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Nikki Sixx Isn't So Sure Whitney Houston Fairly Beat Mötley Crüe for a No. 1 Album In 1987
On the 30th anniversary of 'Girls, Girls, Girls,' Sixx looks back on the rock classic.
"The Girls, Girls, Girls album, it's like a clash of fame and success and money and glamour," says Nikki Sixx, reflecting on Mötley Crüe's 1987 album, which is scheduled for release as a 30th anniversary deluxe reissue on Aug. 25. "You had this band that really kinda rolled like a gang together and didn't play by the rules. And then on top of that the debauchery was happening. And that's one of the things I loved about Mötley Crüe. It wasn't functional. It was dysfunctional."
For anyone who has ever read even a page of the Crüe's 2001 autobiography, The Dirt, there's no doubt that debauchery and dysfunction ran deep in the band, perhaps at no point more so than while recording and selling of their fourth full length, Girls, Girls, Girls. Sixx even wrote an entire book, The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star, about that era, during which he overdosed on heroin and was pronounced dead for two full minutes, before two adrenaline shots administered by paramedics revived him.
The out-of-control lifestyle the band members (which also included singer Vince Neil, guitarist Mick Mars and drummer Tommy Lee) were living at the time is baked into the lyrics and music on Girls, Girls, Girls, from the motorcycle-revving, strip-club celebrating title track, to the grimy guitars and mean-streets storytelling of "Wild Side," to the myriad tales of drugs ("Dancing on Glass"), sex ("Bad Boy Boogie," "Sumthin' for Nuthin'") death ("You're All I Need," "Nona") and decay ("Five Years Dead") scattered throughout the track list. Heck, there's even an Elvis cover ("Jailhouse Rock") to cap it all off.
Mötley Crüe hung up their leathers for good in 2015, and these days Sixx is keeping busy with various projects, including a just-announced graphic novel adaptation of The Heroin Diaries. While running errands on a recent Los Angeles morning (first up: A trip to the homeless youth shelter Covenant House, where he has a fundraising initiative, Running Wild in the Night), the 58-year-old bassist and songwriter phoned Billboard from his car to chat about the making of the dark album and why he's not so sure Whitney Houston actually took the No. 1 spot from them in 1987.
What led you to want to do a 30th anniversary reissue of Girls, Girls, Girls?
You know, it's interesting. You build up a body of work and it's like, "Well, I want to get people who may not be album buyers turned onto the band." And then they might go and discover the albums the way the fans of the band do. And so you release greatest hits, you do remasters, you create new packaging, you see if you can find any extra tracks that maybe weren't on the record, you bring out demo versions, you try to come up with ways to make it unique and special. And that's what we did here. I think it's a cool thing for fans. I'm a rock fan myself and I love that. And 30 years is a significant amount of time, and Girls, Girls, Girls was an important album for us in a lot of ways. It was also a frustrating album for us in a lot of ways.
The album kicks off with what are arguably two of Mötley Crüe's greatest songs, "Wild Side" and the title track. What's interesting is that, lyrically, they're almost two sides of the same coin. "Wild Side" is very dark and violent in its depiction of life, while "Girls, Girls, Girls" is dark and seedy in its own way, but it's also more of a celebration.
Well, "Girls, Girls, Girls" is interesting. As is "Wild Side." As are a lot of Mötley Crüe songs. You know, as a lyricist I was influenced by beat generation writers—the street, the beat, the storytelling. And also guys like Springsteen and Ian Hunter. Those guys really took me down a path and excited my brain. So you can listen to "Girls, Girls, Girls" and you go, "Yeah, everything's like, you know, fun…" But if you really look at the lyrics, the opening lyric, it's, "Friday night and I need a fight / My motorcycle and a switchblade knife." That wasn't like, Poison poetry or Warrant wannabe. That was what we did, man. We rode motorcycles and we hung out in strip clubs and we rode with the Angels and we carried knives and we shot drugs. You know? So on the outside it's a celebration. It's like, "We're on the wild side!" And everyone's like, "Yeah, I can relate to that." But if you dive down deep...
Girls, Girls, Girls was also the last record you did with your longtime producer, Tom Werman.
Tom didn't have the easiest job with the band at that time. We were probably at our most reckless. We had a lot of success, we had a lot of money, and we had a lot of people around us saying, "Yes." So, you know, orgies and cocaine and alcohol binges were priorities a lot of times to actual scheduling of recording. We'd go there and, like, basically party. And, you know, our parties weren't like some of the bands that copied us, where it was like, "Party rock, man!" I mean, Mötley Crüe partied like the Hells Angels. So it was a little bit different. And it was a hard job and I think that after that album we got sober and I know that me and Tommy [Lee] specifically set out to find a producer that could take us sonically to the next level and push us as a band.
You mention you felt that there were bands at the time copying you. In 1987, it did seem like there were tons of hard rock acts going multi-platinum by cribbing elements of your sound and style. Did it bother you?
I mean, I thumbed my nose at 'em because they didn't get punk rock. I grew up on punk rock. And I think Mötley Crüe was a punk rock band at the beginning. And we also had all these great other traits. We listened to AC/DC and the Misfits. And then it'd be the Stooges, Zeppelin, T. Rex and Slade. Then the Ramones. Then Cheap Trick. But as the years have gone on, I I've had many people in the industry tell me they were given their marching orders from the label to go find a Mötley Crüe. That the label wanted a singer with blond hair and then a couple of, like, creepy guys, and then maybe one guy who was funny. But also make it all a little bit cleaner, you know? Make sure it's a little more marketable. And I laugh because some of the same people told me some of the same things happened during alternative. They were like, "Yeah, we need a band. Get 'em some army shorts and some flannels, and tell 'em not to wash their hair for a few days before the photo shoot." And I just hate that about the fucking music industry. I just hate it. I don't understand it. But I do understand it at the same time.
One newer band that you did feel a kinship with was Guns N' Roses, who served as the support act for part of the Girls, Girls, Girls tour.
When the Guns N' Roses guys started hanging around, Slash and Steven [Adler] and Izzy [Stradlin] were crashing at my house all the time, and I was seeing them play in clubs. And I felt like, "Wow, man, these are kindred spirits," you know? And that's why Mötley Crüe took them out on the tour. We didn't need tour support. Our tours were gonna sell out anyway. But we liked them. We felt they were real. And they were real. And I'm proud that we saw that early and that we had that relationship with them. And you know, [on early Girls, Girls, Girls dates] we took Whitesnake out, and that was really because of the huge respect we had for David Coverdale and the Deep Purple connection. And there were a lot of great players in that band. But it wasn't like a kindred spirit thing. It was more like, "These guys are doing great and they put out a great record." They had a massive smash off that record. So we weren't necessarily looking at some of the younger bands coming up and buying into it. Because we kind of knew it was a façade.
Did you feel you had to make it clear to people that those other bands were not the same as Mötley Crüe?
No. I think we just were kind of like our own island. And a lot of people are like, "Oh, man, the Mötley Crüe guys are so fucking grumpy about that shit!" But, you know, I didn't really wanna be associated with it. I remember when Motley was still together, there were a lot of promoters that would go, "We should do an '80s package…" And I'd go, "What do we have to do with the '80s? We were fucking gone and selling out arenas when a lot of those guys were trying to put those bands together." But I get it. And again, back to the fans, they hear this and they're like, "Whoa, fucking Nikki's a dick!" [laughs] But, you know, it's okay. They're entitled to like what they wanna like. But I think that true artistry is sticking to your guns. And the lyrics, the songwriting, the definition of us just living it and breathing it is what made Girls, Girls, Girls an important record. Whether it is a consistent record or not, we might have discrepancies with the fans.
It's been said that beyond "Wild Side" and the title song, Girls, Girls, Girls is something of an uneven album. You've even stated that you didn't remember writing or recording tracks like "Sumthin' for Nuthin'." Did you feel there were any throwaway tracks?
I don't think we thought like that. I mean, you interview any artist and they're gonna tell you, "At the time of making the record we were doing our best." We would not have recorded "Sumthin' for Nuthin' " if we didn't think there was something there. But stuff sticks and other stuff doesn't stick. And the fans don't necessarily agree. Some people may say it's an uneven album but the fans may say, "I don't feel that. I listened to the album in its entirety all the time." Because, you know, in 1987 people were listening to vinyl. They weren't going to Spotify and cherry-picking songs. They were getting the whole record. So "Five Years Dead" next to "Wild Side" next to "You're All I Need" next to "Sumthin' for Nuthin'," it all works for them.
Girls, Girls, Girls reached No. 2 on Billboard 200 in its third week -- your highest charting album at the time. But it was held out of the top spot by Whitney Houston's Whitney, which debuted at No. 1.
Well, back then, you know, there was no SoundScan. Retail would report in with their top-selling bands, and then Billboard would accumulate the results from all these different chains—Licorice Pizza, Tower Records, all these places. And I remember I was on a conference call with [then Mötley Crüe managers] Doc McGhee and Doug Thaler, and they said, "Hey man, you guys are outselling everybody two to one. You're gonna have a No. 1 record." And I said, "That's great." I don't really think that having a No. 1 record mattered to us that much, but we were like, "That's fucking cool!" But then Whitney Houston came out and she was No 1. And I remember that lit a fucking flame to the fucking bomb man. That lit the fuse. Because we were like "What the fuck happened?"
What did happen?
All due respect to Whitney Houston, a very talented artist. But her label flew all the heads of retail out to Australia, first class. Five-star hotel. Free concert. Fucking wining and dining. Those were the days of cocaine and bad silicone jobs. And everybody had a real good time. And it was, "You just make sure that you report that the right record sold the most." And we were fucking livid. But that was like the changing of the guard for us. After Girls, Girls, Girls, we got a new producer, the band got sober. And we were like, "We want a No. 1 album." And [1989's] Dr. Feelgood flew into the No. 1 position. And you know, I have a plaque hanging on my wall at home. It says, "Hey, Nikki. Congratulations on your No. 1 record. About fucking time! -Elektra Records." Because they were pissed, too. They were pissed too, man! [laughs] Welcome to the music industry!