“Randy Rhoads embodied everything I love about the guitar”: Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx on the music that changed his life

Nikki Sixx playing a guitar
(Image credit: Courtney Sixx)

Nikki Sixx has been the bassist and driving force with Mötley Crüe since forming the band in 1981. Their collision of early 70s glam rock and sneering punk attitude laid the foundation for much of the hard rock music that followed throughout the decade, with the Crüe themselves notching up hit albums in the shape of Shout At The Devil, Theater Of Pain, Girls, Girls, Girls and Dr Feelgood. Despite signing a ‘legally-binding’ Cessation Of Touring document in 2014, the band reunited in 2018 and hit the road once more, most recently on their successful co-headlining stadium tour with Def Leppard. Here, Sixx reflects upon the records and artists who inspired his own incident-packed rock ’n’ roll adventures.

Metal Hammer line break

The greatest album of all time

“For me, it’s gotta be Rocks by Aerosmith. That album captured everything for me, it was raw, and dirty, and yet there was something going on that, especially when I was a kid, I couldn’t really understand, because there were so many rhythms and overdubs. It’s such a well-crafted album, song-wise, and with the energy of the band… it’s an amazing album. Maybe it didn’t become a commercial monster like Permanent Vacation, but when I was a teenager, Toys In The Attic and Rocks were monsters.”

My favourite band to work out to

“That’s easy for me: Rammstein. And specifically their greatest hits, which makes me a bit of a poseur, right? [Laughs] But I want those songs that are just crushing while I’m in the gym lifting weights, trying to fight off age. I guess I discovered Rammstein at the same time as a lot of other people, about ten years ago when I heard Du Hast, and then I saw them live, and they were really great. I’ll listen to Rammstein sometimes before I go on stage too, I’ll lift some weights, do some push-ups, stretch out, and they get me in the mood, so to speak.

The singer

“I’m gonna say Robin Zander from Cheap Trick. His melodies, the tone of his voice, the way he makes it sound so effortless… We’ve had Cheap Trick out with us on tour, and I’ve been in the studio with Robin multiple times, and when the guy opens his mouth, magic comes out, I just can’t understand it. He’s such a sweet, grateful guy, and he’s influenced so many people.”

The songwriter

“It’s gotta be Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick. Those two - Zander and Nielsen - are a monster team! I got into Cheap Trick on the first record [1977’s Cheap Trick], which had Mandocello on it, and then In Color, which came out the same year. When I was in this band called London before Mötley, I was hanging out in Hollywood, going out to see bands, and we’d sit and listen to lots of music and play along with our guitars and bass, and I learned a lot from Cheap Trick. Aerosmith was my band, but it was Cheap Trick that taught me about songwriting.”

The best cover version of all time

“I’m not gonna say ‘of all time’, because I’d probably get snipered, but I really do love our version of [The Beatles’] Helter Skelter off Shout At The Devil. Obviously everybody knows it’s not a Mötley Crüe song, but it sounds like Mötley Crüe and fits right in alongside Looks That Kill, Bastard, Knock ‘Em Dead, Kid, Too Young To Fall In Love, etc on that album. We play a medley of cover songs live sometimes and we throw that in and it sounds great.”

The guitar hero

“Oh man, there’s so many great guys, right? It depends, do you wanna go down the Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page road, or the Eddie Van Halen road, or then there’s Joe Perry… but then Brad Whitford is also such a player. Those two with Tom Hamilton and Joey Kramer were such a solid foundation for Aerosmith. So that’s a kinda evasive answer, I know. In terms of seeing a guitar player who blew my mind up-close, when Quiet Riot would play the Starwood club in Hollywood in the late seventies I’d be in the first or second row, and Randy Rhoads would come out and it’d be ‘Wow!’ His guitar playing embodied everything that we could possibly love about the guitar.”

My guilty pleasure

“Oh God, it’s probably some of this pop-crossover-country that I hear now on the radio that sounds like seventies BTO, or The Guess Who, basically this music that sounds like ‘70s country rock to me. I love how clever the lyrics are: they’re not the sort of lyrics I’d write, but like there’s a Brad Paisley song called Mud On The Tires which I really appreciate. We live up in Wyoming now, and my wife will get in my truck and she’ll be like [deep sigh], ‘Aww, can you change the channel?’ And I’ll say, “But listen to this! It sounds just like Fleetwood Mac in ’77!’ She’s not buying it. But then she puts on ‘90s pop and I want to hang myself!”

The most underrated band ever

“I always felt like the Ramones were underrated. They should have been one of the biggest bands in the world. I mean, they had everything that Kiss have: they had a uniform look, with their ripped jeans and leather jackets, they had these hooky, power-pop/punk rock songs, and I always feel like they should have been bigger for longer, they should have been huge.”

My ‘In the mood for love’ song

“The go-to is Norah Jones… don’t judge me too hard! Those first two Norah Jones albums [Come Away with Me and Feels like Home] are like, unbeatable for sexy, put-you-in-the-mood music.”

The song I want played at my funeral

“How could I not play Life Is Beautiful by [Sixx’s side project] Sixx:A.M. or Home Sweet Home from Mötley Crüe? Hopefully I’ve earned a two-song funeral playlist. I want everyone assembled to be in floods of tears and those two should hit the spot.”

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.