[2 July 2014]
After 30-plus years of music, mayhem, and (to quote the group’s guitarist, Mick Mars) “more drama than General Hospital”, Mötley Crüe is finally hanging it up. Today marks the start of the band’s final tour, titled All Bad Things Must Come to an End. In a day and age where the phrase “farewell tour” holds as much water as a spaghetti strainer, all four original members of Mötley Crüe signed a legally binding document assuring fans that this was truly the end of the line and that the parting of ways will end the group on a high note.
“We always had a vision of going out with a big [expletive] bang and not playing county fairs and clubs with one or two original band members”, said drummer Tommy Lee.
While this dissolution of the band is amicable, there were a few times in its storied history where one or more members left Mötley Crüe in a huff. In 1992, singer Vince Neil left (whether he quit or was fired depends upon who is telling the story) and was supplanted by John Corabi. In 1994, Mötley Crüe made one album with Corabi on lead vocals before Neil returned in 1997. In 1999, it was Lee’s turn to leave to pursue solo projects. He was replaced briefly by the late great Randy Castillo (formerly a member of Ozzy Osbourne’s band), who succumbed to cancer shortly after joining. Former Hole drummer Samantha Maloney stepped in until Lee rejoined in 2004.
As one of the bands that lead the charge on the Sunset Strip in the early ‘80s, Mötley Crüe had a palpable influence on a number of bands saturated in hairspray. What set the Crüe apart from the bulk of its spandex-clad brethren was that their music and image evolved over time. During the late ‘80s, the quartet dropped the heavy makeup in favor of a more streetwise, leather-and-denim look, and later embraced alternative and industrial flavors without forsaking its signature sound.
What made Mötley Crüe so special, though, was that it was a band comprised of four distinct personalities, each with their own talents and influences.
Nikki Sixx, bassist, lyricist, and the mastermind at the heart of the Crüe, struggled with heroin addiction during the band’s years. A self-described bookworm, Sixx was bullied as a child and often felt alienated, due in part to his tumultuous home life and absentee father. Sixx learned to fight back against his tormentors and immersed himself in music. He escaped from the Midwest to Los Angeles, reinventing himself as Nikki Sixx and forming Mötley Crüe.
As the band’s “token blond”, lead singer Vince Neil gave an unmistakable voice to Sixx’s lyrics. Vince’s tanned California surfer boy image stood in stark contrast to the darker-haired members of the Crüe. His charismatic stage presence brought the element of sex to Mötley’s stage shows. Whereas Sixx was heavily influenced by the Sex Pistols, Neil held a deep and abiding love for Cheap Trick. The strange marriage of these influences can certainly be heard on the band’s debut album, Too Fast for Love.
Tommy Lee, the band’s drummer and perennial man-child, began his Mötley tour of duty when he was barely legal. Lee was the second member to join Mötley Crüe and had a natural chemistry with Sixx. The two later became known as the Terror Twins thanks to their hard rock (and hard drug) hijinx through the years. Lee actually attended the same high school as Vince Neil and, when the time came to find a more fitting lead singer at the suggestion of the group’s guitarist, Lee jumped at the chance to bring his high school pal on board. In addition to bringing hard-hitting, frenetic-paced beats to the table, Lee brought a sense of showmanship behind the drum kit – spinning sticks and even his kit itself in many of the band’s live shows.
If Nikki Sixx can be considered the heart of Mötley Crüe, Mick Mars is likely the band’s soul. At least seven years older than his bandmates, Mars was weaned on a steady diet of Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix—bringing the element of a big, beefy, bluesy sound to the band. Whereas his Mötley mates spent most of their time chasing women and pursuing journeys of the imagination by way of narcotic substances, the thin, vampiric-looking Mars honed his craft and suffered in silence with Ankylosing Spondylitis, a progressive spinal disorder that causes the vertebrae to fuse together. As a result, the disease now makes it impossible for the guitarist to stand straight or turn his head. The quiet, unassuming Mars is perhaps the most inspiring element of Mötley Crüe. One look at this seemingly frail man and you’d never guess his strength, humor, or that he’d be capable of producing a guitar sound so mammoth.
So, how do you celebrate a band rather than eulogize it? Listing ten of the group’s greatest tracks is a good place to start. Here are ten Mötley Crüe songs that stand as sonic time capsules spanning its 33-year career. Although MC94 and New Tattoo featured some solid tracks, only songs that include all four original members of Mötley Crüe were considered for the purpose of this list. Putting personal preference aside and focusing on songs that serve as the best representation of the band and its sound, these ten songs epitomize the essence of Mötley Crüe and the legacy it leaves behind.
The band’s last full-length album, Saints of Los Angeles was a loose concept album, originally intended to be a soundtrack to the movie version of the group’s autobiography, The Dirt. Permeated by a winding, grinding burlesque riff-beat combo, and lyrics that feel like a perverse nursery rhyme, “White Trash Circus” is the Crüe’s proud declaration of wearing its heart on its sleaze and analyzing the love/hate dynamic within the band: “Been livin’ on the road about a year and a half / If we go another mile we’re gonna kick each other’s ass / Someone’s gonna quit or someone’s gonna die / We don’t give a shit ‘cause we’re busy getting’ high / Another lawsuit and another arrest / We wouldn’t change a thing because we love it to death.” ‘Nuff said.
Mötley Crüe may not have made a Faustian pact, but it did recognize that there’s nothing like a good shout out to Old Scratch to cement your reputation among the unhallowed pantheon of rock. Following in the footsteps of everyone from the Rolling Stones to Arthur Brown, the band courted controversy and the wrath of the PMRC by shouting at the devil. Thirty years later, the title track from Mötley Crüe’s second album still feels timeless. Although the vocals and instrumentation remain as raw and heavy as ever, today, it’s hard to imagine anyone ever batting a lash at the lyrics by today’s standards.
Generation Swine marked the return of Vince Neil to the fold after his departure in 1992. “Afraid” was the first single from the album that reunited the four original members and saw the band taking a more experimental approach to songs. Peppered with minor chords and industrial-flavored beats, “Afraid” kept some of the murky tones of the group’s MC94 release. Although the band never shied away from darker subject matter, lyrically, “Afraid” crept around inside the head of a young woman consumed by fear of loss and emotion, attempting to reassure her that “it’s only life” and quell “the drama in her head”.
A deep cut from Mötley Crüe’s first album, “On With the Show” developed a reputation as a fan favorite, particularly when the band dusted it off for its 2004 comeback, playing it live for the first time in decades. Not quite a ballad and not quite a full-throttle rock tune, “On With the Show” is another fine example of Nikki Sixx’s lyrical storytelling. The song depicts a bittersweet look at the dysfunctional relationship between a girl named Suzie and a junkie/musician named Frankie—the latter’s name derived from Sixx’s birth name, Frank Carlton Serafino Ferrano.
The title track from what was arguably the Crüe’s best album starts with a slow, rhythmic burn before erupting into one of the most recognizable riffs in the band’s catalog. “Dr. Feelgood” weaves a complex story in under five minutes, charting the rise and fall of a drug kingpin. The song also boasts a Jim Dandy of a chorus that’s almost as addictive as the dealer’s wares themselves. “Dr. Feelgood’s” subject matter and storyline are perfectly complimented by chugging riffs, a slinky bass line, and streetwise war drums. Vince Neil’s vocals add an additional layer of sleaze to the track, and even the band’s heretofore silent guitarist, Mick Mars (the only Crüe member who never sang lead vocals on a track), turns in a brief appearance with demonic, augmented vocals by way of a talkbox.
The sole single from Mötley Crüe’s Too Fast for Love debut, “Live Wire” pulses with the energy of a young, hungry band. The song tears out of the gate with a monster of a riff that cuts right to the chase, while a 19-year-old Tommy Lee bashes the ever-loving hell out of his drum kit and even manages to answer the call for more cowbell. What makes “Live Wire” so interesting, especially for a group in its infancy, is that it quickens and slows the pace at intervals throughout. There’s even a nifty little breakdown with Sixx and Mars plunking away at opposite end of their fretboards and meeting somewhere in the middle with glorious results.
When a song starts with the revving of a motorcycle, you’re not quite sure what you’re getting into, but you have a pretty good idea where you’re headed. An ode to strip clubs around the world, Mötley Crüe undoubtedly receives a hefty royalty check every time a dancer exits the stage and a gentleman’s club janitor has to wipe down the pole to the tune of “Girls, Girls, Girls”. A defining factor of “Girls” is Mick Mars’ blues-flavored tone coming into its own, particularly on the song’s guitar solo outro.
The song’s title stems from Sixx’s near-fatal 1987 overdose. Sixx was pronounced clinically dead before a quick-thinking EMT gave him a shot of adrenaline to “kickstart” his heart. This overdose prompted Mötley Crüe to re-evaluate its status as hardcore users of drink and drugs, and Dr. Feelgood became the group’s first album as a sober unit. Replacing needles and spoons with fast-paced thrills, “Kickstart My Heart” raps about band life as a collective of adrenaline junkies. Tommy Lee’s fast n’ furious drumming on the track gives further credence to that claim, clocking in with a staggering 179 beats per minute.
“Home Sweet Home” is arguably the greatest power ballad in the history of metal. It begins with a slow, tender series of piano chords that give way to full-blown electric bombast. Sixx’s lyrics via Neil’s vocals declare “My heart’s like an open book / For the whole world to read / Sometimes nothing / Keeps me together at the seams”. Whereas most power ballads wax poetic about romantic love, what makes “Home Sweet Home” so special is that it batters down a single soul’s defenses and lays it bare. “Home Sweet Home” uses life on the road and the concept of “home” (wherever that may be) as a metaphor, but there’s something about this song that anyone can relate to if they’ve ever tried to make a connection with another human being.
If “Girls, Girls, Girls” showcased Mars’ latent metal blues side rearing its head, “Primal Scream” sees it blossom to its fullest by way of a blistering slide guitar that provide the backbone of this song. Originally one of five new tracks that appeared on the group’s Decade of Decadence retrospective, the song features Mötley Crüe at its best and hints at the angst-riddled potential the band could have had moving into its second decade, had vocalist Vince Neil not been ousted just one year later. Neil returned in 1997, but too much time had elapsed to pick up just where the Mötley machine had left off.