Mötley Crüe’s drummer Tommy Lee may well be known for his maverick, cavalier attitude that led to some wild off-stage behaviour but don’t let that shy away from the fact that Lee is a badass drummer who brought that feral spirit into his art. He is one of the most loved drummers from the 1980s and, hearing his stick work isolated from Mötley Crüe’s monster hit ‘Looks That Kill’, it’s easy to know why.
‘Looks That Kill’ was taken as the second single from the classic rock outfit’s second album Shout at the Devil which was released in late 1983 and took the Crue to dizzy new heights. The track was written by bassist Nikki Sixx and it was a huge commercial success largely thanks to the big-budget video which found itself on a constant rotation on MTV, which would lead to it spending 10 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States, peaking at 54 and 12 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks.
Shout at the Devil was Mötley Crüe’s breakthrough success, with the record going on to sell a staggering 200,000 copies in its first two weeks. The album was met with controversy thanks to title and the band’s use of a Pentagram caused anger upon its 1983 release from Christian and conservative groups claimed the band was encouraging their listeners to worship Satan.
The Pentagram was something Nikki Sixx brought with him from Sister, a very theatrical band he had been a member of in the late ’70s prior to the formation of Mötley Crüe. Sister were the first L.A. band to fuse occult symbolism such as the Pentagram into a theatrical heavy metal show incorporating blood and facial makeup, which would end up becoming intrinsically linked with the genre.
Sixx asked his old bandmate Blackie Lawless for permission to use some of Sister’s occult-related imagery for Shout at the Devil, as at that point Lawless was intent on moving in a different direction. “I said ‘take whatever you want’ because, at that point, I realised that with an image like that, you end up painting yourself in a corner and you can’t get out,” said Lawless.
‘Looks That Kill’ quickly became a live favourite among Crue fans and it would become one of the band’s biggest hits which is largely thanks to Tommy Lee’s insane drumming. “Sometimes you operate out of the fear of being the same as somebody else,” he said to MusicRadar in 2014 about the art of drumming. “I always say be yourself, everyone else is taken. That’s a favourite phrase of mine that I constantly remind myself with saying, ‘Well, that’s really cool and so and so might like this and so and so would probably kind of like this, but I wanna do it like this.’”
Adding: “And not just for the sake of doing that, but just to keep things moving and having everybody thinking about and creating new ideas,” Lee added in the same interview.
Check out his furious drumming on ‘Looks That Kill’, below.