Motley Crue‘s breakout second LP, 1983’s Shout at the Devil, brought controversy and commercial success in equal measure. The album peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard album chart but also earned the scorn of Christian groups that interpreted the title as an endorsement of satanism.
And according to Tom Zutaut, the metal band’s A&R rep for label Elektra Records, Shout at the Devil originally had an even darker — if only slightly tweaked — title that reflected bassist Nikki Sixx‘s growing interest in satanic imagery.
“[He] wanted to call the record Shout With the Devil,” Zutaut wrote in Motley Crue’s 2001 autobiography, The Dirt. “It was upsetting to the label, and it was upsetting to me.”
By this point, Sixx was enamored with satanic symbols, like the pentagram that graces their eventual album cover. And that brooding atmosphere crept into the recording sessions, most famously for their leftover track “I Will Survive,” during which they reclined on their backs and attempted to chant “Jesus is Satan” backward.
Sixx, the band’s primary songwriter, wanted the album — and its corresponding tour — to explore the concept of evil. The bassist started to believe that President Ronald Wilson Reagan was the Antichrist himself, given that his names were each six letters long (666). “He was the devil I wanted everybody to shout at,” he wrote in The Dirt.
Both Sixx and Zutaut noted that they witnessed objects levitating and flying around the bassist’s home, which he shared with Lita Ford. Describing one particularly disturbing visit, the A&R rep said he “freaked out” after seeing a knife and fork rise off a table and stick into the ceiling: “”There is no more ‘Shout With the Devil,'” he told Sixx. “‘If you keep shouting with the devil, you’re going to get killed.'”
So, the album — and its signature title track — were issued under the revised name. “We tell these religious fanatics: ‘Read this: ‘Shout at the Devil,'” Sixx said in a 1984 TV interview, holding up the cover. “It doesn’t say ‘Shout With the Devil’ — ‘at the devil.’ And that’s why we put the pentagram right on the front.” Singer Vince Neil added, pointing to the image, “A lot of things, if you stand in the middle of it, the evil can’t get in to you.”
Decades later, Sixx maintains the phrase has a deeper meaning beyond the satanic. “It has always been … about pushing back,” he told Entertainment Weekly in 2015 of the song. “It can be about the perceived enemy at hand, the devil inside or someone on a wobbly campaign trail.”