Let’s get big, loud, aggressive. Let’s find a sound, a look, a party. Let’s love T-Rex, Jeff Beck, Mott the Hoople. Let’s split one order of fries four ways for dinner. Let’s legally change names. Let’s be a rebel a ladies man a scary creature a wild child. Let’s go to Hollywood, become stars, go gold, platinum, triple-platinum. Check out this classified: “LOUD rude aggressive lead guitarist sks working band, xlnt equip, record credit, & vocal ability – call Mick.” Let’s call Mick. Let’s have the highest risers, loudest amps. Let’s get Revlon Flex Net hairspray at Sav On, put drums on a roller coaster, hide in closets for most of a year while clinging to grandpa’s shotgun and strung out on heroin. Let’s make $10,000 bets on who nails a mother-daughter-grandmother combo. Let’s light the hotel on fire. Let’s chug Jack Daniels until it double-bubbles. Let’s admit to vehicular manslaughter. Let’s paint the tour jet jet black.
Don’t be ignorant like me and think Spinal Tap or Almost Famous have anything to do with 80s hard rock and Mötley Crüe. Those are 70s stories about bands wearing dungarees. Crüe eclipses. Rather than mope about life on the road as those forebears did, Crüe would shoot hot asphalt into its veins. They probably tried.
Mötley Crüe Primer: The Band
Bassist Nikki Sixx is Crüe’s founder, principal songwriter, and driving force; drummer Tommy Lee came on board as partner-in-mischief; vocalist Vince Neil (the blond) is their front man; guitarist Mick Mars completes the team. That’s the classic, enduring Crüe lineup.
This four-man, one-guitar band will represent in March Shredness with “Home Sweet Home” from 1985’s Theatre of Pain, and “Dr. Feelgood,” 1989.
And that’s good news for the band, because, as Vince Neil once said, “You have to see us twice to appreciate us, like a good horror movie.”
I’ve got no skin in this bracket. As far as Mötley Crüe goes, the only character I can remotely relate to in its whole history is Karen Dumont, the record company employee who had the thankless job of trying to keep Sixx off drugs in 1987. She feared for her life house-sitting his mansion full of whores, piss, handguns, and heroin.
I’ll tell you what I do love about Mötley Crüe: there are a couple people in my life completely dedicated to music, as in: they have consistently arranged their lives to make room out of a pure love of it, and they love this band.
Mötley Crüe bills itself as the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band. The depths are plumbed in tell-all books: Nikki Sixx’s Heroin Diaries, Tommy Lee’s Tommyland. A comprehensive look inside Mötley Crüe, The Dirt, left no question this gang embodied the hedonism its songs extolled. If they could, they stuck a needle and/or a dick in it.
Sixx was quoted in a mid-80’s metal edition of Super Teen as follows: “We’re the American youth, and youth is about sex, drugs, pizza, and more sex. We’re intellectuals on a crotch level. We’re the guys in high school your parents told you to stay away from. That’s what we’re like on stage and off.”
Tom Werner, who produced the Crüe’s first three albums, confirms authenticity. In a 2001 interview with Mixonline, a professional audio and music production magazine, he was asked how it was to work with a band that struck fear in the hearts of parents, and he said, “Mötley Crüe was...they weren't posers. They weren't pretending. They're great guys, but they lived fast and hard, no question about it.”
Doc McGhee, who managed the band at Elektra, said in a VH1 documentary, “It wasn’t really like they were a band. They were a gang. They were just these four guys who were completely whacked.” He also said, “It wasn’t about Mötley Crüe playing, when Mötley Crüe came on, the (fans) were just nuts.”
Trunk Nation Assessment
There is no better authority on Rock History when it comes to heavy metal than Eddie Trunk. He currently hosts Trunk Nation on SiriusXM and has a weekly podcast where he interviews hit-makers and legends of the genre. He’s met and interviewed all four of the Crüe, and has encyclopedic knowledge. He’s also a hometown friend of mine, we saw Queen at Madison Square Garden in high school, so I rang him up to ask a few questions. He cautioned me against using the term ‘hair metal’ or ‘hair band.’
"It has become the norm to call bands of that era that. Many do it now as an endearing term. But in reality it is a derogatory term that was first coined by the 90s grunge bands and critics to make fun of the music and label it as style over substance. It is not a complimentary label and was born to mock them. Again, these days many forget that and use it. Some bands even embrace it. But it really was, and is, a term to diminish bands of that time.”
Trunk said when it comes to bands like Mötley Crüe, Van Halen, Guns ‘n’ Roses, “I simply call it 80s hard rock.“
In terms of Mötley Crüe’s musical legacy, Trunk said, the band’s “first two records are their best records, in that order. After the first two records, the material got uneven.”
“They were chameleons that never made the same music twice, and their look changed from album to album, too. By the time the third album came around,” Trunk said, “The success saw them evolve and attempt to become even more accessible. Look at their look. The second record they look demonic and demented, by the third they have on the makeup and are pretty, and then the fourth they are bikers.”
That’s not to say there weren’t hits on every album, because there were and this band always delivered, but Trunk said what’s better about their early work is that the band is, “Younger, hungrier, more raw. The 70s glam and punk attitude were a big part of it. Plus, there’s an old industry adage that you have your whole life to write your first record, and then you have one year to put out your second, and a year after that for the third. What I like about their first record is it’s got a pop sensibility. Sixx was a fan of power pop, and even covered a Raspberries song. Mötley Crüe’s first album was the result of them working in clubs and building up a fan base.”
Looking back on Shout at the Devil, Trunk said, “The second record took a sharper turn, it’s a much harder record, and they are much more of a metal band. It’s the sound and the look. More heavy makeup and satanic imagery – a fire and brimstone sort of approach versus the first record. By the third record they became a bit more commercial and, Theatre of Pain is, I believe and I know the band agrees, is not a strong complete record. They were so whacked out on substances and the success that came. The album was bailed out by 'Home Sweet Home' and that Brownsville Station cover, 'Smoking in the Boys Room,' but the sense of the first two albums is gone."
The Video Entertainment Factor
Mötley Crüe arrived on the scene when music videos accelerated stardom. The band hit the scene in 1981; MTV debuted seven months later in August. VH1, an MTV offshoot, started in 1985.
“MTV no doubt had a huge role to play,” Trunk said. “Any band from that era can say that MTV contributed to their success, but Mötley Crüe is a band that sauntered in. They had a look, and they had at least two or three hit songs on each album. You have to remember how the model flipped during MTV’s heyday. It used to be people heard a song on the radio and requested the video on MTV. It didn’t take long before labels were concentrating on video. A lot of bands had MTV hits that never became radio hits.”
Crüe’s power ballad “Home Sweet Home” is a perfect example of this. Sixx said in his 2012 radio program, Sixx Sense, “’Home Sweet Home’ was never a hit single. They never worked it at radio, they never promoted the song, and if it wasn't for MTV back when they used to play videos, that song wouldn't be the song it is today.”
MTV Crüe Trivia: Dire Straits’s huge 1985 hit, “Money for Nothing,” was inspired by a bank of televisions at the back of an appliance store, all tuned to MTV, said band member Mark Knopfler. Sung from the point of view of a workingman, the singer describes how the ‘yo-yos’ in the band do so little for a living and “get the money for nothing and the chicks for free.” Nikki Sixx has claimed that song was written about Mötley Crüe. Trunk said, “I’d be lying if I said I heard that “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits was about Mötley Crüe, but there is a story I’ve heard, that Aerosmith wrote “Dude Looks Like a Lady” after they saw the band for the first time.”
More MTV Crüe lore: there used to be an all-request call-in show, Dial MTV. But after Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home” stayed number one for three months and counting, a “Crüe Rule” was instated, thereafter limiting any song to 30 days at number one.
One more gem: Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson had a bone to pick with Nikki Sixx, thus his “Tattooed Millionaire.” He’s defined tattooed millionaire, if you’re interested. (NSFW)
Taz Marazz, a Parallel History
So, beside my old classmate Eddie, who is still the down-to-earth guy from my old neighborhood, there’s another person I love who is trüe-blüe: My Uncle Glen. Now, Glen Weisgerber is interesting, and he’s hard to define. Is he the number one East Coast letterer and pinstriper? (Here’s a link to his viewed-by-nearly-two-million tutorial on round-hand lettering) or is he (performing as Taz Marazz in this cut from 1989) the world’s greatest unknown hard rock drummer? He is so talented at both.
I first met Glen at a family wedding in 1991. He wore women’s size 9 skinny jeans, had tattoos out the ying-yang, and jet-black hair up to there. Think skull rings and vodka-cranberries all night long. There is no laugh better than Glen’s—it comes from deep down and he tosses his head back. Even better, if you make him laugh? He gives a quick nod of satisfaction for it, job well done. At the time, he was working in a band called Love Pirates, complete with a British frontman named Gass. My husband and I would visit their wild gigs at The Cove in Roselle. The following year, Glen sat in on a drum session at my wedding, and brought down the house (not to mention one of the rent-a-band’s drum heads) with a smoking solo. So, I love my Uncle. As a long-time hard rock drummer who was working in bands throughout the 80s and 90s, he’s been mistaken more than once for Tommy Lee. Trivia: Glen can be seen as an extra in the 1990 cult film, Frankenhooker.
Throughout the 80s, Glen drummed in many hard rock bands. New York locals might remember some: Oliver’s Twist, Brute Force, Band of Thieves, Crüella Deville (the name a mash-up of Crüe and Cinderella), Wild Life, and Frankie Mob. He’s a working musician with solid insights on Crüe, which he shared in a telephone call.
Glen: I love their first album. It was such a homegrown album. They printed it on their own label, and they were doing real good with it, selling it at their own shows. Who discovered them? Geffen?
Anne: An LA couple backed them early, and then Elektra took over.
G: That’s it. The label was impressed. Here’s a band selling out shows and selling a record without any help. So Elektra brings them on and simply reissues their own homemade record on Elektra.
A: That’s Too Fast for Love.
G: And the songs on it are so diverse from song to song. It’s what they sounded like before a producer got to them and shaped them. It’s like they weren’t even heavy metal yet.
A: The early work is different. Not to mention, Nikki Sixx couldn’t even play bass back then.
G: Yeah, they were one of those bands that learned to play in front of the audience. Listen to the old U2. Same thing with them, they got better over time. But Crüe is really special. They are very unique for their whole time, and that’s why they’ve outlasted everyone. Everyone else was following Crüe’s lead. When Seattle and the Grunge thing came through, and acts started closing up shop, it didn’t even affect Mötley Crüe. Another early band was Ratt, but after that? Eh. Crüe really did its own thing. There’s this one song on their first album, Merry Go Round and Round, which sounds like a pop song.
A: Oh yeah, it really does. You told me one of your favorite Crüe songs is an early one, from Shout at the Devil, “Too Young to Fall in Love.” What makes that so great, for a drummer?
G: That starts out with a strong 1-2 beat, one on a kick and one on a snare: BOOM pah BOOM pah ONE two THREE four. It’s a simple, primal, 4-4 intro. (Lee’s) got a lot of technique. He’s a really solid drummer. But to hear him lay down a 4-4 backbeat? That gives me goose bumps.
A: It seems like Crüe’s first three albums are drum-heavy. Maybe not until Bob Rock came along did they start deploying Mick Mars’s talents.
G: Oh, Mick. He blows away the other guitarists of the period. He’s very undervalued. He had a big Hendrix and Cream influence, and he kept Mötley Crüe on track their whole career.
A: Just so you know, I’m interested in all this because I’m writing an essay for a voting tournament on 80s hard rock bands. I told them I wanted to write about ‘Too Young to Fall in Love’ because it was your favorite song, and then came to realize all Crüe fans love the early stuff. I was disappointed an early song by Crüe didn’t get a bracket, not only because they are true to Sixx’s founding aesthetic but also: the videos are so frigging entertaining. They are like little story productions that add something to the package. Nevertheless, those deep cuts aren’t going to win a popular vote, and this band did go on to have its share of platinum songs.
G: Well, like we were saying, Nikki Sixx may have had to grow as a bass player, but he was always a great songwriter. That is why Mötley Crüe set the bar. Which songs did they choose?
A: Well, “Home Sweet Home”….
G: Yeah, of course. Big hit…
A: I like the intro to the “Home” video.
G: That’s on the third album?
A: Yeah. I feel like the ‘Home’ video is a real bridge out of early Crüe. Each band member gets sort of introduced before the song gets rolling. The first 30 seconds of that video is a glimpse of each of them in their four separate personalities on the road, and then BOOM, here’s the live footage: stadium, stage, and this cohesive act.
G: They toured a lot. This is how bands become great.
A: That video is great.
G: Who was their manager then?
G: He took them on and started making money.
G: And what other song is involved? “Girls, Girls, Girls”?
A: Hah! No, the tournament chose ‘Dr. Feelgood.’ Oh my god that ‘Girls Girls Girls’ video is 30 years old and is still, wow, did they do that?
G: Hah hah the strip clubs?
A: It’s still crazy all these years later. But I like the choice of “Dr. Feelgood” because Bob Rock produces that, and Mick Mars is finally showcased.
G: It’s a great song. And Mick, yeah, it’s like they woke up and realized they had a guitarist!
A: I wish I had spent more time listening to them in the 80s. I read all their autobiographies, and, hah hah, man. Tommyland? Wow. I think of you, through the whole Mötley Crüe timeline, and what is Tommy Lee’s credo? You don’t stop playing because you get old; you get old because you stop playing. Can you weigh in on Lee’s drumming?
G: Tommy Lee always stood out to me, like John Bonham, Ginger Baker (who, by the way, those two could play circles around him), but he had a style that was his own and really came through. He never overplayed, he played things that were perfect for the song. On “Live Wire,” he goes to the bridge and hits a cowbell. Last time I’d heard a cowbell was Blue Öyster Cult, and he did it. He used to hit all his little splash cymbals, like on “Helter Skelter.”
A: I love that. Now I have to go listen to those songs. Oh, I was thinking: like all the members of Mötley Crüe, you have a stage name. How did that come about?
G: I did this thing that was very much what was going on in the 80s, and (spent some) time in New York. There was this bar, The Scrap Bar in the Village, and it had a reputation as a good venue so I showed up. The guy who ran the door took one look at me and came over like, who’s this new cowboy in town. I sat at the bar, and he came over and asked my name, and I decided not to say Glen. I wanted a new thing in a new place, and I always had a Tasmanian devil on my drum kit. I told him my name was Taz Marazz, just like that. So this guy Val didn’t bat an eyelash and said I have this guy I want you to meet, and I was Taz. So I got invited to this loft where musicians passing through met after hours to jam. I walk in, and there’s this guy Gass who is a Brit, and we were jamming, and I was behind the kit and he said Wow. We’ve auditioned like 30 drummers and you’re exactly who we need. After only two weeks I got in the inner circle without even trying. I did one more show with Wild Life at The Dirt Club and then I was with Love Pirates.
A: What year was that?
G: Around ’89.
A: You have more chops than most who might pipe in about Mötley Crüe. What’s your takeaway?
G: I have to say, when I listen to a band like Mötley Crüe or AC/DC, I don’t pigeonhole them to a kind of music. They are more than a signature of the 80s. Their music traversed into the 90s without a problem. They were Teflon to the Grunge movement. Bands that came after them didn’t have the staying power, the substance, Mötley Crüe had. They had way much more going from the beginning. Their first album is timeless. It’s not so 80s; it’s them! I can remember hearing “Live Wire.” It was a driving song, and I went out and bought the album, and I listened to the rest of it and I was like, Okay, this is different, this is coming from a whole different angle. Vince’s voice? It was different. It was like Dylan. The first time I heard it, I thought well, it’s not exactly a classically trained voice, but it’s an individual. There’s that uniqueness that’s good.
Pre-Tournament Film Session
So, seeing how March Shredness has selected mid- to later-career Mötley Crüe hits, it seems an appreciation of the band’s complete impact requires some study of its early hits. Let’s set the WABAC machine for 1983, and do a breakdown of a song from the second album, Shout at the Devil.
“Too Young to Fall in Love” is one of the band’s favorite songs. I know this because I watched the 1986 Mötley Crüe: Uncensored documentary, which is largely a series of interviews with the band as they cruise hands-free on motorcycles, with busty groupies in limo swimming pools, or at the wheel of a 1976 L82 Red-on-Red Corvette. It’s an homage to their hometown, Hollywood. In it, baby-faced Sixx gets asked what his favorite record is, and he says, “’Too Young to Fall in Love.’ Cause it has really neat chord changes and Mick’s guitar solo is really neat.”
It’s my Uncle’s favorite, too, and appears on what Trunk says is a top album. Let's go. The video, directed by Martin Kahan, embodies Mötley Crüe’s early aesthetic. According to the extensive Chronological Crüe band page run by Australian author Paul Miles, Kahan, whose previous videos included unmasked Kiss’s oversexed “Lick It Up,” was hired at Tommy Lee’s suggestion. Miles reports Lee, “phoned Nikki after seeing one of (Kahan’s) video clips and said he wanted to work with this outrageous director for their next video.”
Miles reports the band filmed this oriental-themed video, “in an abandoned train tunnel under a 12th Avenue warehouse on the outskirts of Manhattan, New York, over thirty-five hours using six sets and fifteen actors, running up a total production cost of $75,000.”
The band looks kooky-kabuki, costume-wise, and doesn’t appear in the first 30 seconds as the narrative sets up. Then, they vamp and catwalk their way to a fight, posing, lunging, thrusting, stick-twirling, strutting.
In a May 1985 report by Christopher Swan for The Christian Science Monitor that criticized video violence, Kahan said his impulse in creating “Too Young to Fall in Love,” was he “just wanted to make an Errol Flynn movie.'' Kahan also said, “Kids at that age want heroes.”
There’s something about “Too Young to Fall in Love” that captures Crüe’s life before international touring and drugs took over. The band is on a mission to rescue a girl who’s been kidnapped for enslavement by a crime syndicate. See, this is the thing: they are the band that parents fear, but here they are behaving like kids, playacting hero-warriors on a quest to save a damsel in distress. They go to battle for this girl in a martial arts showdown (complete with ass-kicking sound effects). Sure, the storyline in TYTFIL does involve an objectified woman owned and traded by men, but the Crüe’s mission is to liberate her. In the end she prefers slavery. Totally disgusted by her subservience, the band waves her off, each making sure to deliver a disgusted glance and headshake.
So, yeah, being bad is relative. They are also smart, funny, and charming.
Fast forward through three more years of the band’s own label-style slavery, and there are no more heroes. Touring for Elektra (which Sixx called Neglektra), they were soon in ruins. In the VH1 documentary, The Rise and Rise of Mötley Crüe, Elektra management knew the band was out of control with substance abuse, but the label had to keep them making money, “before this organism would destroy itself.”
Just as the TYTFIL video shows consequences for actions—enemies will attack relentlessly, bad information is passed, sometimes missions fail—so did this band display consequences for its actions. From Tiger Beat to TMZ, Mötley Crüe’s alcohol and drug addictions, arrests, convictions, jail time, infighting, divorces, and lawsuits are documented.
Despite all this, they kept churning out hits. Mötley Crüe eventually cleaned up its drug habit, and tightened up its sound (thanks to Bob Rock) only to deliver yet another rock staple, “Dr. Feelgood.”
Mötley Crüe Needs You
Nikki Sixx always said of his band, “We’re being ourselves. We’re not in it for the money, we’re in it for the fun… and the chicks.” From their lean beginnings packing the house in little clubs like The Starwood and The Whisky, the kids from the suburbs could not get enough of them.
Crüe is also the most business-savvy of the 80s hard rock superstars. Josh Rottenberg delineated this aspect of the Crüe in a 2015 Fast Company article, arguing Mötley Crüe runs itself as a business that serves its fans and minds its own brand. They do not take part in packaged 80s nostalgia tours, and they negotiated a deal with Elektra to own recording masters and publishing rights to their songs. That’s genius, nobody knows how they did it, and thanks to nondisclosure agreements, it’s secret.
So, before the tournament begins, don’t let the competition get away with calling Mötley Crüe some insubstantial, washed up, pop-metal, hair banded, Spinal-Tap sleaze. Well, no need to push back on sleaze, we can grant them that. This band is the real fükken deal.
My hope is that the card-carrying Kiss Army members of this world show the Crüe some love. Mick Mars is in frail physical condition, and when the Crüe finally makes it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as they should and as KISS did, Mick Mars should be there.
In a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone, Crüe band members agreed they, politically, have a slim chance of being inducted to the Hall of Fame. Eddie Trunk weighed in on this. He said, “The Hall of Fame generally hates hard rock / metal. But I think one day Mötley will get in…. I do think one day, maybe 5-10 years from now.”
In the meantime, March Shredness people, Mötley Crüe deserves this tournament crown: vote hard; vote Crüe. They’ve always been true to rock and roll, and you.
A. E. Weisgerber was a college and club DJ in the 80s. Recent non-fiction in The Review Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Alaska Journal of Commerce, Change Seven Magazine, ASNE, and The Alaska Star. The NJ Society of Professional Journalists awarded her first place for feature writing. Besides her Uncle Glen and Eddie Trunk, she's interviewed Henry Kissinger, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and others. She reads for Wigleaf and slings hybrid prose. Follow @aeweisgerber, or visit http://anneweisgerber.com.