Blistering guitar, thunderous drums, suitably sleazy lyrics and some of Vince Neil’s best singing – Mötley Crüe’s ‘All In The Name Of…’ should have been, by all accounts, a single. It’s a prime example of the fast-paced, sex-fueled hard rock now synonymous with the late 1980s. And Mötley Crüe were very much at the forefront of the pack. So why wasn’t it a single?
Well, in part, I imagine, to the fact it came from 1987’s multi-platinum Girls, Girls, Girls, an album that spawned two hit singles, the title track, ‘Wild Side’ and another from the album, ‘You’re All I Need’. It hit the Billboard 200, peaking at the second spot. So perhaps releasing a fourth single would have just been a bit overkill, even for the Los Angeles hellraisers.
Another reason could be the downright wrong nature of the track; whose lyrics deal with an adult man’s sexual obsession over a fifteen-year-old. Even for Crüe, that’s not great. The opening riff bleeds into the first line, ‘She’s only fifteen, she’s the reason, the reason I can’t sleep’. And, in true Mötley style, if that wasn’t enough to give you the hint, ‘You say illegal, I say, legal’s never been my scene!’ probably does.
It’s a shame because, if you take away the pretty questionable lyrics, it’s a damn fine track full of adrenaline and emotion; with one of the band’s catchiest choruses to date. But it raises an interesting point, regardless of how you view it: when does rock go too far?
I choose the genre of rock particularly because it’s almost part of the parcel now, the sex, the drugs and, well, rock ‘n roll. Every genre has its fair share of suggestive lyrics; from mainstream pop to R&B, hip-hop, rap and everything alternative. But the image of rock is loud guitars, big hair… and an awful lot of sex. With rockstars like Robert Plant, Jim Morrison, Freddie Mercury, Axl Rose, Nikki Sixx and David Lee Roth, the image of all things perverted might as well be superimposed over the top of every hard rock or glam album cover.
And generally, people are okay with this. It’s accepted. It’s just what rock is; particularly in the late 1980s when all things bad was the scene; with excessive drink, drugs and groupies proving the norm backstage at every rock ‘n roll gig. But even back then, a track like ‘All in The Name Of…’ was bound to gain controversy, once one could get past Mick Mars’ incredible riffing.
Perhaps the best-known example of rock going too far was when, in 1985, an American committee was formed with one goal in mind; increasing the control parents had over what music their children listened to, through those pesky ‘Parental Advisory’ stickers everyone pretty much universally hates on album covers. This was the ‘Parents Music Resource Center’ (or ‘PMRC’), and the face of this new movement was co-founder Tipper Gore, wife of Al Gore; who would later become the Vice President.
The PMRC wanted to create a kind of ‘rating’ system for albums, similar to certifications in movies, as well as move albums deemed explicit under counters in record stores. It seems like pretty small-town stuff, but it was enough to rile up every rock ‘n roll fan – and musician – in the country. Whilst the point of this historical event is most often surmised in the hearing between the committee and Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider, our Crüe had a small part to play in this, too.
The PMRC produced a list of fifteen songs they thought the most objectionable. The filthiest, the sleaziest, the obscenest. The ‘Filthy Fifteen’ as it became known included such titles as AC/DC’s ‘Let Me Put My Love Into You’, or W.A.S.P.’s ‘Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)’ – normally I’d censor out the swear word there, but I feel like in this context it would be a bit counter-productive. Also, on the list is Mötley Crüe’s ‘Bastard’, from their ’83 record, Shout At The Devil. This was, of course, before the release of Girls, Girls, Girls, and so ‘All in the Name Of…’ could not appear. But had the committee formed a few years later, I have no doubt we’d see that fifteen-year-old-crazed concoction make an appearance.
The PMRC was never fated to be around for long. It was pretty quickly dismissed; though some record companies agreed to the Parental Advisory labels, not much else was done. People accepted what rock was. And when the rockstars themselves proved eloquent and aware, Gore and her committee lost all the wind their sails bore.
Of course, it’s completely subjective as to how far we allow rock to go. Or any music, really. It’s the same as freedom of speech; how much should one person be able to say? In music, is it okay to allude to sex, but not explicitly mention it? Take Steel Panther for instance, one of the biggest glam metal bands keeping the torch lit well into the 21st century. Their lyrics are, even for glam, unsubtle. Their albums feature titles such as ‘Gloryhole’, ‘Gangbang at the Old Folks’ Home’, ’17 Girls in a Row’, ‘Supersonic Sex Machine’ and ‘Gold Digging Whore’. They’re catchy, sure, but many struggle to get past their passages that are, to be fair, anything but sneaky. Some can look past the words. Some can’t. Some openly revere the band for their lack of shame, and indifference as to whether they sound misogynistic or just funny.
Record companies didn’t like when Tom Petty explicitly mentioned ‘cocaine’ in his 1978 hit with the Heartbreakers, ‘Listen to Her Heart’. People thought The Beatles’ ‘Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds’ – from Sgt. Peppers… – was about drugs. ‘One in a Million’, a track by Guns ‘n Roses, caused major controversy when it mentioned gay people and Black people by derogatory terms; though Axl Rose promises offence wasn’t the point of the song. Everyone knows what people thought of The Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save The Queen’, and pretty much any song by AC/DC is guaranteed to annoy somebody. Are these instances, right? Did any of these musicians go too far? Or is that just what rock’s about?
I mean, what’s this piece about? Am I saying Vince Neil and Nikki Sixx were wrong to write ‘All in the Name Of…’? No. It’s unlikely the two seriously found a fifteen-year-old attractive, and though the track is in poor taste to say the least, it’s a song at the end of the day. But it’s that bit creepier to listen to, and I’ve heard many fans turn it off altogether – despite its artistic quality as a song. It just made me think, how even in the 21st century, we still don’t know when music goes too far. And we likely never will. It’s art. And like any piece of art, it should be able to push what’s acceptable. Especially genres like rock and metal. Isn’t that what the ‘80s were for? Challenging the establishment and projecting the life every young person wanted to have?
Maybe, or maybe not. I’ll let you decide what’s okay, and what isn’t. There’s no authority on the matter, but you’re at least an authority on yourself, and what you want to listen to. Maybe you’ll rock to Girls, Girls, Girls, maybe you won’t. But either way, cast a thought sometime as to what you’re really listening to. Probe the lyrics; deduce for yourself what’s happening. It just might make you reassess some of your favourite tunes.