From "Girls, Girls, Girls" to "Dr. Feelgood," the bassist looks back on their most enduring hits.
After 150-plus shows on their farewell tour, glam-metal group Mötley Crüe will bring the final curtain down with a three-night stay in Los Angeles—the city where it all started 35 years ago. “I’m proud we’re going out together and not in pieces like so many before us,” bassist and primary songwriter Nikki Sixx tells EW. “I’m excited about the future and proud of our past. I’m excited for Tommy [Lee], Vince [Neil], and Mick [Mars] and wherever they may roam musically.”
Since forming back in 1980, Mötley Crüe have been one of the defining bands of the hair-metal era, from 1983’s commercial breakthrough Shout at the Devil to 1989’s Dr. Feelgood. To date, they’ve sold over 25 million albums in the U.S., according to the RIAA, and over 80 million worldwide.
“I think when you’re a band, everybody’s personality comes out in the song,” Sixx says. “Whatever song it is, whatever type of song it is, with Mötley Crüe, you can listen to Mötley Crüe. And you can tell that’s Mick Mars playing guitar, Vince Neil singing, me playing bass, you can hear it’s my lyrical style, you can hear Tommy’s drums, and I’m really proud that we have that unique sound based on our musical personalities.”
Ahead of the final gigs, Sixx chatted with EW to give insight behind five of the Crüe’s biggest songs.
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“Shout at the Devil” (1983)
The group’s second single was met with controversy upon its release for it satanic title and the original album art’s pentagram design, with many accusing the band worshipping the devil. “Was it intentional?” Sixx says. “You’ll never know.”
Either way, decades later, he thinks it’s more relevant than ever. “It has always been a song about pushing back,” Sixx says. “It can be about the perceived enemy at hand, the devil inside, or someone on a wobbly campaign trail.”
“Home Sweet Home” (1985)
They had dipped into ballad waters before, but the Crüe wanted an anthem—their version of Aerosmith’s “Dream On.” Sixx originally crafted the riff when he was 17, but never found a use for it until nearly a decade later, when, after a booze-fueled recording session, Lee added the piano line atop Sixx’s bass melody. Lyrically, Sixx says the song is about the fatigue the band felt from endless touring. “Those lyrics were born out of being exhausted on the road and getting back to L.A.,” Sixx says.
“Girls, Girls, Girls” (1987)
On first blush, “Girls, Girls, Girls” is a party song, but Sixx suggests a more thorough look at the lyrics. “It was also sort of mirroring the lifestyle of the band at that time and the underbelly that is part of Hollywood,” he says. “So if you dig a little deeper in the lyrics, they actually have a little bit of a story to them as well.”
The words name-check notorious strip clubs in L.A. and around the States—Florida’s Dollhouse, Tattletails in Atlanta. But some names were simply picked to fit a rhyme scheme, he says. “I’ve been to a strip club in every country in the world when we were younger, and that song is always played in every strip club around the world. It’s kind of impressive, I’ll be honest with you!” Sixx laughs. “That song will be ingrained in every young man’s brain forever.”
“Dr. Feelgood” (1989)
“Mick started [hums main guitar riff] and I went, ‘What was that?'” Sixx says of their 1989 hit. After two more plays, Sixx came up with the lyrics out of nowhere. “I went, ‘He’s the one they call Dr. Feelgood, he’s the one that makes it feel all right.’ Have no idea why,” he says. “It all just rolled together. I think the best songs unwind themselves naturally, musically.”
After recording the demo version, producer Bob Rock encouraged him to take a second pass at the lyrics. “Bob took me aside and said, ‘Listen, you’re a really good lyricist. I think you should take another run at this like [Mott the Hoople’s] Ian Hunter would do or [Bruce] Springsteen would do. Tell a story,'” Sixx says. “It really is just that. It’s a story of things I’ve seen running up the street, things the guys have experienced being on the street. Some made-up characters, and some that are actually real.”
“Kickstart My Heart” (1989)
During the making of Dr. Feelgood, Sixx was sitting in his house, playing his acoustic guitar with words scribbled on a piece of paper. The group’s former manager read his words and was intrigued. “He said, ‘That thing’s really cool.’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ and I blew it off,” Sixx says. “He goes, ‘You should show the guys in the band.’ I said, ‘I don’t know, it’s just like a little power-pop, punk rock song.'”
Once he showed it to the guys in the group, the track came together quickly. “It was never really meant to be,” Sixx says. “It just goes to show you sometimes you can’t see the forest from the trees as an artist.”
Mötley Crüe play their final gigs Dec. 28, 30, and 31 at Staples Center.