Decade of Decadence: A Timeline of the Eighties Sunset Strip - Rolling Stone
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Decade of Decadence: A Timeline of the Eighties Sunset Strip

Mötley Crüe, Poison, Guns N’ Roses and the street behind rock’s most excessive scene

Guns and roses, Axl Rose, Izzy Stradlin, Slash, Steven Adler and Duff McKagan

Guns N' Roses in 1985

Jack Lue/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

"Livin' in L.A. is so much-a . . . fffuuuun!" screeched Faster Pussycat's Taime Downe in 1987. And nowhere was the party crazier, sleazier or more glam-rockin' than the Sunset Strip, where big-haired dudes and the girls who loved them turned the boulevard into their own personal playground.

Of course, Eighties metal men were far from the first rockers to run wild in West Hollywood — just ask the Doors, who functioned as the house band at the Whisky a Go Go in the late Sixties, and whose singer, Jim Morrison, balanced on a railing on the roof of a 16-story building on the Strip as if it were a tightrope. Or Led Zeppelin, who in the following decade would rent out up to six floors of the Hyatt on Sunset, a.k.a. the Hyatt House, a.k.a. the Riot House, and initiate a groupie-shagging, television-smashing, motorcycle-down-the-hallway-driving den of debauchery.

A lot to live up to, perhaps, but it was a challenge that Mötley Crüe, Guns N' Roses, Ratt, W.A.S.P., Poison, L.A. Guns, Faster Pussycat and the rest of the Eighties glam lot were more than happy to take on. "You had to be able to put up . . . not 100 percent, but 1,000 percent," says Poison singer Bret Michaels. Or, as Crüe frontman Vince Neil put it in the band's gloriously degenerate 2001 autobiography, The Dirt. "We'd get drunk, do crazy amounts of cocaine and walk the circuit in stiletto heels, stumbling all over the place. The Sunset Strip was a cesspool of depravity."

Which is more than enough reason for Rolling Stone to take a look back on what is quite possibly the Strip's greatest decade of decadence — the 1980s. And while not everything chronicled in the timeline below happened on Sunset Blvd., per se, the Strip has always been as much a vibe as a locale. Welcome to the jungle, baby, where you can learn to live like an animal and — if you're really, really lucky — even sell a record or two.

stevie Rachelle

Stevie Rachelle of "American Hair Band" and Tuff (Photo by Annamaria DiSanto/WireImage)

Annamaria DiSanto/WireImage/Getty

1987: The Battle of the Sunset Stars

"Within one-to-three square miles on a Friday, Saturday night, there were probably 50 to 75 bands playing," says Stevie Rachelle, who moves from Wisconsin to L.A. in the spring of 1987 to front the very Poison-esque Tuff. "I mean, on one corner you had Gazzarri's, and then there's, like, a bank, and then the Rainbow and then the Roxy. If somebody lights off a pack of firecrackers, anyone standing in front of any of those clubs might get hit. They're that close. Then you go another block and there's the Whisky. Another mile down, at the corner of Sunset and Crescent [Heights] is the Coconut Teaszer. Trying to get people to come and watch your band play at one of these places from, say, 9:30 to 10:15? There's a lot of choice. And then it's like, 'That band's drummer has a bigger drum set!' Or, 'Those guys have a faster guitarist!' Or, 'Their singer's hair is bigger!' There was so much competition to draw these people. Whatever you saw on Headbangers Ball or in Metal Edge, there were hundreds of those bands in Hollywood."

seventh veil

highlander411/Flickr

April 13, 1987: Mötley Crüe Peeks Under the Veil

Of the many gentlemen's clubs named-checked in Mötley Crüe's stripper anthem, "Girls, Girls, Girls," two are on the actual Strip — the Body Shop (whose neon sign proudly reads GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS) and the Seventh Veil. Mötley reportedly plans to film the iconic video for the song, shot on April 13, 1987, at the former. But due to the strict no-alcohol policy, they hightail it over to the latter.

gils liquor

05 May 2000 --- ©2000 RAMEY PHOTO AGENCY Gil Turners Liquor and sheriff after Halle Berrys Accident 2-25-2000 WD --- Image by © ©2000 Phil Ramey AGENCY/RameyPix/Corbis

Phil Ramey AGENCY/RameyPix/Corbis

1987: Enjoying the Rest of the Strip

Other places to spot hair metal dudes outside of the clubs? "There was a Ralphs grocery on Sunset and Fuller that became known as Rocker Ralphs, because everybody lived in the apartment buildings around there," recalls Stevie Rachelle. "So at any point during the day the aisles would be filled with guys in cowboy boots, strippers, porn stars . . . it was crazy. Gil Turner's liquor store, right by the Roxy, was another spot. And further down was Sunset Strip Tattoo, where the Mötley guys and everyone would go."

Tracii Guns: "Sunset Strip Tattoo was like our second home. Robert Benedetti, the owner of the place, loved all the rock guys. If it was two in the morning and we didn't have a place to stay they would just lock us in the shop overnight. We could drink, we'd have our girlfriends over . . . it was like a rocker homeless shelter."

Stevie Rachelle: "Oh — there was also a tanning salon that was really popular. The woman who ran it was fooling around with a lot of the guys in the bands. I slept with her. Not in the salon, but I know there were guys who'd go there, get tan and get a blowjob with it . . . and still not have to pay!"

slash and nikki sixx

Marc S Canter/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty; Chris Walter/WireImage/Getty

December 23, 1987: Nikki Sixx Takes a Ride on the Wild Side

After a night out scoring heroin and partying at the Cathouse and other spots, Nikki Sixx proceeds to overdose in Slash's room at the Franklin Plaza, just north of Sunset. "I had already passed out when Nikki OD'd," Slash says. "But my girlfriend at the time managed to wake me up and get me in the shower. I was just, for some reason, really fucking belligerent and thrashing around, until finally I sobered up and realized what had happened. The paramedics came and they shot Nikki full of adrenaline and took him away."

The Mötley bassist is declared dead for two full minutes before being revived by the adrenaline, an experience that inspires the song "Kickstart My Heart." Says Sixx, "You take someone who hasn't slept, who's been on the road for almost a year and whose health is falling apart, and mix that with heroin and pills and cocaine and tons of alcohol, and what happened kind of makes sense. My body just gave out." After leaving the hospital the next day, Sixx goes home . . . and shoots up again.

Sixx wasn't the only Strip musician falling prey to the lure of hard drugs. "Particularly in the L.A. Guns/Guns N' Roses/Mötley scene, even a little bit with guys like Ratt, weed was not a thing — it was more about cocaine and heroin," says Tracii Guns. "And there are no good, positive stories to tell about that. I once played guitar for Johnny Thunders in Long Beach, and this was when he was actually sober. But right before we walked out of the dressing room he goes, 'Watch this.' And he just puts the whole junkie persona on. That's how glamorous it was in everybody's heads. It was important to put that vibe across. But a lot of guys took it too seriously. A couple of them died. A few others carried it with them for 20 years. There was nothing pretty about it."

odin jeff duncan

Decline of Western Civilization

June 17, 1988: Odin! Odin! Odin!

If any visual document captures the Sunset Strip music scene in the mid-to-late Eighties, it's Penelope Spheeris' The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. There's W.A.S.P. guitarist Chris Holmes guzzling nauseating amounts of vodka in a pool while his poor mother looks on. And Gene Simmons being interviewed while hanging out at Trashy Lingerie on La Cienega. And Riki and Taime discussing how a sleazy outfit is a surefire way to gain quick entry into the Cathouse.

And there's Odin. The band takes the stage at Gazzarri's as club owner Bill Gazzarri, who testifies that hunky singer Randy O. "is gonna be bigger than David Lee Roth," chants their name over and over. Things, of course, don't exactly work out that way for Randy and the band. But, says then-Odin (and now Armored Saint) guitarist Jeff Duncan, "Every band on the Strip had that sort of 'eye of the tiger' mentality. You watch that movie, and everybody in it is saying, 'I'm gonna make it.' Well, what if you don't? 'I'm gonna.'"

As for Odin's classic interview scene, which takes place in a hot tub surrounded by a bevy of bikini-clad women? "That was at Penelope's house," Duncan says. "We showed up and she had all this beer and the hot tub going. It was a pretty good plan, because if you drink alcohol and sit in a hot tub you get, like, twice as drunk, which I don't think any of us realized. For a while, whenever I saw that movie I was like, 'Oh god, look at us. . . .' But, you know, we weren't too different from any other band on the Strip at that time. We just got filmed doing it."

duff mckagan

OCTOBER 1985: Bassist Duff McKagan of the rock group 'Guns n' Roses' poses for a portrait in October 1985 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jack Lue/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Jack Lue/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

1988: It’s Guns N’ Roses’ Jungle . . . Everyone Else is Just Living in It

As Appetite for Destruction takes off in 1988 and 1989, the album's insane success fosters something of a sea change on the Strip. Recalled then-Guns bassist Duff McKagan to the New York Times, "We left on tour in June of '87 and were gone for a year and a half. There were no computers, no social media, hardly even fax machines, so we had no idea that people in L.A. made this shift in culture to look and sound like us. Imagine landing back on Planet Earth: People were all glammed out when you left, and now you could tell the photo of us they were trying to look like. There was the Izzy guy, the Slash guy, the Axl guy, the me guy, the Steven guy, and they were walking all over Hollywood. It was weird."

vince neil

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 24: Vince Neil performing with "Motley Crue" at Warfield Theater in San Francisco, California on April 24, 1981. (Photo by Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

1989: Glam Hits a Saturation Point

"Once Guns N' Roses kicked in with Appetite there were definitely a lot of clones," says Jeff Duncan. "Just like a few years before that when Poison hit there were a lot of bands copying them. But everybody was just after the brass ring — the big record deal. And some people got it, but a lot of 'em also got massive advances that they couldn't pay back. And that was the end of that."

Tracii Guns: "I remember going to see friends' bands and being like, 'Man, you guys are just like Poison!' Or, 'You guys are this weird, Junkyard-meets-Jetboy thing. . . .' Nobody was coming up with anything new or valuable. Whereas if you really look at Faster Pussycat or Guns N' Roses or L.A. Guns or Junkyard or Jetboy, it was like, we all loved Mötley Crüe, but we loved this other stuff, too. We were adding a new angle to it. At the end, nobody was adding a new angle to anything. It was just, 'This is what's happening, so this is what we're gonna do.' But then again, even Pretty Boy Floyd had a song I liked. A ballad. But it was too late."

Stevie Rachelle: "There were so many bands around that they started running out of names. You had multiple Wildsides. You had Paradise and Pair-A-Dice. It got to the point where bands had to start using, you know, Queeny Blast Pop and Juicy Miss Lucy and Back Alley Sally [all real bands — Ed.]. The names got longer because all the one- and two-word names were taken. And how many blond singers with headbands do you need? You had David Lee Roth and Vince Neil and Bret Michaels and [Warrant's] Jani Lane and then . . . Stevie Rachelle! Another blond with a headband…"

motley crue

Motley Crue 1981 (Photo by Chris Walter/WireImage)

Chris Walter/WireImage/Getty

October 5, 1989: Home Sweet Home

At the end of the day, if any band truly embodies the Sunset Strip in the Eighties, it's the one that started it all, Mötley Crüe. Fittingly, the band finish out the decade as its conquering heroes, as their fifth effort, Dr. Feelgood, released on September 1, 1989, debuts on the Billboard 200 at Number One. For the video to the album's second single, "Kickstart My Heart," the Crüe ditch the arenas they've been calling home for years to film an intimate performance at the Whisky — right down the street from the one-time Mötley House. As the band cruise down the Strip to the screams of adoring fans at the beginning of the "Kickstart" video, Vince Neil turns to the camera: "This is where it all began," he says.

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