Motley Crue's Nikki Sixx: 8 songs that changed my life

Nikki Sixx
(Image credit: Courtney Sixx)

Motley Crue brought the curtain down on their 34-year career on New Year’s Eve 2015, but just four years later, following the release of their Netflix biopic The Dirt, they blew up their cessation of touring contract and announced their return to the road. 

Their live return – a US stadium tour alongside Def Leppard, Poison, and Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – has just been pushed back another year to summer 2022. But their erstwhile leader, bassist and main songwriter Nikki Sixx has been keeping busy, and is releasing a new book, The First 21: How I Became Nikki Sixx, in October. 

Sixx professes to be “infatuated” with rock‘n’roll, but he has some issues with modern music. “When did everybody get so fucking safe?” he asks. 

“My friends say to me, ‘You know Nikki, not everyone in a band has to look like a rock star, and I’m like, Why the fuck not? The artists I loved would blow your mind and change your life.”

Metal Hammer line break

Queen – Ogre Battle (Queen II, 1974)

This was such an important song for me. My friends and I had already discovered the first Queen album, and marvelled at all those amazing melodies and chord progressions that were unlike anything we’d ever heard. But when we dropped the needle on Ogre Battle it was the most mind-blowing moment for me, because of how it mixed the coolest, hardest rock riffs and the most extreme, beautiful melodies. Brian May once told me that Freddie Mercury wrote that guitar riff, which I didn’t know. It’s hard as shit to play! But when you really study Queen’s music you get such an incredible education in the art of songwriting. 

T. Rex – Rip Off (Electric Warrior, 1971)

What a cool-looking album! There was Marc Bolan with his guitar and this huge Marshall stack just looking like the coolest rock star on earth. You’d be getting excited even being you dropped the needle, and then it was just, Wow! This was so tough-sounding, but again, this was an artist who could mix different layers of melody. I loved the rhythm here, and listening to it now it’s almost like a rap track melody line, just the way Marc Bolan was spitting out those words. I always loved artists where I’d listen to them and think, How did they think of this? 

Wings – Band On The Run (Band On The Run, 1973)

My friends and I have had many conversations asking, The Beatles or Wings? And when my friends say, ‘Wings’, I’m like, I know, right? Sacrilege to some, I know, but I’m sorry, Band On The Run has it all. My uncle was the President of Capitol and when I was a kid he would send me out boxes of vinyl every couple of months, and I distinctly remember getting this album. I couldn’t stop listening to this song. That song, and that album, was a total game-changer for me, and to this day Wings are still one of my favourite bands. McCartney is a genius, obviously.

Black Oak Arkansas – Jim Dandy (High On The Hog, 1973)

As teenagers we were listening to Elton John and Bowie and Queen, but one day I remember my friend came over with this Black Oak Arkansas album and it seemed like a whole new world. I was living in Seattle at the time, and we were so into British rock, and then this opened our eyes to American bands. What a great band. I don’t think Black Oak Arkansas get the credit they deserve, and you mainly hear about them because David Lee Roth was so influenced by [BOA vocalist] Jim Dandy, who was one of the coolest vocalists of the 70s. One time Mötley Crüe were on tour in Arkansas, and Jim was at a show, and so we asked him to come onstage and sing Jailhouse Rock with us. We were so excited when we announced him, but no-one in the crowd knew who he was, and I hated that, I was like, Fuck you, it’s Jim Dandy! One day that’ll happen to me too I guess…

Elton John – Your Song (Elton John, 1970)

To me this is the best song Elton John has ever written. It still makes the hairs stand up on my arms. It’s just perfect, with a really beautiful lyric. Elton had a way of taking the piano and making it totally rock’n’roll, even when he was playing ballads like Candle In The Wind or Your Song. He was a bit controversial at times, which appealed to rock guys like me and Axl [Rose] but he also connected with a bigger demographic because his songwriting skills were just undeniable. He’s also one of the sweetest men you could ever meet, a real gentleman.

Black Sabbath – Snowblind (Vol. 4, 1972)

As teenagers when we wanted to hang out with the older, cooler kids, we’d walk a couple of miles to a pizza place that sold beers, and we’d smoke a little pot out back, and listen to them talk about music and girls. At a point this song just totally captured my imagination. There was a jukebox in there, and I remember I’d keep putting my 10 cents in to hear this over and over again. It’d get to the point where people would be like, ‘Don’t play that song again!’ This reminds me of that time, of being a young, hungry musician impatient to make my own mark.

David Bowie – Cracked Actor (Aladdin Sane, 1973)

This always seemed like the perfect song from Bowie. It’s the way [Mick] Ronson attacks his guitar, that weird snaking rhythm, those incredible lyrics… it actually transported me to another planet when I heard it. When I listened to Bowie on headphones it was like theatre for the mind, and I loved everything from his earliest days through to Diamond Dogs. When he went off with Iggy and did those Berlin albums, Low to Lodger, he kinda lost me, although I can appreciate it now. But Diamond Dogs is the ultimate Bowie record for me, everything you’d want from your favourite rock star is right there.

Motley Crue – Kickstart My Heart (Dr. Feelgood, 1989)

That song [written about a 1987 heroin overdose which saw Sixx ‘die’ for two minutes] was an accident. I’d written this kinda punk rock riff on acoustic guitar and I wrote this smart-ass lyric about getting high on speed, knowing that it would never get played on the radio, just to see what we could get away with. It became a really magical moment for Mötley Crüe. I’m not saying, Yeah man, I’m bad-ass, I wrote Kickstart My Heart, because I kinda think these songs are just delivered to you if you’re open to ideas, and, if you’re lucky, you will capture the moment. But if I’m remembered as a songwriter, I think this will be a song that stands up, and it’s one I can look back on and think, Yeah, that was cool.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.