By Greg Maki
With “The Stadium Tour” finally underway, Mötley Crüe is officially back in action, playing its first shows since “The Final Tour”—supposedly sealed with a legal contract—wrapped on Dec. 31, 2015. Though known for spectacle and its band members’ outrageous lifestyles—immortalized in “The Dirt,” the book and movie—more than anything else, the Crüe has sold over 100 million albums worldwide in its 40-plus year existence, a number that grows even more impressive when you consider the group has released only nine proper studio albums during that time. If you’re wondering which of those are worth your time or where to begin, look no further than this ranking of the Mötley Crüe discography.
9. “Generation Swine” (1997)
The album that could have been a triumphant return to form for the Crüe—singer Vince Neil returned after a five-year separation—instead ends up going nowhere as the band tries to “modernize” itself by riding the technological bandwagon that had propelled industrial rockers such as Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson to the top of the charts. Vince sounds lost on a record that was written largely with his replacement John Corabi, and from the sound of it, Mick Mars may have been quite literally lost throughout much of the recording—his guitars are often buried in the background and lack personality when they manage to sneak out. Old and new only manage to come together in a truly exciting way on “Shout at the Devil ‘97,” an industrial-strength reworking of the Mötley mainstay.
8. “Theatre of Pain” (1985)
This might be a controversial pick to rank this low, but what a letdown it is after the breakthrough of “Shout at the Devil” two years earlier. While there is not an out-and-out bad song on the record, at least half of it feels like unimaginative filler. The Brownsville Station cover “Smokin’ in the Boys Room” remains a fun listen to this day, and “Louder Than Hell” is something of a hidden gem in the band’s songbook, but with the group unfocused and uninspired, the record has a glossy, over-produced feel and none of the immediate, dirty edge of the first two albums. The savior of the record is “Home Sweet Home,” the quintessential hard rock power ballad that so many acts have tried—and failed—to emulate in the decades since.
7. “New Tattoo” (2000)
After the misfire of “Generation Swine,” the Crüe got back to basics for its next effort, but with Randy Castillo replacing Tommy Lee on drums. Even though, like “Theatre of Pain,” there’s only about half of a good record here, it is at least Mötley Crüe getting back to what it really is at its core—a rock band that defines its sound with Mick Mars’ guitar and writes songs about girls, drugs, fast cars and the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Front-loaded with its weakest material, the album finishes strong with “Punched in the Teeth by Love,” “Hollywood Ending,” “Fake” and a cover of “White Punks on Dope” by The Tubes all appearing within the final five tracks.
6. “Girls, Girls, Girls” (1987)
Similarly, “Girls, Girls, Girls” was a step in the right direction after the glammed-up “Theatre of Pain.” Though the big hair remained, the androgynous glam look was replaced by leather and motorcycles in the black-and-white photo on the album cover. The Crüe was taking it back to the streets, perhaps in an effort to recapture the fire that fueled its first two albums. The first two songs (“Wild Side” and the title track) are among the best in the band’s entire discography, and while the remaining eight never reach those heights, there are several solid selections that make the album worth listening to in its entirety (“Dancing on Glass,” “”All in the Name of …” and the disturbing ballad “You’re All I Need”).
5. “Saints of Los Angeles” (2008)
The Crüe’s final studio album is, perhaps surprisingly, one of its best. Largely written by Nikki Sixx with James Michael and DJ Ashba, his bandmates in Sixx:A.M., the record is something of a concept album, telling the story of the band itself. It’s a remarkably focused effort—musically and lyrically—which makes for an incredibly satisfying listen from front to back. Mars’ biting guitar tone leads the charge, powered by Lee’s propulsive drums, while the biggest surprise is the performance of Vince Neil, who sounds at least 10 years younger than he did on “New Tattoo.”
4. “Mötley Crüe” (1994)
The black sheep of the Mötley discography, the self-titled effort is the band’s only album with John Corabi on vocals. Led by his bluesy, versatile voice, the Crüe veered sharply in a darker, heavier direction on an ambitious collection of songs. There are riff-driven slabs of metal like “Power to the Music” and “Hammered”; the twisted “Uncle Jack,” inspired by a relative of Corabi’s who molested his brothers and sisters; “Smoke the Sky,” a song heavy enough to be worthy of Pantera; and the acoustic rocker “Loveshine.” The high point is undoubtedly “Misunderstood,” which takes the listener on a real journey and is unlike anything else in the Mötley catalog. For a number of reasons, the record was a commercial failure but is revered as something of a cult classic by many today.
3. “Too Fast for Love” (1981)
The album that started it all, “Too Fast for Love” is brimming with youthful energy. The songs are straightforward, to the point, molded from the punk rock that had emerged during the previous decade, the hard rock sound and larger-than-life personas of bands like KISS, and tempered with strong pop sensibilities. No hidden, deeper meanings here—the songwriting is brilliant in its simplicity. While the band members will never be ranked among the greatest musicians in the world—though I consider Mick Mars to be maybe the most underrated guitarist of his generation—you don’t hear flaws when listening to this record as a whole. You hear a band with a colossal chip on its shoulder completely dedicated to itself and the music. It’s so in the moment that nothing else could ever matter.
2. “Dr. Feelgood” (1989)
Produced by Bob Rock, “Dr. Feelgood” is an arena rock masterpiece. Though it’s as slick and polished as the band has ever been, it’s a virtually flawless recording from the songwriting to the playing to the production. Boasting the thick, full sound for which Rock is known, the album features classics such as the title track, “Kickstart My Heart,” “Same Ol’ Situation” and “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away).” Beyond that, there is an energy and hunger—still palpable nearly 35 years later—that the band had not even approached since “Shout at the Devil.”
1. “Shout at the Devil” (1983)
Speaking of … With Mick Mars’ razor-sharp guitar tone, Tommy Lee’s thunderous drumming, Vince Neil’s venom-laced vocals and Nikki Sixx’s songwriting bringing it all together, the Crüe’s second album stands as its finest hour. The title track is one of the best fists-in-the-air hard rock anthems ever written, and it’s followed by one burner after another. “Looks That Kill,” “Bastard,” “Red Hot,” “Too Young to Fall in Love”—everything here is essential Crüe. “Shout at the Devil” is an incredibly focused album, and its songs stand up even better when listened to in one sitting than when taken individually. It was the band’s first chance to make a record the way the big boys do it—“Too Fast for Love” essentially was a glorified demo—and it responded with a classic.