On the surface, Motley Crue‘s Girls, Girls, Girls might not look or sound materially different than their previous three records or the work of their Aqua Netted peers in Poison or Ratt. But beneath its slick, hedonistic party-metal facade, Girls, Girls, Girls bristles with depravity and desperation, painting a dire portrait of a band on the brink of self-destruction.
The Crue were riding high commercially as they began laying the groundwork for Girls, Girls, Girls, even as their personal lives were in the gutter. Their previous album, 1985’s Theatre of Pain, had gone double-platinum off the strength of hit singles “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” and “Home Sweet Home” despite being “pure shit,” as frontman Vince Neil succinctly described it in the band’s sordid autobiography, The Dirt. The platinum blonde singer was the only band member sober enough to come to this conclusion, having been ordered not to drink as part of his probation after killing Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle in a December 1984 drunk-driving accident.
Neil’s three-week prison stint and subsequent probation led to his ostracization from the rest of Motley Crue, who were all hard at work detonating their own lives. Bassist Nikki Sixx was in the throes of drug addiction, holing up in his room and shooting heroin and freebasing cocaine with girlfriend and Prince protege Vanity. Drummer Tommy Lee married actress Heather Locklear in 1986 and was struggling to navigate his newfound domestic bliss while keeping his vices in check. And guitarist Mick Mars was silently suffering from an inflammatory arthritis known as ankylosing spondylitis, self-medicating with booze and struggling to even pick up a guitar.
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Not a promising state of affairs for Elektra Records’ cash cow, and when Motley’s managers herded them back into the studio to begin work on their next album, progress was glacial. Sixx, the band’s chief songwriter, had tried unsuccessfully to kick heroin and instead got himself addicted to methadone as well. “In the studio, we were each mixing our drugs with something we had never combined them with before: guilt, denial and secrecy,” Sixx said in The Dirt. “And those three words are the difference between an addict and a hedonist.” He got a stinging reality check from ex-girlfriend and fellow rocker Lita Ford, who was recording in the studio next door: “‘You used to be ready to take on the world,’ she told me, ‘but now you look as if you let the world take you down.'”
The first song Sixx eked out for Girls, Girls, Girls was also its most radical sonic departure: “Nona,” a minute-and-a-half ballad written for the bassist’s late grandmother that features the mournful refrain, “Nona, I’m outta my head without you.” The guilt-ridden Sixx came up with the song after failing to make it to his grandmother’s funeral because he was too high. “I often have nightmares about my grandmother’s sickness and funeral, because not being there for her and my grandfather then is one of the things I regret most about my life,” he said in The Dirt.
Several tracks on Girls, Girls, Girls detail the band’s addictions, paranoia and misery with morbid clarity. The lyrics to “Dancing on Glass” — “Valentine’s in London, found me in the trash” — reference Sixx’s near-fatal heroin experience in London on Valentine’s Day 1986, where he turned blue after being shot up by a dealer, got smashed with a baseball bat by Hanoi Rocks’ Andy McCoy in a failed resuscitation attempt and was left for dead in a dumpster behind the dealer’s tenement slum. Second single “Wild Side” is a bastardized version of the Lord’s Prayer aimed at the band’s money-grubbing record label (“Kneel down ye sinners to streetwise religion / Greed’s been crowned the new king“), anchored by a staccato guitar riff and marshal drum beat. And “You’re All I Need” lampoons the cliche power ballad craze with a grisly tale of a man who murders the woman he loves because she doesn’t reciprocate his feelings, inspired by Sixx’s suspicion that his girlfriend had cheated on him with actor Jack Wagner.
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Other songs are less cerebral. The bluesy “Bad Boy Boogie” leaves little to the imagination with zingers like “Better lock up your daughter when the Motleys hit the road” and “It’s just a lick and a promise in the back seat of my car.” “All in the Name Of…” begins with an unfortunate pedophilic first verse (“She’s only 15 / She’s the reason that I can’t sleep“) and features the profoundly boneheaded refrain “For sex and sex I’d sell my soul.” Then there’s the deliciously sleazy title track, which name-checks several adult-entertainment establishments and is rivaled only by Def Leppard‘s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” as the definitive hard-rock strip club anthem.
Musically, Girls, Girls, Girls makes a welcome pivot from the toothless pop-metal of Theatre of Pain toward Aerosmith-inspired blues-rock, full of Mars’ raunchy slide guitar solos and polished to a sheen by producer Tom Werman. But despite its highlights, it’s clear the band wasn’t firing on all cylinders, as evidenced by the abundance of filler and a tacked-on live version of Elvis Presley‘s “Jailhouse Rock” to round out the 10-song track list. “Like Theatre of Pain, Girls, Girls, Girls could have been a phenomenal record, but we were too caught up in our own personal bullshit to put any effort into it,” Sixx lamented in The Dirt. “You can actually hear the distance that had grown between us in our performance. If we hadn’t managed to force two songs out of ourselves (the title track and ‘Wild Side’), the album would have been the end of our careers.”
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Alas, when Girls, Girls, Girls hit shelves on May 15, 1987, it took Motley Crue’s career to even greater, more precipitous heights, selling 4 million copies in the United States and peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 behind Whitney Houston‘s Whitney — which Sixx found suspect. “Doc [McGhee, Motley Crue manager] was telling me how when the album was Number 2 we should have gone to Number 1,” Sixx wrote in his 2007 book The Heroin Diaries. “We had the Number 1 album in the country but for mysterious reasons (payola, anyone?) Whitney Houston was Number 1. That sucks. Girls should have been our first Number 1 album.”
Motley Crue would get their No. 1 album soon enough with 1989’s mammoth Dr. Feelgood. But before they could reach the top, Sixx would have to hit rock bottom, overdosing on heroin on Dec. 23, 1987 and being pronounced clinically dead for two minutes before paramedics revived him with two shots of adrenaline to the heart. The experience inspired Dr. Feelgood single “Kickstart My Heart,” which effectively closed one of the most tumultuous chapters in Sixx’s life and Motley Crue’s career. If Girls, Girls, Girls lacks the sober, hard-rocking precision of its successor, the band deserves a little grace. Given the circumstances of its creation, it’s a miracle the album exists at all.
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