In 1993, Danzig were still largely an underground phenomenon. Although they’d put out their self-titled debut LP in 1988, they were still best known as the heavy-metal follow-up band for the Misfits’ former singer. But that changed when a live version of “Mother,” from the EP Thrall: Demonsweatlive, became a video hit, and the group started gaining wider exposure.
Around that time, the band made a menacing appearance on The Jon Stewart Show — the host’s MTV talk show before he went to The Daily Show — and Danzig, the band and the man, thrashed around the stage with abandon. Everyone dressed in black and Glenn wore an iron-cross pendant over a tour shirt for the band’s then-current studio LP, III: How the Gods Kill, as he leaned back and howled into the microphone. When it was done, Stewart, who was dressed like a squeaky-clean Mormon missionary compared to the band, came out to thank them and introduce another threatening song, “It’s Coming Down,” which they played until the credits rolled.
“Mother” was a song that dated back to the time between Glenn Danzig’s previous band, the gothy post-punk group Samhain, and the formation of the eponymous metal crew. Glenn had written about how angry he was at the Parents Music Resource Center, a lobbyist group led by a group of politicians’ wives in the Eighties that sought to label albums for offensive material. The song’s lyrics, “Mother … tell your children not to hear my words, what they mean, what they say,” sung in a brooding, Jim Morrison–like tone, were directed squarely at the PMRC’s Tipper Gore and her compatriots.
“What they didn’t realize was that by giving it that sticker, it meant that it was approved for every kids who hate everything to buy it,” he said in an interview with City Pages in 2012. “So a Danzig and a Slayer record had the sticker, they were like, ‘Oh, it’s got to be good because it has the sticker on it.’ You’re not gonna see that sticker on a fucking Bon Jovi record.”
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Glenn had written the song around the time that he met producer Rick Rubin, who helped the band find its metal sound and signed them to his label. “I think we’d already been working with Rick when I wrote it,” Danzig recalled in City Pages. “So it was much different. We tore it apart and put it back together.”
“I remember Glenn being really excited about the song ‘Mother’ and telling me that, content-wise, it’s one that he’d been wanting to do for years and just never really found the way to do it,” Rubin recalled in a Rolling Stone interview. “For him, it was a breakthrough in writing. I remember when we were recording, Glenn had laser-beam focus on all the parts. It was so much fun hearing him sing it. It was a trip. That song has got such a great vibe, and he’s such a great singer.”
The track wound up being the lead single from the Danzig album, and it failed to chart at the time. The album didn’t do much better, only making it to Number 125 on the Billboard chart. But when the re-release of the single, dubbed “Mother ’93,” came out a few years later, the band’s fortunes changed. The Thrall: Demonsweatlive EP, which featured three studio recordings and four live songs, made it to Number 54, and sparked a surge of interest that led to the 1988 album being certified gold.