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Shout to Mars

Now listen up.

Their sophomore album may have released in September 1983, but Motley Crue’s dominant era truly began in 1984. That’s when the major singles broke, and when many of us first discovered them. “Shout at the Devil” was an absolute obsession in my circles, supplanting Def Leppard’s “Pyromania” at the prime position in my tape deck. The pictures of the four members of Motley Crue on the cover were almost as important as the music.* Massive debates were undertaken as to who looked cooler: Tommy Lee or Nikki Sixx. I went as far as to dress up as a 10-year-old Tommy Lee for Halloween that year, replete with long black wig, clip-on dangly earrings, and make-up stripes on my face. God Bless the Children of the Lee.

A few years down the road, each of us in the Sixx vs. Lee debate acknowledged that both sides had been wrong. The coolest guy on the cassette cover was Mick Mars.** The other three had varying takes on Glam, sleaze, sex appeal, bravado, and post-apocalyptic, but Mick just looked tough, fierce, monstrous, and scary as hell.

Nikki Sixx was the primary songwriter on “Shout,” but all four players were integral to its magnificence. Without Vince Neil’s feline growls, Tommy’s flamboyant drums, and Mick Mars’s leads and guitar tone over Sixx’s songs, this album would have merely been “good,” not quite the seminal, genre-defining desert-islander it is today.

For a band that often revelled in their image of L.A. sleaze, sex, dirt, spectacle, excess, debauchery, and party-party, “Shout” brought a surprising degree of depth and gravitas, with a loose humanistic concept running through some of the material. The tone of the album also skewed toward dark colors they’d rarely paint with again – – and that they’d mostly-eschewed even on their debut. The SATD Crue feels now like a one-time thing. No disparagement intended for any other Motley Crue albums or successes, but I do wish we’d gotten more of this version of the band.

These four guys would do numerous high-profile things in the decades that followed – – many together, some separately; many triumphant, many scandalous – – but “Shout at the Devil” was their peak (to me, at least). Hell, this album would be the peak for most artists in Metal History. Not a bad song, not a bad note from start to finish.

What I’ve been angling toward here, though, is the brilliance of the guitar parts on “Shout at the Devil.” The chugging power chords, the riffage, the spot-on distortion levels, the shimmering arpeggios, the pretty Classical touches on the instrumental track, and those masterful solos. It’s hard to pick a favorite Mars moment here, but I think I have to go with “Too Young to Fall in Love.” Those guitars are just enthralling, whether you’re talking about the chords behind the refrain or the solo.

Mick’s performance on this album was absolute perfection. In a band full of spotlighters, his egoless-yet-confident playing served the songs perfectly, whether it was on the verses or the leads. Too much flash would have diminished their power and sledgehammer beauty; Mars brought exactly the right amount of workmanlike punch and steel and ‘tude to the material. His rhythm guitar work is on a Hetfield level of precision (the title track, “Looks That Kill,” Red Hot,” and let me say it again: “Too Young to Fall in Love”), but he could also deliver the right screeches where needed, and the perfect amount of soul and grace.

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“Shout” is not the only high-bar moment in Mick’s career. His unassuming, distinctive stylings have added texture, character, gloss, and general improvements to songs all across the Motley Catalogüe, from “Too Fast for Love” to the underrated Corabi album to that Machine Gun Kelly song for The Dirt. In multiple retro reviews, the Subjective Sounds website praised his “killer guitar work” across multiple classic Crue albums, saying “Mick Mars’ licks are off-the-charts good.”*** Vocalist Jacob Bunton said of his playing: “The power goes out, it’s so loud. It’s louder than anything you’ve ever heard in your life. Louder than a jet engine – – I’m not exaggerating. He runs through so many cabinets and heads and everything it is insane, but his tone is just the most incredible thing you’ve heard.”****

Think of Motley’s biggest hits. Can you imagine “Kickstart My Heart” without his solos? “Home Sweet Home?”***** “Without You?” “Girls, Girls, Girls?” – – come on! Lots of players can effectively piston that low E string, but the heavy Drop-D riff that opens “Dr. Feelgood” is drenched in his personality; it immediately evokes Mars. His bandmates’ antics elicited plenty of flashbulbs and tabloid drama, over the years. They often got the ink, but don’t let any of that overshadow his tremendous talent. Don’t take Mick for granted.

I don’t want to short shrift any of his or Motley Crue’s great moments, but really, I’m here today to shout out for “Shout at the Devil.” As a band effort, a studio production achievement, and as a guitar tour de force. In it, they created a Hall of Fame-worthy record; one of the quintessential, definitive Metal albums of the 1980s. Kudos all around for this masterpiece. Bravo Mick Mars, for the incredible guitar work. Now, many many lifetimes later, it’s still every bit as powerful as when it was released.

He was the oldest member of Motley Crue, and he always came across as the most serious, but it appears that he managed to reap his share of success and to have some fun along the way. I sure hope so. At 72, he’s got an incredible legacy of music to look back on, with plenty of years and career ahead of him. Mick Mars is starting 2024 with his first-ever solo album, “The Other Side of Mars” – – but before that – – we get the honor of inducting him into the Metal Hall of Fame. I’d say he’s still kicking ass.

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Jack Mangan is best known in the Metal world as lead author/project runner for the “Am I Evil?” graphic novel, as a journalist with MetalAsylum.net and the official Metal Hall of Fame. and also as co-host of the popular (sporadic these days) Metal Hall of Fame and MetalAsylum.net livestreams with Rich Catino. He’s made a few guest appearances as a panelist on The Metal Voice. In an adjacent life, he was a podcast pioneer, with numerous appearances on Technorama, Dragon Page, Escape Pod/Pseudopod, and many others, including his own productions: Jack Mangan’s Deadpan, and the Podcast novel, “Spherical Tomi.” Friend him on Facebook if you can find him, but be warned: he’s not great about checking Facebook Messenger.

* The album cover is best-remembered now for its black pentagram, but every cassette version I ever saw was a four-panel.

** Sorry, Vince. You looked cool too.

***** I love the way the entire song changes for the lead break in “Home Sweet Home.” Mick and the boys take things in a whole other direction.

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