Sunday, February 20, 2011

February 20: Mötley Crüe, "Dr. Feelgood"

Artist: Mötley Crüe
Song: "Dr. Feelgood"
Album: Dr. Feelgood
Year: 1989

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While an overwhelming majority of the so-called "hair metal" bands were laughable, if not embarrassing, there were a few bright spots that made a case for the overall significance of the movement.  It was the way in which the bands of this style pushed the idea of self-indulgence to the limit, whilst also striving for an image that seemed to starkly contrast the idea of machismo and being tough that often makes the songs of this time period difficult to take seriously.  However, the small number of bands that were able to somehow play with enough power and talent to overshadow these themes remain legends to this day, and one cannot deny the overall importance of one of Los Angeles, California's most notorious bands, Mötley Crüe.  Certainly making a strong case as the "Kings" of over-indulgence, the band were able to combine the dark, almost disturbing presence that one can link all the way back to Alice Cooper, with a metal-based blues that has its roots in groups like Motörhead and The New York Dolls.  Yet after looking at the entire "hair metal" movement as a whole, the one aspect that sets Mötley Crüe so far apart from their peers is simply the level of talent within the band, and their overall superiority can be heard best in their monumental 1989 album, Dr. Feelgood.  Filled with high energy songs that work across the stylistic spectrum, the band made no apologies for the decadence within their music, and though the may not be artistically mind-blowing, the songs remain some of the most unforgettable of the decade.  Though the album boasts a number of hit singles, few better define the band than one can find within Mötley Crüe's dark classic, "Dr. Feelgood."

The moment that "Dr. Feelgood" begins, it sets itself apart from the rest of the "hair metal" sound, as it is clearly going to be a far more rough and dark song, largely contrasting the overly fun feel that other such bands presented on a regular basis.  The crushing guitar riff from Mick Mars is without question one of the finest of his career, and it is songs such as this that one again prove the power of simplicity within a musical arrangement.  The addition of the bass of Nikki Sixx enables the riff to sound even larger and more intimidating, and the combination of the two gives "Dr. Feelgood" a presence and pulse that is unlike anything else from the era.  However, there is little question that the true power of the song comes from the amazingly aggressive drum work of the great Tommy Lee, and as the song progresses, one is left to wonder how his kit stayed together due to the force with which he plays.  The drumming is far more forward in the mix than with most songs, but it in no way compromises the sound of the song, and enables "Dr. Feelgood" to appear as more unsettling, if not angry than other songs.  Later in the song, Mars takes a few different solos, and they manage to retain the overall mood of the song, never succumbing to the self-indulgent trends of the genre from which they came.  It is this clear separation from their peers that stands as the main reason Mötley Crüe remain in position that they do to this day, and it was songs like "Dr. Feelgood" that helped to make this distinction most clear.

In a similar way to the musical arrangement and sound from the band, singer Vince Neil also uses "Dr. Feelgood" to prove why he was not to be grouped along with the other "hair metal" frontmen.  The growl he brings to the verses on "Dr. Feelgood" add in a perfect amount of mood, and it is within his performance that the overall attitude of the song comes through best.  Though on other songs, Neil had shown his ability to work the entire vocal scale, on this track, he stays within a very strict area, and it works perfectly, and it is perhaps this aspect that makes this a song that once heard, cannot be forgotten.  Furthermore, the subject within "Dr. Feelgood" had been sightly alluded to by other bands, but Mötley Crüe takes the dark, dangerous lifestyle head-on, and it is these two moods that pushed the song into legendary status.  The song follows the story of a "second hand hood" who gets deeply involved in drug dealing, and one can easily argue that bands such as Mötley Crüe likely had more than enough interaction with such people.  The way in which Neil personifies this personality via both the lyrics as well as the attitude within his voice is nothing short of perfect, and yet the song shows its darker edge in the fact that there is never a moment on the song where the band presents the lifestyle as "bad" or "wrong."  Furthermore, the song never feels cliché or overdone, and the fact that Vince Neil was able to find such perfect balance within both the lyrics and singing is a testament to why "Dr. Feelgood" was "the" song that separated Mötley Crüe from nearly all of their peers.

It is songs like "Dr. Feelgood" that show the close tie that the genre had to "real" heavy metal, and yet a majority of other bands seemed to try and leave these roots in the past.  In the case of Mötley Crüe, one can argue that they not only knew the influences of their music, but attempted to show them off whenever possible.  In the case of "Dr. Feelgood," one can even argue a slight presence of blues within the song, and yet the unapologetic, dangerous attitude that the band presents in many ways pushes them into a category all their own.  Even more than twenty years after it was first released, "Dr. Feelgood" still manages to somehow keep itself separated from the rest of the "hair metal" bands, and this is largely due to the overall level of talent within the band, as well as the darker, more in-your-face feel to the song.  The guitar work from Mars and Sixx is still just as powerful as ever, and one can argue that it still carries more impact and presence than nearly anything being recorded in the current music scene.  Furthermore, one cannot say enough about the drumming of Tommy Lee, and it is performances like one finds here that enabled him to rise to the legendary status that he retains to this day.  Capped off by Vince Neil's perfect performance, it does not take long to understand why Mötley Crüe stand apart from nearly all of their peers, and everything that made them such legendary figured of hard rock and heavy metal can be experienced in their unforgettable 1989 hit, "Dr. Feelgood."

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