How to buy the very best of Mötley Crüe

Motley Crue
(Image credit: Joel Selvin / Getty Images)

With all the furore surrounding the release of Mötley Crüe's movie The Dirt, it's easy to forget that the band were one of the biggest in the world for a while, selling more than 50 million albums. It wasn't all sex, drugs, rock'n'roll, more sex, more drugs, more rock'n'roll and the rest, although you could be forgiven for thinking differently. 

Recalling the years when he handled the business affairs of these self-styled Bad Boys of Hollywood, their manager Doc McGhee McGhee stated, “I spent 10 years of my life apologising for that band. As their manager, that’s all I really did. Apologise.”

McGhee is no saint himself: in 1988 he received a suspended five-year prison sentence for drug-trafficking offences. But when this hard-nosed businessman who made a fortune managing Mötley Crüe declared: “There was nothing I liked about them,” it confirmed beyond all doubt their reputation as the most depraved rock’n’roll band of them all. Nobody, not even Ozzy Osbourne, Led Zeppelin, Keith Moon or Guns N’ Roses, has wreaked havoc with such reckless abandon as Mötley Crüe.

Formed in Los Angeles in 1981, the Crüe – bassist Nikki Sixx, drummer Tommy Lee, guitarist Mick Mars and singer Vince Neil – were kings of the Hollywood hair metal scene and relished all the perks that came with that title. With an inexhaustible supply of booze, drugs and girls, the Crüe partied so hard throughout the 80s, it’s a miracle they all survived.

Sixx almost croaked twice, overdosing on heroin in London, where a dealer dumped his apparently lifeless body in a skip, and in LA, where he was resuscitated with adrenalin shots – inspiring the Crüe anthem Kickstart My Heart. In the end the sole casualty of the Crüe’s wild years was Hanoi Rocks drummer Nicholas ‘Razzle’ Dingley, who died in the passenger seat of Vince Neil’s sports car, after the singer crashed it during a booze and drugs bender in 1984.

Mötley Crüe’s story has been described as “an epic tale of rock’n’roll Babylon”, and its soundtrack expresses their hedonistic ethos to the full.

Shout At The Devil

Shout At The Devil (Elektra, 1983)

The Crüe’s second album, with its faux-satanic imagery, a mischievous warning of “masked backwards messages” and a knowingly controversial cover of The Beatles’ Helter Skelter (a song inextricably linked to the Manson Family murders), Shout At The Devil was an affront to decency.

It was also, fundamentally, a great heavy metal record, stacked with gonzoid anthems: Looks That Kill, Too Young To Fall In Love and the title track.

The Crüe’s alien-hooker chic spawned a legion of copycat chicks-with-dicks on Sunset Strip. Mötley’s masterpiece, Shout At The Devil is the definitive 80s glam metal album.

Girls, Girls, Girls

Girls, Girls, Girls (Elektra, 1987)

By 1987, a second wave of big- haired LA bands – including Guns N’ Roses – were snapping at Mötley Crüe’s cowboy-booted heels. 

But the Crüe were still the swinging dicks of the LA scene, and Girls, Girls, Girls, the title track from their fourth album, celebrated the high life: a homage to the band’s favourite strip clubs, featuring revving Harleys and chick-baiting banter.

The album was an arena-rock juggernaut that reached No.2 on the US chart. But amid the big riffs and choruses, Nikki Sixx’s lyrics carried a sinister edge: Wild Side, a bulletin from LA’s meanest streets; Dancing On Glass, a morbid account of the author’s heroin addiction

Dr. Feelgood

Dr. Feelgood (Elektra, 1989)

When this, their fifth album, topped the US chart (the only Crüe album to do so) it was the sweetest of victories. Having seen LA rivals Guns N’ Roses attain world domination, the Crüe served notice with Dr. Feelgood that they were still major players.

The title track – another hypocritical warning of the perils of drug abuse – had a riff so bottom-heavy that an envious Metallica enlisted its producer Bob Rock for their Black album.

And while the other standout track, the turbo-powered Kickstart My Heart, also had a drug-related title, its lyrics posted a defiant message to all-comers: ‘We’re still kickin’ ass!’.

Too Fast For Love

Too Fast For Love (Elektra, 1982)

Originally issued via the band’s own label, Leathür Records, in 1981, the Crüe’s debut was remixed by Roy Thomas Baker for its major- abel international release a year later. 

But no amount of polish could smooth off its rough edges, and the band’s barely competent performance is an integral part of the album’s tacky appeal.

Nikki Sixx is a fan of British glam rock legends Slade and The Sweet, and those influences are in evidence here, especially in the terrace-style chants of the title track. The Crüe also had a cutting edge: a raw, coke-fuelled bovver-boy aggression, felt in the supercharged yob-rock of Live Wire. These dudes had balls.

Theatre Of Pain

Theatre Of Pain (Elektra, 1985) 

As they proved with the title Music To Crash Your Car To, Mötley Crüe don’t ‘do’ remorse. But in the immediate aftermath of Razzle’s death, they dedicated this third album to his memory.

They also softened up just a little. Their image was more glam, and they cut their first ballad, Home Sweet Home. A lighters-aloft live favourite with a classic on-the-road video heavily rotated on MTV, Home Sweet Home pushed Theatre Of Pain to multi-platinum status after a goofy cover of Brownsville Station’s Smokin’ In The Boys Room had heralded the Crüe’s return.

Razzle was dead, Hanoi Rocks split, but the Crüe just rolled on.

Saints Of Los Angeles

Saints Of Los Angeles (Mötley Records, 2008)

For all its bonehead rock sensibilities, the Crüe’s ninth studio album is actually a concept album of sorts. It’s the legend of Mötley Crüe told via 13 ass-kicking tunes; The Dirt in album form.

It’s also the band’s best work in almost 20 years since Dr. Feelgood. Warming to the theme of their own badass mythology, the Crüe recapture their old swagger on self-aggrandising anthems Down At The Whiskey and This Ain’t A Love Song (‘…it’s just a fuck song’). 

On Saints Of Los Angeles the Crüe effectively became their own tribute act. Beat that, Steel Panther!

Mötley Crüe

Mötley Crüe (Elektra, 1994)

After Vince and the band parted company (reasons vary), with new frontman John Corabi on board the Crüe attempted a bold reinvention, dressing down and making a grunge-influenced record.

But Nirvana fans didn’t buy it, and nor did many disgruntled Crüe fans. In the US the album sold just 500,000 copies; the preceding Dr. Feelgood had shifted five million.

There’s some good stuff on this album. Boisterous single Hooligan’s Holiday and the atmospheric Misunderstood are strong modern rock songs. And Corabi was a better singer than Vince. But within three years The Dude was back.

New Tattoo

New Tattoo (Mötley Records, 2000)

By the late 90s, Tommy Lee’s heart was no longer in Mötley Crüe. After a spell in jail he formed the rap-metal duo Methods Of Mayhem; the Crüe found a replacement in former Ozzy drummer Randy Castillo. 

Stung by the failure of 1997’s industrial-influenced Generation Swine, the band got back to their hard-rock roots on New Tattoo, shrewdly enlisting Guns N’ Roses producer Mike Clink. 

Hell On High Heels recalled the glory days of Girls, Girls, Girls, and the title track was their best ballad since me Home Sweet Home. But with nu metal at its peak, New Tattoo sold just 200,000. It would be eight years before another new Crüe album

Live: Entertainment Or Death

Live: Entertainment Or Death (Beyond, 1999)

Great live albums capture a moment in time. The Crüe’s live album – performances spanning two decades, and released 10 years after the band’s commercial peak – doesn’t have that magical aura.

The music is mostly great, with explosive versions of Looks That Kill, Live Wire and Dr. Feelgood. But as a whole it lacks the cohesion, atmosphere, momentum and sense of excitement of the classic live albums.

The Crüe proved again at Download 2009 that they’re a great live act. But Live: Entertainment Or Death isn’t quite the monster its title suggests.

Paul Elliott

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2005, Paul Elliott has worked for leading music titles since 1985, including Sounds, Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. He is the author of several books including the first biography of Guns N’ Roses and the autobiography of bodyguard-to-the-stars Danny Francis. He has written liner notes for classic album reissues by artists such as Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and Kiss, and currently works as content editor for Total Guitar. He lives in Bath - of which David Coverdale recently said: “How very Roman of you!”