All In the Name of Rock and Roll: On the Road with Mötley Crüe

"Paint a garbage can platinum and it's still a garbage can."

August 13, 1987
motley crue cover 506 Mötley Crüe
Mötley Crüe on the cover of Rolling Stone.
E.J. Camp

Any moron can drive from Tucson to Phoenix in less than two hours, but the guys in Mötley Crüe are not just any morons. They're rock stars with the current Number Two album and a new, customized Lear jet, and they want to travel between these first two gigs of their Girls, Girls, Girls tour by plane. Besides, explains the trollish guitarist Mick Mars, flying is less painful than driving when hung over – a state that most of the Crüe are proudly familiar with.

Unfortunately, the jet's not ready: the CD player shorted out its electrical system, its black leather upholstery hasn't been installed, and its nose has yet to be tattooed with the new Mötley insignia – a bentover blond stripper in garters. So after driving for an hour (in the opposite direction) to the Tucson airport, the Crüe – singer Vince Neil, 26, bassist Nikki Sixx, 28, drummer Tommy Lee, 24, and Mars, allegedly 31 – amble from their limos to a cramped, suffocatingly hot five-seat chartered plane. It sits on the runway for twenty minutes before the twenty-minute flight. Thus the band saves a grand total of about twenty minutes.

Once airborne, the band wolfs down some BLTs, and the ever-chipper, ultraskinny Lee uses the butt of his lighter to open a few bottles of Corona beer. During the trip the Crüe admires the many swimming pools speckling the landscape below. Sixx, who as chief songwriter is the acknowledged brains of the outfit, announces, "I want a pool the shape of a pussy!"

Album Review: Shout at the Devil (1984)

Bleached-blond Neil, toying absently with his hefty gold bracelet, looks out the window toward Phoenix and asks, "Is that smog?" Lee checks it out and replies, "It could be dust – it's the desert."

A loud beeping sound from the cockpit reminds the Crüe of flying high jinks from the band's six-year past – like the time Neil took the pilot's controls and nearly crashed into another plane, or the time the group's plane lost power and the wheels had to be manually cranked down. "We were all going, 'Oh, my fucking God, our career's over,"' Sixx says.

But Mötley Crüe doesn't die easily. Instead, in the spirit of living up to their intentionally misspelled, calculatingly umlauted name, the four highschool dropouts have continued to indulge in every conceivable rock & roll vice. Despite Sixx's addiction to heroin, Lee's marriage to Dynasty star Heather Locklear, various sexual round robins and altercations with the law, including Neil's felony conviction for killing someone while driving drunk, their career has never seemed healthier.

This summer millions of kids will buy the Band's fourth paean to the wild life, Girls, Girls, Girls ("Our three favorite pastimes," says Sixx). The Crüe's first three albums (1982's Too Fast for Love, 1983's Shout at the Devil and 1985's Theatre of Pain) have sold in the millions, simply because of the sheer force of the band's barnstorming, Vegas-like live extravaganzas. When its debut album (an independent release recorded in three days for under $20,000) was remixed and released by Elektra, only seven radio stations in the country would play it. Theatre of Pain did yield MTV hits with the ballad "Home Sweet Home" and the band's lame version of "Smokin' in the Boys Room," but the true Crüe sound remained unmined.

These days the Crüe and many of its rude and loud heavy-metal colleagues have fully invaded MTV, radio and the Billboard charts. Even new bands like Poison and Cinderella can slap on some makeup, squeeze into some studded leather, spritz their hair, bang out some fistpumping choruses and go platinum. So a previously established, well-marketed band like the Crüe, with a radio-friendly album, can easily rise to the top of the sleazy heap.

When heavy metal's practitioners discuss the appeal of their music, the phrase "the kids" is invoked almost constantly. "We play and write for the kids," Sixx says. "We've never had peer acceptance. They couldn't see past the costumes. . . . Kids don't buy Whitney Houston. People that buy one record a year buy that. In the golden age of rock it was all kids playing for kids. Now it's that again."

Though heads bang all around the world, heavy metal, in many ways, seems a peculiarly middle-American-youth phenomenon. In England the punk rebellion was fueled by lower-class anger and social unrest, but in America the average middle-class Joe can afford some form of the good life. So instead of roaming the streets, alienated youths cruise the malls, more bored than angry.

And heavy metal has caught on as a sort of Lite punk: it smells and tastes like rebellion but without that political aftertaste. Its main selling points are that adults find it unlistenable, preachers call it blasphemous, and Tipper Gore blushes reading the lyrics. Fans at Crüe concerts say they like the group because the music is hard and fast, but they also like the band's reckless hedonism, which they read about in the metal fanzines.

Steve Boles, 18, saved up his graduation money and flew with his mother and sister from Pendleton, Indiana (population 2000), all the way to Tucson just to see the first show of the Girls tour. A levelheaded, college-bound kid, he's an anomaly among Crüe fans, but he sits in the parking lot for hours just to get Tommy Lee to sign his shirt. Boles says he likes the Crüe because "they do what they want" but admits the band's image is probably just image. "I think a lot of it is showbiz. They have to act that way to make money . . . whatever it takes to be popular."

For all the anthemic raunch, horror-show makeup and well-planted whispers of Satanism, heavy metal's only discernible message is "Party hearty." The music stirs the kids up only to dump them back in the malls, as exhausted and aimless as ever.

Back in 1981, Frank Carlton Serafino Ferranno, who had begun calling himself Nikki Sixx, dropped out of the L.A. group London to start a new band called Christmas. He recruited drummer Tommy Lee (bass) from Suite 19, another area band. Soon after, they came across an ad announcing, Loud, Rude, Aggressive Guitarist Available. Thus they found Bob Deal, then hit it off immediately upon discovering that they used the same blue-black Nice'N Easy hair dye. "We didn't even have to hear him play," says Lee in the band's biography. "We went, 'This is the guy – he's disgusting."' Deal changed his name to Mick Mars and suggested the group's inspired moniker. After dismissing the first lead vocalist, they lured Vince Neil (Wharton) away from a Cheap Trick cover group called Rock Candy. No matter that Neil didn't have the greatest voice in the world – he had all the right moves. Since then, the band has consumed more than 750 bottles of Jack Daniel's in its quest for musical excellence.

Mötley Crüe: The Rolling Stone Album Guide

In 1983, Sixx told a reporter, "We could just fall apart tomorrow or go straight to the top, because we're such extremists as personalities. It's like riding a roller coaster twenty-four hours a day. Every time you turn around, somebody's in jail or 100,000 kids are buying our album."

True enough. For instance, last summer Vince Neil, after being allowed to finish the Theatre of Pain tour, spent twenty days in the clink for vehicular manslaughter for a December 1984 DUI accident that killed Nicholas Dingley, the drummer for the group Hanoi Rocks, and severely injured two others. Neil has paid $2.6 million in settlement to the injured parties, played benefit concerts and served 200 hours of community service. He is still on probation; the liner notes on the last Mötley album warned fans, "If and/or when you drink – don't take the wheel. Live and learn – so we can all fuckin' rock our asses off together for a long, long time to come."

Asked what their new album is about, Neil says, "We don't write songs to be messages . . . When I was younger, even now, I don't listen to the words. If I like the melody, I like the song." Sixx says, "I don't understand U2's music. It's too serious. They bum me out. I think music's an escape . . . I'm not a parent. I don't want to tell kids what to do."

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