It is shocking to think that this album is 30 years old this month. Even more shocking, every member of the band is still alive 30 years later. Dr. Feelgood was Motley Crue’s first album recorded after life-changing sobriety. Lesser bands would produce a valiant but ultimately failed attempt at a record as good as their albums under the influence. The Crue turns that around by releasing their only number one album and arguably the best one of their career.
“Dr Feelgood” was the Secret Service name for Doctor Max Johnson who provided drugs for the elite, like John F Kennedy during his presidency. The name inspired anyone who provides enough medication to ensure the rich and elite can continue their duties. Much like a band propped up by alcohol, cocaine, and heroin. Motley Crue faced a crossroads in life. Get clean or die. Vince Neil walking away from a car accident his friend Razzle died in, and Nikki Sixx dying of an overdose only to be revived and then shoot up later that evening were giant Grim Reaper dodges. Final Destination doesn’t have anything on the Terror Twins.
Bands usually only have a couple of good albums in them. The hunger of the first album. The better production of a second. The money behind a third. Then pressures, addictions, expectations call the unit to fall apart. Only the strongest survive. Motley Crue followed up a disappointing third album, Theater of Pain, with the legendary Girls, Girls, Girls. That record was big enough to make the fifth record even bigger. Big enough to bring in Bob Rock.
Bob Rock was the engineer for Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet and New Jersey. Also for Aerosmith’s Permanent Vacation. He was the producer of previous albums but none previously that would see the success of Dr Feelgood. Both Rock and the Crue had something to prove. Motley Crue proved they should never have been pigeonholed into the label of Hair Metal. Rock showed that he could make everyone sound better, a skill that was noticed by Lars Ulrich. Dr Feelgood is the sole reason Bob Rock was hired to apply his producer skills to a little album known as Metallica’s the Black Album.
The title track is, of course, the most well known. A tale of a drug lord’s rise and fall. A parable told by those who have lived through it. Runaway freight train guitars by Nikki Sixx and Mick Mars. Tommy Lee beating the ever-loving shit out of the drums like they said Heather Locklear is ugly. Vince Neil showing the best voice control of his career thanks to a clean and sober throat.
With that anti-drug message out of the way, it’s time to go back to the excess. Drugs and alcohol might be gone but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more indulgences in life. “Kickstart My Heart” has without a doubt inspired many a speeding ticket for the last 30 years. I couldn’t even listen to it in my house without running around like a madman. “S.O.S. Same Ol’ Situation” is a Friday night anthem. Been there, done that, and I’m still standing. Bring on next week and all its problems. I’ll play this again next Friday.
While I’m willing to argue Motley Crue wasn’t a hair metal band that doesn’t mean the influence isn’t there. “Without You” is an overall average ballad for the era, but Motley Crue’s best one. Inspired by Lee and Locklear, there is an aspect of feeling stronger with the woman you love, and weaker when she’s not around. Maybe in Lee’s case so weak it’s easy to fall for temptation.
Then, in an inspired move, Motley Crue records a ballad for men.” Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)” is the biggest bromance song of the time. The women come and go. There’s the door honey, don’t let it hit you on the way out. But the boys, your friends, your brothers by choice. That bond is forever. Whether that mindset is right or wrong in the Crue’s case the women have come and gone. None of the band has remarried the same woman. But both Vince Neil and Tommy Lee left the band at different points and came back to open arms.
Speaking of women, “Sticky Sweet” and “She Goes Down” are back to back songs on the albums B-side. Only Motley Crue would follow up a song about fellatio with… another song about fellatio. Joining other iconic bands like AC/DC, Aerosmith, and ZZ Top in their subtle odes to all things female.
If you labeled Motley Crue as a disposable hair/glam metal act from your childhood, take another listen. Too hard to be hair. Just too light to be thrash. They wrote their own rules every step of their career. Sometimes to their detriment but always to our enjoyment.