Mötley Crüe: Health Kick
Originally published in Guitar World, July 2009
Twenty years ago, Mötley Crüe cleaned up their act and then cleaned up on the charts with their biggest hit, Dr. Feelgood. As the band prepares for the album's reissue and first-ever tour performance, Guitar World checks in with Mick Mars for the story behind the 1989 smash hit.
Backstage at Madison Square Garden, the hallways are bustling. It’s an hour before show time at the New York City date of Mötley Crüe’s 2009 Saints of Los Angeles tour, and scores of crew and industry people are fanned throughout the corridors, frantically making certain everything is set for the night’s performance. It’s an anxious, if common, pre-show scene, but if a person were in search of respite from this habitual chaos, he would do well to head toward Mick Mars’ dressing room.
Inside, with the lights down low, the Mötley Crüe guitarist is relaxing on a couch, surrounded by various guitars and amp heads that lay scattered about the room. He’s in a low-key mood. “I like to just take it easy before shows,” Mars says. “Maybe do a little meditation, whatever. It’s weird, because I was looking forward to this being a long tour, but I didn’t realize how much of a beating it would be on me, with this crap that I have [Mars suffers from the degenerative bone disease ankylosing spondylitis].” He points to his left side. “I mean, this leg is pretty much on fire most of the time. But”—and now he smiles—“I just get a quick shot [of anti-inflammatory medicine], I’m up onstage, and it’s all good.”
What Mars deems as a “long tour” is only getting longer. Mötley Crüe have been on the road supporting their 2008 comeback album, Saints of Los Angeles, since last summer, and there’s hardly an end in sight. To the contrary, earlier on this day, the band—Mars, singer Vince Neil, bassist Nikki Sixx and drummer Tommy Lee—took part in a press conference to announce yet another leg of the SOLA tour, this summer’s Crüe Fest 2. But while Mötley Crüe are looking forward, they’re also looking back. For the upcoming jaunt, the band will for the first time perform one of its albums in its entirety, 1989’s blockbuster Dr. Feelgood. In addition, this spring will see a 20th anniversary rerelease of the disc.
That Mötley Crüe are choosing to celebrate Dr. Feelgood is hardly surprising. Released on September 1, 1989, the album, their fifth, not only capped off Mötley’s triumphant run in the Eighties in massive style but also in many ways encapsulated the sound of metal for its time. Packed with party-rock anthems that ooze sex (“She Goes Down”), drugs (“Dr. Feelgood”) and big, meaty riffs (all of them), the album debuted at Number One on the Billboard charts and spawned five hit singles—“Kickstart My Heart,” “Without You,” “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away),” “Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.)” and the title track. It has since gone on to sell more than six million copies in the U.S.
While much credit must be given to the strong songwriting of the band’s two primary composers, Sixx and Mars, other factors played a significant role in the album’s success. Prior to recording Dr. Feelgood, the notoriously hard-partying Crüe got sober for the first time in their career. (“Kickstart My Heart” was Sixx’s ode to a particularly low point in his personal struggle with substance abuse: a 1987 heroin overdose, and the subsequent adrenaline shot that brought him back to life.) And there was producer Bob Rock, who infused the larger-than-life songs with overwhelming, arena-shaking muscle. The result was a career-, if not genre-defining, album. Says Mars, “Feelgood was the standard that everyone else had to beat.”
Prior to taking the stage at Madison Square Garden (where the band opens their set with the trademark guitar dive bombs that announce “Kickstart My Heart”), Mars sat with Guitar World to reflect on the making of Mötley Crüe’s 1989 smash effort. As the guitarist himself announces in the album’s title track: Ladies and gentlemen, come play with Dr. Feelgood.
GUITAR WORLD Dr. Feelgood was your first album with Bob Rock. Previously, Mötley had a long and very successful relationship with Tom Werman [Cheap Trick, Twisted Sister], who produced all your albums from Shout at the Devil through Girls, Girls, Girls. Why did the group make a change at that point?
MICK MARS Tom was too much the older school—the Ted Nugents and stuff like that. In the early and mid Eighties that kind of approach still worked, but by the time of Feelgood we wanted to move to the next level and get a younger guy with a fresher mind and fresher ideas on production. I think Nikki found Bob through Ian Astbury from the Cult [Rock produced the Cult’s 1989 album, Sonic Temple]. We sent him a demo of “Dr. Feelgood,” and he liked it a lot, and then we went up to Little Mountain [Rock’s studio in Vancouver] to talk with him. He seemed like a really cool guy and was pretty young—something like 35 years old. And he had a lot of fresh ideas and different approaches to doing things. With Tom, I was used to just going in there, throwing a couple of mics on a Marshall and playing. But Bob taught me a lot about tones, amps, using different cabinets, different heads... I learned a lot from him.
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