While listening to Mötley Crüe’s just-released Greatest Hits album—their fifth, if you’re counting—you should expect to experience a wide range of seemingly conflicting emotions. During the first few cuts, you’ll likely be smirking. “Seriously?” you’ll wonder aloud. “Does anybody over the age of 16 enjoy glam cock rock anymore? Even ironically?” But somewhere around the middle of “Shout at the Devil,” you may catch yourself smiling, as the song makes you think about that kid in the fifth grade who drew pentagrams on his notebooks and taught you how to make rock horns. You’ll hum along to “Smokin’ In The Boys Room,” not because you like the song, necessarily, but because the melody was drilled into your brain back when MTV still played videos. And then “Home Sweet Home” kicks in, and you’ll be like “Oh my god, I totally remember that video,” and then you’ll Google it just to make sure it was as beautifully retarded as you remember. You’ll sing along with the chorus of “Girls, Girls, Girls,” repeating lyrics that you never realized you knew. (“Girls, girls, girls! Long legs and burgundy lips!” Wait, what?) You’ll break out a little air-guitar for “Dr. Feelgood,” which as it turns out is a muscle memory. By the second verse of “Same Ol’ Situation,” you’ll be on your feet, dancing across the room with all the glam-cock-rock swagger you can muster, maybe even flashing your tits to a nonexistent band. And guess what? You won’t be doing it ironically.
Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with you. That’s why Mötley Crüe puts out so many Greatest Hits albums. So that adults with dignity and a healthy sense of cynicism can have yet another opportunity to remind themselves what it feels like to be an unabashed, power-chord-loving idiot.
I called Vince Neil, the Crüe’s longtime frontman, to ask how a band can survive and even flourish for almost three decades when their creative aesthetic can essentially be boiled down to “Hooray for boobies!”
Eric Spitznagel: Why put out another Greatest Hits album?
Vince Neil: I don’t know. I honestly have no idea. (Laughs.) I didn’t put it out. Our management company did.
How many times can you sell us “Home Sweet Home” before we finally say, “Enough?”
Well, it’s got some new stuff on there. There’s a remix of “The Animal in Me.” That’s one of the selling points, I guess.
You know what would make a great remix? Put an extra Girls onto “Girls Girls Girls.” Make it a song about four girls.
So it’d be “Girls, Girls, Girls, Girls”?
Yeah. That’s some serious artistry.
(Laughs.) I think we might do that. Every time we release another Greatest Hits, we’ll just add another “Girls” to the song. That sounds like a good idea.
Any plans for a Greatest Hits tour?
Absolutely not. We just finished Crüe Fest II, which lasted 18 months. We did the U.S. three times, and went to Canada, Mexico, South America, Malaysia, Japan, and every country in Europe. It’s time to take a break.
And your immune systems probably need to recuperate after all the groupie sex.
Y’know, backstage at a Crüe show isn’t really what it used to be. Back in the old days, in the 80s and 90s, we were living like animals. But it doesn’t happen that way anymore. We were excessive when we were younger, because we could get away with it and that’s what the times were like. But these days, we have our fun on the stage and that’s about it.
What’s the least debaucherous thing you’ve ever done?
The least debaucherous?
Have you ever walked backstage after a show and said, “Out of the way, strippers, I gotta call my mom!”
Hmm. Well, sometimes I just want to get back on the tour bus and watch a little Judge Judy. Just relax with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some Judge Judy and that’s it, man. Those are some good times.
Mötley Crüe has always been on the forefront of ridiculous and unnecessary rock theatrics. You’ve given the world the Titty Cam and the spinning mechanical drum kit, to name just a few. What cutting-edge technology are you working on now?
I don’t know. Before every tour, we just sit down and come up with as many crazy ideas as we can. And then we bring in an engineer and ask, “Hey, is any of this possible? And how much is it going to cost us?” That’s basically it.
Here’s an idea for your next tour: Stiletto boots with rocket boosters in the heels.
That’s not bad. Tommy had this one crazy idea where he wanted to put his drums on a rollercoaster. We looked into it and we actually could’ve pulled it off. But it would’ve been very, very expensive.
How could you say no to that? Wouldn’t a Tommy Lee drum solo be a thousand times cooler if it ended with him vomiting on the crowd?
Well, yeah, but that happens at every concert anyway.
One of the great things about Mötley Crüe is your support of naughty nurses. With so many medical professionals out of work these days, and health-care reform still such a hot-button topic, it’s nice that your band is still reaching out to the nursing community.
We only did that a couple times. We did it back in ‘89 with the Dr. Feelgood album. We’ve always had girls on stage, but they only dressed as nurses for the Feelgood tour. And then we brought them back for Crüe Fest II because it was the 20-year anniversary of Dr. Feelgood, and we played the album in its entirety.
So this has nothing to do with the swine flu?
No, not at all. We like the girls at our shows to be naughty everything. They change outfits all the time. They’re naughty nurses, naughty cops, naughty parking attendants, naughty whatever.
Can you get swine flu from a naughty nurse? Or just herpes?
(Laughs.) I would hope none of the above.
Crüe’s female fans love to flash their boobs at the band. After almost 30 years, are you finally bored of tits?
I am actually, yeah. After this last tour, it started to get a little old. I mean, how many boobs can you look at? Sometimes you feel like a doctor. You just get up and go to the office and think, “O.K., I have to look at boobs all day.” It gets tiresome. But then the tour ends and you don’t see tits everyday, and that’s when you start to miss it all over again. You want it back.
Do tits count as currency at a Mötley Crüe show? And if so, what’s the exchange rate? What will a really good-looking pair of boobs get you?
Flashing gets you nothing. (Laughs.)
Nothing? Not even backstage passes?
Naw, man. Nothing. It’s a con. (Laughs.) Chicks are flashing all the time, and it’s just for our entertainment. I like to think of it as a salute. It’s a private saluting the general.
What’s the male equivalent of flashing? Do your guy fans ever take out their balls?
That would be cause for being thrown out of our concert.
According to blues legend, Robert Johnson got his guitar talent when he met the Devil at a crossroads. Do you have a similar deal with Satan?
Probably. (Laughs.) But we sold our souls years and year and years ago. I think Satan has probably forgotten about us by now because we’re too old.
So what did you specifically get from the devil in exchange for your souls? He didn’t just give you the chord changes to “Looks That Kill,” did he?
No, we negotiated for more than that.
I was gonna say …
He helped us get our hair to stand up straight. Back in 1981, that was all we really needed.
So you sold you soul … for some hairspray?
More or less, yeah. (Laughs.)
(Long pause.) Y’know, I kinda believe you.
It was a different world back in the 80s. The size of your hair actually mattered.
Mötley Crüe is spelled with two umlauts. Isn’t that excessive?
I don’t think so.
Motörhead does fine with one umlaut. Aren’t you just being greedy?
When we came up with the name, we didn’t even know what umlauts were. I can remember it like it was yesterday. We were drinking Löwenbräu, and when we decided to call ourselves Mötley Crüe, we put some umlauts in there because we thought it made us look European. We had no idea that it was a pronunciation thing. When we finally went to Germany, the crowds were chanting, “Mutley Cruh! Mutley Cruh! “ We couldn’t figure out why the fuck they were doing that.
Keith Richards came up with the riff for “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” while sleeping. Do you get your best ideas when you’re unconscious?
(Laughs.) No. I mean, maybe some sexual ideas, but that’s about it. Nothing musical.
So where does inspiration come from? Are you ever in a strip club getting a lap dance and all of a sudden you’re like, “Shit, shit, I need a pen?”
Inspiration comes from everywhere. On our last album, Saints of Los Angeles, every song was based on stories from The Dirt, our autobiography. It’s about where we started and where we ended up and everything in between. We wrote a lot of songs about our divorces. “Chicks = Trouble,” you know what I mean? (Laughs.)
Are there any Crüe songs that you regret? Anything you look back on and think, “Jesus, what douchebag wrote this?”
We have some of those songs. I think every musician has those kinds of songs. It was fun to go back and play the songs from Dr. Feelgood again, because some of them we hadn’t played in 20 years. Like “She Goes Down.”
Ah yeah. “It’s like connecting the dots. Start at the bottom—”
“—lick to the top.” (Laughs.) There are some great songs on Dr. Feelgood that we totally forgot about.
It’s not on Feelgood, but I think “Treat Me Like a Dog” is a pretty good contender for your best worst song.
I don’t remember that one.
“Red rover, red rover, got a bone but I can’t come over.”
Oh yeah, that’s right. (Laughs.) That’s a great song!
There’s a timeless beauty to those lyrics.
It’s fun to revisit some of those old songs. I think every band should take another look at the songs they don’t play anymore. There’s some crazy stuff if you dig deep enough. I think we should do a whole tour with just the songs we’ve never played before. That’d be a trip.
Your lyrics can be a little misogynistic. Do you feel like Crüe’s songs treat women fairly?
Of course not! We’re guys. We’re rock musicians. We treat girls like shit. That’s just the way it is.
So why do you think you have so many female fans? Do they hear a song like “Girls Girls Girls” and think, “That’s totally empowering, I wanna get a stripper pole and embrace my inner goddess?”
(Laughs.) I don’t know what it is. I guess girls just like the bad boys, and we’re definitely the bad boys.
Emmy Rossum told us that bad boys are much more appealing as an abstract idea in art than as a flesh-and-blood reality. Would you agree?
Oh yeah, without a doubt. And I have four ex-wives to prove it.
You know what the Crüe needs to do? Write a few female-friendly, blatantly unchauvinistic songs.
Really? Not even one song with a title like “I Totally Respect Your Decision To Take It Slow”?
It’s definitely not in this band’s nature to do something like that. There’s no fun in it.
How about “I Dig Chicks Who Live Alone With Cats”?
No, that ain’t gonna happen. Not us. Not in this lifetime.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in VanityFair.com