L to R: Vince Neil, Tommy Lee, Mick Mars and Nikki Sixx
Photo: Ross Halfin/1987
Aquanet hairspray flew off the shelves when the new wave synth-pop acts of the early 1980s gave way to an onslaught of glam rock a few years later. Hair got longer and taller, clothes got tighter, and the music got louder, faster and, well, louder.
Mötley Crüe — the hard-rocking, hard-living L.A. foursome formed in 1981 by bassist Nikki Sixx, guitarist Mick Mars, vocalist Vince Neil and drummer Tommy Lee — led the “hair metal” phenomenon with a string of hit albums, racy videos and large-scale tours. Their third major-label release, Girls, Girls, Girls, found the band at the height of their career. Their 1983 debut, Shout at the Devil, and its follow-up, Theatre of Pain, had hit triple-Platinum. As they entered the studio to record Girls, Girls, Girls, Lee's highly publicized marriage to actress Heather Locklear was barely a year old, Sixx had checked himself into a methadone clinic to kick a pernicious heroin habit and the video for their power ballad “Home Sweet Home” still aired consistently on MTV.
While Theatre of Pain had a slicker, more pop-oriented sound than the wicked Shout at the Devil, the Girls, Girls, Girls album contained nothing but sleazy rock 'n' roll, albeit with a commercial bent. Tom Werman, who had produced all of the band's records since their 1983 signing with Elektra, says that the album's more straightforward sound and relatively easy recording process stemmed from the band's maturity level. “The difference was mostly chemical,” he says, referring to the members' respective drug and alcohol abuse. “They were much more serious, more relaxed and more professional about this album. Also, Mick [Mars] had found a guitar tech who really helped refine his guitar sound. The band was just better in every way. Nikki was better at his instrument, and I knew ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ — the song — was a hit from the first time I heard it.”
During pre-production, Werman and the band worked hard on drum and bass parts, some rhythm guitar and song structure. “Because ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ has such an up-front guitar lick, it was pretty much there from the start,” says Werman. “It was a very straightforward song rhythmically, too: just four on the floor, bang, straightaway. Excellent song. We had a lot of fun doing it.”
After pre-production, the band moved to One on One Studios in North Hollywood (now called Ecstasy Recording Studios) to record drum tracks. They had the time and the money to try new ideas and took advantage of that luxury by toying around with Lee's drum sound. “Tommy was very exacting about his drums and was a very adventurous experimenter,” says Werman. To get an even more explosive sound, engineer Duane Baron made use of the studio's P.A. system to send kick and toms back out into the large main studio.
They also discovered a new way to isolate the drums. “We were just screwing around and trying to find an optimum way to record drums, keep the leakage down and get rid of some of the hi-hat,” says Baron, who first worked with the band on Theatre of Pain. “We put towels on the toms, hi-hat and cymbals, and then Tommy would play kick and snare because he wanted really good isolation on those. Then we'd do the opposite thing, where we'd pad up the kick and snare and he'd play the hi-hat, toms and cymbals to a click track. He's one of the few drummers who could really pull that off.”
The towel method worked. In addition, Baron incorporated drum samples for the first time with this record. “We were using a MIDI sequencer and programmed one hit at a time,” he recalls. “Then we would record it off the sequencer as opposed to triggering. We were trying to get rid of the delay between the triggers and the real snare.” They used an E-mu Emulator 12-bit sampler, operating at half-speed. “We realized that by using a half-speed sample and doubling up, you got a better bit rate,” says Baron.
Drums amply recorded, the band moved to Rumbo Recorders, a three-room studio in Canoga Park, Calif., designed and built by Daryl Dragon (aka the “Captain” of Captain & Tennille). Ross Hogarth, the studio's chief staff engineer at the time, assisted Baron on the sessions. They camped at Rumbo for several weeks to record Sixx's bass parts and Mars' guitars. The tracks were built in a layer-by-layer fashion, beginning with drums and continuing with bass, guitar and vocals. Despite the time spent experimenting, Lee had his parts nailed within a week; the rest of the band took a bit more time, but not much. “They knew the songs well and were very well rehearsed,” says Baron. “Tommy knew exactly what he wanted.”
Hogarth recalls that Mars was especially focused while recording his rhythm guitar parts, and although Lee, a driving force in the band along with Sixx, often had very clear ideas on how the guitars should sound, Mars held onto a few ideas of his own. “We spent a little more time on the guitar solo on this song than we normally did because it played such a prominent role,” says Werman. “Mick usually had his solos mapped out, which is good news for a producer, so I basically helped him with fills.”
“The guys respected each other and what they wanted to do,” says Baron. “They didn't interfere with the way Tommy wanted to play or Nikki or Mick. But that's not to say Tommy wasn't there every minute making sure everything went down good.” On the other hand, Paul Miles, Webmaster of the extensive “Chronological Crue” Website and books, reports that Mars' soloing at the end of “Girls, Girls, Girls” drops off because Mars fell off of his stool while recording it. [Eds. note: Mars suffers from an incurable rheumatic disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis, which decreases his mobility.]
Whether he fell on top of it or not, Baron used a RCA 77 ribbon mic for Mars' six-strings. “Also, I'd play around with two Shure 57s; one on the outer side of the speaker and one in the middle, with a 45 capsule to get it the same distance in front,” Baron says. “Sometimes in front or behind the cabinet I'd use a ribbon mic. I love using ribbon mics on guitars, but most studios wouldn't let you use them back then because you'd kill the ribbon, but I'd try to get away with it as much as possible.”
At the time, Rumbo's Studio C was a work in progress, but Baron and Hogarth used the unfinished concrete space to their advantage. They put the guitar cabinets in this very live makeshift chamber and put the amplifiers in the control room.
From Rumbo, the group made a quick stop at Can-Am Studios for more overdubs, then on to Conway Studios to record Vince Neil's vocals, finish the remaining overdubs, and mix. Neil sang into a mic that Werman owned. “It worked very well for Vince because he tends to sing a little through his nose, and it took the nasal quality out of his voice,” he says. “On Girls, Girls, Girls, he sounds as good as he ever sounded with me.”
John Purdell, a top session keyboardist, sang the background vocals because he was the only one of the bunch that could hit the high notes. Sixx played a crucial role during the vocal recording process. “Most of the lyrics and melodies came from Nikki,” says Baron, “so when Vince came in to sing, he was pretty much directed by Nikki. For the most part, I don't think anyone knew the melodies until Nikki came in.” Sixx probably had the most influence on “Girls, Girls, Girls.” “This was the title track, and it was very important to Nikki,” says Werman. “And if it was important to Nikki, then he made sure everybody knew what he wanted.”
Lee, whom Baron describes as a “bundle of energy,” offered input during every stage of the recording process. The idea to add roaring motorcycle engines at the beginning and end of “Girls, Girls, Girls” came from him. “At the time, they decided they were all going to get Harleys,” says Baron. “They were like that. If one guy got a Corvette, they all got Corvettes, and during that record they had gotten into Harleys and wanted a Harley on the album.” The opening motorbike sound was recorded in Conway's courtyard. As Werman recalls, “We brought the mics outside and I sat on Vince's Harley while wearing earphones. I heard the track and started up the bike around the count-off so the guitar came in right after. I revved the engine where it fit.” For the end Harley sample, Werman rode Sixx's bike in nearby Franklin Canyon. “We set up stereo mics, and I went through all five gears in a hurry,” says Werman. “It was a lot of fun.”
Elektra released Girls, Girls, Girls on May 17, 1987, with the title track as its debut single. The single peaked at Number 12 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart — their highest-charting single at the time, while the album hit Number 2. MTV immediately banned its video due to shots of topless strippers dancing; a censored version proved acceptable.
Following Girls, Girls, Girls, Mötley Crüe recruited Bob Rock to produce Dr. Feelgood, their first album to reach Number One. Werman continued his production career, which totals more than 60 hit albums, including titles by Cheap Trick, Ted Nugent, Dokken, Twisted Sister and Poison, among many others. He teamed with Baron through the '80s; at the dawn of the 1990s, Baron and Purdell partnered up to produce albums for Ozzy Osbourne, Heart, Foreigner and Alice Cooper.
Baron continues to work with a variety of acts, including such up-and-comers as Ken Oak Band, Jetset Satellite and Karen Eden (also his wife). He recently launched Pro Home Recording School, an online educational resource for home recordists. Werman and his wife, Suky, moved from Los Angeles to Werman's native Massachusetts six years ago and opened Stonover Farm, a luxury bed and breakfast near Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass. He has few dealings with the music business these days, which is just how he likes it. “This is a superb life, no question.”