I haven’t watched The Dirt yet, the Mötley Crüe biopic on Netflix that so many people are talking about. I may or may not ever watch it. Gimme a break, I haven’t even seen Bohemian Rhapsody yet, and I loved Queen WAY more than Mötley Crüe. However, the buzz about The Dirt did put Mötley Crüe back on my mind lately.
Thanks to my good friend David – who lent/gave me a literal shitload of his vinyl LP’s after I moved into my Midtown apartment last fall – I was in repossession of Mötley Crüe’s stellar debut album, Too Fast For Love from 1982. I put it on the other day and was disappointed that the vinyl’s warping jacked up the first song on each side of the LP: Live Wire and Piece Of Your Action. Piece is great, but Live Wire is an underrated rock and roll epiphany – a transcendent kick in the face that shook a lot of us out of the classic rock doldrums way back in 1982. Even without those two songs, I was still left with seven other classic early-metal anthems: Come On And Dance, Public Enemy #1, Merry-Go-Round, Take Me To The Top, Starry Eyes, Too Fast For Love, On With The Show. Most are straight-forward rockers, with a couple of requisite ballady tracks like Starry, Merry-Go, and On With.
When I discovered Mötley Crüe, along with most of the rest of the world, in 1982 or 1983 I was taken aback a bit. They lacked the weight of Zeppelin and Sabbath. They lacked the explosiveness of Iron Maiden, Scorpions, and Judas Priest, these with – count ’em – two guitarists, trading leads on practically every track. Mötley Crüe was a stripped-down, classic four-piece, with no songs about Middle Earth, Satan, Ancient Mariners, Electric Eyes, or how much I’m Still Loving You. It’s all living hard and fast in L.A., and fuck your denim and sequins and bell bottoms. The album cover was either an homage or a fuck you or maybe a bit of both to Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones, probably the Stones’ greatest album. (Sorry, it ain’t Exile…)
On their debut album Mötley Crüe as a band was strong, but without obvious virtuoso musicianship that described the John Bonhams, Eddie Van Halens, and Steve Harrises of the world. Mötley Crüe was made up of accomplished musicians – don’t get me wrong – but they weren’t trying to be the best, they were just trying to be badass. It worked. Vince Neil’s high-pitched whine was somehow different from Bruce Dickinson’s, David Lee Roth’s, or Robert Plant’s. Not better, but a world apart. This both was and wasn’t a new type of music. Mötley Crüe were the benefactors of the glam rock of the New York Dolls, Sweet, and Hanoi Rocks. (It’s harder for me to draw a line from Bowie, Roxy Music, or Iggy Pop. I’m sure better writers could.)
I didn’t dig the style though. The skin-tight leather pants, teased hair, metal studs, thigh-high boots. That was just a lot for a stoner from North Hollywood like me who was more accustomed to slip-on Vans, natural-torn Levis, and a Pink Floyd t-shirt under a flannel. Some kids from our junior high and high school attempted these High Metal looks with varying degrees of success. I and some of my friends flirted with it a bit, but it never really stuck for us. We thought of ourselves as a little more down-to-earth. And who could afford all that bullshit anyway? It was all so obviously a costume.
But the Too Fast For Love album was another story, spandex and hairspray be damned. It spawned countless imitators, most of which did absolutely nothing for me. Warrant, Winger, L.A. Guns, London, WASP, Cinderella, Poison, Ratt (OK, I was into Ratt for a minute there). Guns N Roses, Quiet Riot, Great White, Dokken: that was some decent American metal, though. (Truthfully, GNR was a world apart.) As I listen to my vinyl copy of Too Fast For Love now, in 2019, all the lyrics come right back to me: “Livin’ on a jet, makin’ love to someone else’s dreeeeeeam…say it again.” You never learn song lyrics again like you did when you were a teenager, am I right?
The problem with Mötley Crüe for me was when Shout At The Devil came out a couple years later. What did shouting at the devil even mean? “Hey, Devil, I shout at thee!” It’s stupid. Good times and fast living in L.A. gave way to a pentagram on the cover of their next album and a “spooky” intro. Although the album was pretty decent musically, as a fan I just couldn’t deal. Black Sabbath had earned their occultish imagery, but a Hair Metal band like Mötley Crüe? You don’t go from a leather crotch to a pentagram in one album. You just don’t.
By this point every other idiot in my high school was trying to tease their shoulder-length hair up to the stars, and I full-on rejected it. These kids were also getting into bands like Metallica and Slayer, and it just wasn’t my scene. (I grew to embrace Metallica a little later, when I saw them open for Ozzy.) In the early 80’s I was strictly classic rock, with the only moderns being the Maidens, Scorps, and Priests of the world. After a couple of years my rock and roll landscape would explode, in a wholly positive way, thanks to U2, Talking Heads, The Cult, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Gene Loves Jezebel, Love And Rockets, The Clash, The Alarm, R.E.M., The Cure, The Smiths, and others, not to mention early hip hop. But when I first discovered Mötley Crüe, those “cooler, better” bands were still just a dream. Zeppelin was the pinnacle of hard rock, Rush was the summit of technical virtuosity, and Pink Floyd was the height of progressive excellence. And if you wanted to shout at, with, or about the devil, Black Sabbath was your band.
I never gave a shit about Mötley Crüe after Shout At The Devil. They epitomized everything I hated about rock and roll. The poseurism, the vapid fandom, the vacuous albums with one or two decent tracks and a bunch of lame filler. But that first album…oh, that first album! As far as first albums go it rivals GNR’s, Van Halen’s, Boston’s, and Zeppelin’s (In respect to a strong debut, that is. Musically, no one touches Zeppelin). But unlike those other bands, Mötley Crüe’s best days were behind them by the time they made their second album. Zep was just getting started, while Boston, Halen, and GNR had good stuff ahead of them.
Mötley Crüe’s most popular songs according to Spotify don’t contain a single offering from their debut album, which is a crime against humanity. Every song on Too Fast For Love is better than every other Mötley Crüe song. (That Too Fast For Love is their best album is not my opinion, it’s an undisputed fact, despite its being listed as their fourth overall best album on Best Ever Albums, and despite your opinion. Facts are facts. They don’t change because you don’t like them.)
I surprised myself pontificating about Mötley Crüe here on Police Horse. There are easily nine hundred bands I care about more than Mötley Crüe. Some of them I’ve considered writing about here; many have meant the world to me and have gotten me through dark times. I’m looking at you Liz Phair, Josh Ritter, Lydia Loveless, Beach Boys, Wilco, Pixies, White Stripes, Beatles, Beastie Boys, and eight hundred and ninety something more.
But today, in 2019, I’m listenening to Too Fast For Love on my mediocre turntable, unable to auto-repeat because the first song on each side is warped. I get up every fifteen minutes or so to flip the album and set the needle on the second track, listening to the same seven songs over and over and over.
And it is fucking glorious. I am thirteen again and have never been happier.