After 25 Years, Mötley Crüe's Girls, Girls, Girls Still Hasn't Brought About the Apocalypse
Today, the Antichrist heads up a company that charters private jets. The standard rental features a plush, zebra-striped interior. He also operates a chain of bar-and-grill restaurants that specialize in garish décor and $9.95 caprese salads.
In the mid-1980s, it was impossible to escape the apocalyptic rhetoric that painted Vince Neil as the scourge of Western Civilization, an angel of darkness sent to spearhead society's moral disintegration. He was, ranked from bad to worse: the frontman of glam metal act Mötley Crüe, the self-proclaimed World's Most Notorious Rock Group; a lyric writer inspired by the seedy side of life; an unabashed substance user; and a convicted felon. At his most ribald and boozy, Neil bragged that he downed a case of beer and a half a fifth of gin on his days off.
The place Neil is at today -- no more Maybelline products and lace-up leather pants; the plug is in the jug (sorta); his deepest concerns being the long-term effects of heavy travel on his cocker spaniels -- doesn't diminish what he and Mötley Crüe accomplished with Girls, Girls, Girls. Released 25 years ago this week, the album remains one of mainstream rock's ultimate triumphs over the anti-rock establishment.
When Neil extolled the land of pasties and folded dollar bills and brass poles, and name-dropped all the gentlemen's clubs where he and the boys got free coke from the bouncers, it curled the hair of squeamish social conservatives everywhere. (Case in point: In December of 1987, the video for "Girls, Girls, Girls" was banned by MTV. Said station general manager Lee Masters: "When it comes to clips full of scantily clad girls, our attitude is very simple -- enough already.")
Mötley Crüe, "Wild Side"
Since its birth in the 1950s, rock 'n' roll was categorized as everything from spiritually sinister to an inciter of social unrest. In the 1980s, it finally lived up to the standards established in such labels: lyrics got lewder, individual characters got more unsavory. Bands like Mötley Crüe brought together the fringe elements of punk and glam, and the result was both gauche and gonzo. The Crüe was androgynous without being ambiguous, embracing a look that was both ghoulish and suggestively violent (Mad Max meets Escape From New York, according to bassist Nikki Sixx). They celebrated South California trash culture, introduced snickering teenage boys to the term "ménage a trois," and dedicated themselves to better living through narcotics. They didn't glorify going to extremes, but instead, going to extremes and getting away with it. They embodied what Greil Marcus said was the message of early rock 'n' roll: "What life doesn't give me, I'll take."
Social conservatives reacted angrily. Here was music that not only celebrated reckless and excessive living, but did so without the physical and emotional fallout. Clearly record-burning bonfires, a staple of the '50s and '60s, would no longer cut it. Heavier artillery was needed, and it arrived in the form of the Parents Music Resource Center (PRMC), a group founded in 1985 by the wives of several prominent Washington politicians. The PRMC sponsored a touring slide show of songs it dubbed "The Filthy 15" (including "Bastard" by the Crüe), spurred Congress to conduct hearings on the issue of "rock porn" and whether the music industry needed to better police itself, and ultimately succeeded in getting record labels to slap parental advisory warnings on releases featuring potentially offensive content.
Hysteria ensued, sides were chosen, the march toward censorship hastened. Sears and J.C. Penney stated that their stores would not carry stickered albums. Communities considered legislation barring certain age groups from live concerts. In a 1986 article from the Los Angeles Daily News, a counselor from the Back in Control Train Center, a Fullerton, Calif.-based organization specializing in parental supervision, discussed -- without a trace of sarcasm -- how parents need to "de-punk" and "de-metal" their teenage children.