In a 1987, hard-edged Los Angeles glam band Motley Crue ruled Rolling Stone’s cover with the headline: “Heavy metal: It’s loud, it’s ugly, it won’t go away.” That can also be said for the legacy of a band that flirted with self-destruction since forming in 1981, becoming as notorious for its debauchery as it was for its music, like 1983’s foreboding metal-drenched breakthrough Shout at the Devil. Amid the turmoil where singer Vince Neil, drummer Tommy Lee, guitarist Mick Mars and bassist Nikki Sixx partied as hard as they performed, the Crue sold 100 million albums globally (per its official website), including 1989’s six-times platinum Dr. Feelgood, which testified to what the foursome could achieve when steadied by a veteran producer (Bob Rock) and newfound sobriety.
However, post-Dr. Feelgood, Motley still struggled. Neil and Lee exited the group at various intervals due to interpersonal conflicts, and fan uproar ensued when a blameless John Corabi replaced Neil for 1994’s Motley Crue. After a years-long recording hiatus, wisdom, time (and perhaps plain old exhaustion) worked out enough of the dysfunctional kinks among the original members to make a 2005 reunion tour possible, resulting in renewed momentum for the band. The group released the well-received Saints of Los Angeles in 2008 and enjoyed continued touring success until Dec. 31, 2015, where Motley officially played its final concert at Los Angeles’ Staples Arena. During the show, Lee had to be retrieved when his famed roller coaster drum kit got stuck in midair — an apt final mishap for a Crue that spent over three decades flying by the seat of its tattered leather pants.
Here’s a list of the top 15 best Motley Crue songs to date.
15. Motley Crue – “Anarchy in the U.K.”
If any band has the bona fides to cover Sex Pistols’ 1976 declaration for existing, it’s the Crue. The quartet reinvigorated the punk classic with its own brand of sneer, raucous backing vocals and pounding drums that pushed the tempo into overdrive.
14. Motley Crue – “White Trash Circus”
This tub-thumper reminisces about the chaos the foursome once perpetuated with great comedic verses: “Been living on the road about a year-and-a-half/If we go another mile, we’re gonna kick each other’s ass/Someone’s gonna quit/Or someone’s gonna die/We don’t give a shit/’Cuz we’re busy gettin’ high.”
13. Motley Crue – “Smokin’ in the Boys Room”
Brownsville Station’s 1973 rambunctious jam is another cover the Crue did up right (and is probably the group’s most innocent confession). Motley’s first top 40 hit, from 1985’s Theater of Pain, is a playful interlude, and its pop structure neatly dovetailed with the band’s uber-flashy glam phase.
12. Motley Crue – “You’re All I Need”
The tragic Motley Crue song about a man who kills his lover is beautifully heartbreaking, from its tinkling piano melody to the glimmering guitar. It deserved to rise higher on the Billboard Hot 100, but MTV banning the video because of its depiction of domestic violence likely made it stall at No. 83.
11. Motley Crue – “Too Young to Fall in Love”
This Motley Crue song — with riffs and choruses as sticky as molasses — is ruled by Mars’ jagged guitars and Lee’s shimmering cymbals. The Parents Music Resource Center took issue with the lyric “Well, now I’m killing you/Watch your face turning blue,” but the band embraced the controversy as free promotion.
10. Motley Crue – ?“Home Sweet Home”
The nostalgic longing for everyday life while on the road was the first time Motley displayed real emotional vulnerability in its music. The song (featuring a surprise turn of Lee at the piano) dominated video rotation for months during MTV’s halcyon days and became a heartfelt staple that closed the group’s concerts.
9. Motley Crue – “Primal Scream”
It could be argued that a lot of Crue catalog is a one long caterwaul sparked by the ramifications of self-imposed excess. “Scream” is a cathartic dirge whose introspective lyrics act as a foot-in-the ass motivation to shake whatever’s dogging you, with Neil acting as the drill instructor.
8. Motley Crue – “Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.)”
Motley’s lighthearted party ode to women who dumped them for other women was ahead of its time. “It’s worse than a chick leaving you for a guy, because there’s nothing you can do about it,” Neil has said. But in the song, the group good-naturedly shrugs its shoulders with the lyric, “Girls will be girls.”
7. Motley Crue – “Kickstart My Heart”
While Motley lauded the fast life, it also documented its perilous outcomes. Sixx experienced that firsthand when he overdosed in 1987 on heroin and was declared dead before being revived with adrenaline. No wonder the Motley Crue song inspired by the experience is an epinephrine frenzy of shouts, vocoder squeals and rugged chords.
6. Motley Crue – ?“Girls, Girls, Girls”
The band celebrated its favorite strip clubs from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale with spirited rhythms and some of the best guitar work Mars ever committed to tape, including a spiraling outro that’s as hot as the ladies they praise. The titular album is being reissued Aug. 25 in various bundles in honor of its 30th anniversary.
5. Motley Crue – ?“Live Wire”
The track from 1981 debut Too Fast for Love drips with raw promise, attitude and rampant pheromones. Later Crue albums reaped the benefits of meatier budgets and professional experience, but “Live Wire” gives voice to a pack of hungry miscreants ready to annihilate anything, themselves included, standing in the way of success.
4. Motley Crue – ?“Dr. Feelgood”
Motley channeled its ire at being denied a No. 1 album for Girls, Girls, Girls due to industry politics into the showpiece Dr. Feelgood, where critics finally gave the band its due. The menacing title track, set against tight, chugging rhythms, takes a cold-eyed look at the rise and fall of a barrio drug dealer.
3. Motley Crue – “Wild Side”
The hard-driving track is a litany of sins that are committed on the regular in L.A. in the names of lust, drugs and fame. Like the rest of the material on Girls, Girls, Girls, a better commitment to performance and improved production resulted in one of the group’s most enduring hits.
2. Motley Crue – “Looks That Kill”
Sophomore album Shout at the Devil is one of Motley’s best: It’s crammed with snarling arrogance, ponderous riffs and flirtations with Satanic imagery that are sold with war-painted road-warrior costuming. “Looks” is one of Motley’s heaviest moments and a rare turn where the band puts a temptress on a power pedestal.
1. Motley Crue – ?“Shout at the Devil”
The reason why the Crue will endure beyond its lifetime. Motley was never more metal, more formidable, more assured and more defiant than on “Shout.” The fist-pumping anthem is one of the best middle fingers ever thrown by four men whose sheer will took them far beyond their own expectations.