The bad boys of Motley Crue are making news again.
But this time the headlines have nothing to do with infighting, drugs, jail, rehab or a sex tape.
The hair metal heroes ― traditionally reviled by pundits ― are being lauded on a near daily basis since launching the U.S. leg of their 30th anniversary tour earlier this month.
Publications ranging from Rolling Stone to the Hollywood Reporter to the Kansas City Star are celebrating Crue’s greatest hits show.
“We usually don’t get good feedback from critics but this one is hard for even our worst critics to say that anything’s wrong,” Crue vocalist Vince Neil said during a recent phone interview. “Everybody is at the top of his game and playing amazing.”
Motley Crue’s wild ride to rock stardom accelerated with the release of the 1982 single “Live Wire.”
Nearly three decades of decadence later, Neil still vividly recalls the first time he heard the song playing on the radio. He was driving to his home on Redondo Beach from the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.
“I just stopped the car,” Neil said. “I wanted to yell and tell someone but nobody was there.”
Crue’s career enjoyed another huge boost at the US Festival over Memorial Day weekend in 1983. The event featured four days of music, with each dedicated to a separate genre: new wave, heavy metal, rock and country. More than 650,000 people reportedly attended the festival held in the sizzling interior of Southern California. Crue ― wearing more makeup than your average groupie ― went on after Quiet Riot and before Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Triumph, Scorpions and headliner Van Halen.
“We were doing songs from ‘Shout at the Devil,’” Neil said of the album that wouldn’t be released until months later. “‘Heavy Metal Day’ was the biggest with 360,000 people there. We went on second and people loved us. For a young band to play to that many people, that was a big day for us.”
When “Shout at the Devil” finally dropped in September it established Motley Crue as one of the most entertainingly sleazy bands on the planet. In addition to the classic title track, the album also produced the hits “Looks that Kill” and “Too Young to Fall in Love.” “Theatre of Pain” came out two years later, and for the first time Motley Crue had an album in the Top 10.
The hard-living Hollywood musicians’ cover of the 1973 Brownsville Station song “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” gave them their first Top 40 single. “Home Sweet Home,” which Neil wrote with band mates Tommy Lee (piano/drums) and Nikki Sixx (bass/vocals), featured a video that became ubiquitous on MTV.
“In South America, where we started this tour, Tommy started playing the opening piano part and by the time I sang ‘I’m a dreamer’ the whole place started singing along,” Neil said with a laugh of disbelief. “It was hard to sing with all them singing.”
Despite consuming copious amounts of pills, powders and booze, Crue continued to sell millions of records and play packed arenas. The band’s 1987 album “Girls, Girls, Girls” hit No. 2 on the Billboard 200.
Almost a quarter century later, the hit title track, an homage to exotic dancers, remains an anthem, especially in strip club-rich Tampa, Florida. It’s also Neil’s favorite song to perform.
“I love doing ‘Girls, Girls, Girls,’ ” he said without hesitation when asked what Crue tune he likes singing best. “The crowd loves it. That’s when all the tops come off and the girls are dancing. That never gets old.”
Motley Crue finally topped the Billboard 200 in 1989 with “Dr. Feelgood.” The title track, “Kickstart My Heart,” “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)” and “Same Old Situation” were all hits.
But the band’s popularity soon nose-dived. There’s a memorable scene in the 2008 movie “The Wrestler” that reflects how many felt when the 1980s hair metal glory gave way to Kurt Cobain’s Nirvana and similar sounding bands that made records that were the antithesis of “Girls, Girls, Girls.”
“Then that Cobain had to come around and ruin it all,” Mickey Rourke’s Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson says to Marisa Tomei’s Cassidy, who’s wearing a Motley Crue shirt.
Then she goes, “Like there’s something wrong with just wanting to have a good time?” “I’ll tell you somethin’, I hate the (expletive) ‘90s,” Ram says. Neil takes a slightly more diplomatic view than Ram.
“The ‘90s didn’t really suck, they were just different,” Neil said.
“There’s always going to be something new that comes along but none of those bands from the ‘90s are still around, and we’re selling out arenas 30 years into our career.”
And how does the 50-year-old singer account for Crue’s current comeback?
“We’re just really, really excited about it again,” Neil said. “It’s so much fun to be on stage, doing the show, knowing everybody is just really good.”
For now, at least, the critics agree.
By Wade Tatangelo
(McClatchy-Tribune Information Services)