We went over to Easy Street Records to check out the selection of Record Store Day Black Friday releases, and while there I of course had to flip through the New Arrivals bins, and man were they stocked with some outstanding material! OG pressings by favorites like Nirvana and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and NIN… so much good stuff. And then I saw it. A gatefold copy of Mötley Crüe’s Shout at the Devil. And I flashed back 1983 and having to hide this tape from my parents and listen to it on my Walkman because it was so dangerous at the time. Studs and leather and makeup and fireballs and scantily clad women… Crüe’s videos are what adolescent fantasies were made of. At least mine.
There was also a copy of Crüe’s debut, 1981s Too Fast for Love. My connection with that record is a bit different. My uncle Jeff was in the music industry back in the late 1970s/early 1980s. He’d always been very good to me – he was the youngest of his brothers and sisters by a good margin, I was his first nephew, and he even lived with us for a while when I was a little kid. So when he learned I had reached that age and was starting to get interested in music, he mailed me a box of records. I don’t know precisely why he sent me those specific records; you won’t find him listed in the credits, or anything like that, so perhaps he was somehow involved with them, or the bands, or the labels, or maybe he just thought they’d be the kind of thing I’d be into. Unfortunately he passed away shortly thereafter, so I never had the chance to ask him or talk to him about his work (or get to know him as a man). I don’t remember most of what was in that box of records, but a few titles stick out in my memory – Big Country’s The Crossing, Ozzy’s Bark at the Moon, and Mötley Crüe’s Too Fast for Love. It seems strange now to have two such important connections to different Mötley Crüe records over such a short span, but there you have it.
It’s probably hard for someone who got into music after the 1980s to understand the power of those early glam/hair bands. All the makeup and Aquanet and torn fishnet stockings seem very cliche and quaint when you look at them through modern eyes. But just take a look at the cover of Too Fast for Love – a straight-up leather pants crotch shot, the spiked wristband, the fingerless gloves, the handcuffs as belt buckle, and the right hand giving you the horns. Perhaps an homage to the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers? Or maybe a dis, I don’t know. This was massively subversive at the time. This was the kind of music that was going to make your son start being disrespectful to his elders and your daughter lose her virginity. It was music that made you want to fight, and not just authority, but fight simply for the sake of fighting, because you were angry at the world. And when Shout at the Devil came out two years later, the Crüe actually managed to kick it up a notch with heavy makeup, song titles that mentioned the devil (“Shout at the Devil” and “God Bless the Children of the Beast”) and included profanity (“Bastard”… yes kids, that was still a bad word then), and a damn pentagram on the cover. This wasn’t just music that would turn you into a loser; it would cause you to perform satanic rituals and would send you straight to hell.
Keep in mind, this was the pre-internet era, and even cable TV was pretty new for most of America. VCRs were just starting to become popular (though you still had a hard time finding a video rental store) and the Intellivision was the cutting edge of home video game entertainment. You actually watched the evening news on TV every night and had the newspaper delivered to your house. If you wanted to learn more about something, you looked in an encyclopedia that, if you were lucky, was only about 10 years old (my set was older). Information just wasn’t available, so we were left to make assumptions based on what little we had. In the case of Mötley Crüe what we had were the images they chose to present on their albums and in print, plus if you were lucky their music videos. That was it. So it was pretty easy to think that maybe these dudes were seriously evil, back when professional wrestling still insisted it was a sport and not entertainment. In many ways it wasn’t so radically different from say the New York Dolls, but it’s not like most people would have even understood that at the time.
I don’t even know if I ever listened to my copy of Too Fast for Love. I was still pretty young and at that stage where I only wanted to listen to songs I knew and liked, so there wasn’t much incentive to play the first Crüe record since I’d never heard of any of the songs and no one I knew had ever heard it, so how would I even know if it was cool, right? My guess I spun it once, maybe twice, and that was probably it. It wasn’t until literally a couple of decades later that I realized how insanely good “Live Wire” and “Piece of Your Action” are, a pair of early glam classics. And it wasn’t until today that I sat down and gave the whole album a thorough listen, having up until now relied upon Red, White, & Crüe as my source for the pre-Shout material. How did “Take Me to the Top” fail to make that compilation? I don’t know. I want to say that Too Fast for Love is a bit inconsistent, but that’s not entirely fair – this record is 34 years old (<– …what? What??? How is that even possible?! Beyoncé was two months old when this album came out… WTF), and I’ve had the benefit of hearing all of Mötley Crüe’s subsequent music (and witnessed the excesses that came to define glam). I think what makes it seem inconsistent is that parts of it are so exceptional – you can’t blame the rest of the album for not being as amazing as “Live Wire.” It’s not as heavily produced as hair metal quickly came to be, making it sound a lot more straight-forward rock ‘n’ roll today.
The first time I’d ever heard “In the Beginning,” the opening to Shout at the Devil, I was sitting on one of the chairs at the hair salon where my mom worked, listening to it on my Walkman headphones.
I nearly crapped my pants.
Again, this was a different time, and I was still pretty young. And up to that point Mötley Crüe was the hardest thing I’d ever heard. It was dangerous. It could damn your soul for all eternity. I bought the tape on the strength of the “Looks That Kill” video that was all anyone could talk about at school (I was not only lucky enough to have cable, unlike a lot of my classmates, but I even had access to MTV in my bedroom; that and my Intellivision helped my popularity a little). I listened to “Shout at the Devil” and “Looks That Kill” more times than I can count, though I doubt I played the rest of it more than a half dozen times if I had to guess. Which is too bad because there are some good songs on Shout at the Devil, which I think is consistently of better quality than Too Fast for Love. “God Bless the Children of the Beast” is a mega-clunker, but “Bastard” and “Red Hot” are solid, and the cover of The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” is a Crüe classic. A lot of critics trashed Shout at the Devil back in the day, but bottom line is it’s a classic of the genre.
I’m glad Easy Street had these records today – so thanks to whoever loved these for a while and then sold them. They’ve got a good new home, and they’re going to be here for a while.