and browns were at 30%, which was the highest percentage.

They stopped publishing the data, but one statistician in 2017 decided to do his own analysis of M&M colors and found that brown now only represent 13% of colors, which is now the lowest percentage. 

So, that means if Van Halen should get the band back together and decides to go on tour with the same contract rider they did back in the 80s, it is going to be almost 66% easier for venues to meet their demands to remove all the brown M&Ms.