After One Listen, I'm Eating CrÃ¼e
August 7, 2014
In the off-chance you and I one day get a simultaneous wild hair and seek out one of the many trivia nights sweeping the nation's bars and restaurants, here's a critical heads up: When the topic "80's music" comes around just know, as your wing man, I got nothin'.
'60s and especially '70s music ... particularly Rock?Â I'm your guy. We may have a fighting chance with Beatles minutiae, though I'm certainly no David Friedman. Consider me your go-to for Sports, Movies, Books and History. As for World Geography, I'm a strong B-minus.
But if it's not Country, the '80s are a complete, contemporary music vacuum. That's the decade where I became totally immersed in it after opting to marry the format, subsequently getting more involved with music and programming in MD, APD and PD roles.
After growing up on '70s hard rock and never, ever (key word: ever) listening to this format prior to working it, Country music was my exclusive choice back then and it essentially became my college. Valory Music VP/Promotion George Briner can verify: While at KZLA and then-Country KLAC-A/Los Angeles, my office was a comprehensive music library/museum, housing records (Yes, vinyl ones!) dating back to the early '50s, along with books documenting the format's origins.
And so, while LA-based heavy metal rockers Mötley Crüe were making an international name for themselves, I was completely unaware, too busy establishing a lifelong love for the music of George Strait, Merle Haggard, Alabama and Reba, while learning to appreciate the importance of Hank Sr., Johnny Cash, George Jones and Patsy Cline. Wanna talk about being embedded in it? I eventually joined KNIX/Phoenix, then owned by the legendary Buck Owens.
Flash forward 20-something years: Like a bizarre and ironic Seinfeld episode, here I sit, listening intently to a 15-song collection of today's brightest Country stars paying tribute to music ofÂ The Crüe, on the soon-to-be-released (August 19th), "Nashville Outlaws: A Tribute To Mötley Crüe." Any moment now, I expect Kramer will frantically burst through my doorway, demanding I turn up The Cadillac Three's rendition of "Live Wire."
Besides the ubiquitous "Girls, Girls, Girls," I cannot name you one Crüe song, save, "Smokin' In The Boys Room" a reboot of the 1973 original from Brownsville Station, which I much preferred anyway. Nothing personal against The Crüe, mind you. I also never liked Great White's 1989 version of "Once Bitten, Twice Shy," first recorded by Ian Hunter in '75. Additionally, while I love Metallica and they did earn a Best Metal Performance Grammy in 1991 for "Stone Cold Crazy," Freddie Mercury and Queen originated the tune on the band's "Sheer Heart Attack" album in '74, an effort that's nearly impossible to top, in my book.
So if I have issues with iconic song and band coverage, I wonder what the Hell Mötley Crüe fans think of their music being (gasp!) Countri-fied?Â I don't know that answer, but this unlikely Country convert, raised on testosterone-driven, the louder-and-faster-the-better Rock music is shockingly and pleasantly surprised at how much he's enjoying this tribute album.
Here's the thing: Like covers, tribute albums can be slippery slopes ... that fine line between brilliant and catastrophic. In 1993, "Common Thread: Songs Of The Eagles" capitalized on Country's huge mainstream popularity, utilizing some of the format's biggest stars at the time like Clint Black and Travis Tritt, whose "Desperado" and "Take It Easy" respectively, received widespread airplay. It went on to win the CMA Album Of The Year Award in 1994. One could make the case that Eagles music has always been more, shall we say, Country-adjacent than most artists. Then again, one could argue The Eagles were a Country band in the first place.
But for every home run like "Common Thread," there have been more than a few misfires when it comes to Country-targeted tribute albums . Who among us can forget 1995's simply awful collection, "Come Together: America Salutes the Beatles?" Come to think of it, who'd want to remember it? Among other miscast performers, it featured Randy Travis struggling through "Nowhere Man," and Sammy Kershaw trying his best on "If I Fell." To be fair, I fall into the camp of those who believe nobody should ever attempt to cover Beatles songs.
Ditto The Beach Boys, but damned if Country didn't give it a college try in 1996 with "Stars And Stripes, Vol. 1." One Beach Boys website called this collection "An almost complete disaster," which featured the absolutely terrible "Help Me Rhonda" from T. Graham Brown and "409" from Junior Brown. Try not to be shocked, but there was never a Vol. 2.
Did my nearly complete lack of familiarity with Mötley Crüe's music help me enjoy this collection so much, or was it the inspired performances by every artist on it? Probably a bit of both but either way, I totally did not see this coming! Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx said earlier this year of the album, "People will be surprised how these artists made these songs their own."
I am one of those people. Aaron Lewis made "Afraid" a stone-cold Country tune. The Mavericks put their typical, tropical stamp on "Dr. Feelgood." The Cadillac Three's take on "Live Wire" rocks hard. Same for Brantley Gilbert on "Girls, Girls, Girls" and Gretchen Wilson, who sounds like a screechy Ann Wilson on "Wild Side" (probably my least favorite cut). Florida Georgia Line sounds like, well ... Florida Georgia Line on, "If I Die Tomorrow." I don't mean this in a negative way, but Rascal Flatts surprised me with its gritty version of "Kickstart My Heart." Cassadee Pope didn't however, teaming with Cheap Trick's Robin Zander for "The Animal In Me." She seemed to have a natural feel for this song; it's my favorite cut on the album. Justin Moore's latest single, the power ballad, "Home Sweet Home," featuring Crüe lead singer Vince Neil, is already moving up the Mediabase Country singles chart. "Nashville" cast members Sam Palladio and Claire Bowen turned in a warm and sensitive, "Without You."
"We did not make this record for Mötley Crüe fans, but for Country fans that are also Rock fans," said The Crüe's Sixx. That brings context to the entire project, doesn't it? Because if ever the time was right for Country to tackle Mötley Crüe, this is it. The format has many fans who grew up with bands like Mötley Crüe, who have since migrated to Country. And I've said it before here: There are Rock fans searching for something to satiate their harder-edged musical urges during the current decline of Rock radio. This idea would not have seemed plausible just a few years ago but then again, neither could elements of hip-hop gaining acceptance among Country fans. Go figure.
While the idea of merging Country artists with songs from a badass, hell-raisin' metal band seemed incongruous (To me, anyway) when it was first announced, the finished product for "Nashville Outlaws" is absolutely solid and should assuage any concerns about the format potentially running amok, or for Mötley Crüe fans, fearing the band has either sold out or lost its collective marbles. It is what it is: A damned good listen.
And there's another plus: It's also given me a valuable education on music from a previously lost decade. On that note, I'll take '80s Metal bands for $1000, Alex.