How Covering ‘Smokin’ in the Boys Room’ Saved Motley Crue’s Asses
Before the release of 1985's Theatre of Pain, Motley Crue were on the launchpad to superstardom. There was just one problem: The album wasn't strong enough and they knew it.
Luckily, singer Vince Neil had a ringer in mind. "It was me who suggested covering 'Smokin' in the Boys Room,'" Neil revealed in his 2010 book Tattoos & Tequila. "Everybody knows that song kind of saved our asses at that time."
Both Neil and Crue's main songwriter Nikki Sixx have had less than complimentary things to say about the band's third LP; the singer bluntly called it "that piece of shit" in his autobiography, and the bassist wrote it off as "a pile of rubbish, the whole fucking record, with a few moments of maybe brilliance" in 2014's The Big Book of Hair Metal.
The platinum-plus success of 1983's Shout at the Devil, along with a massive tour that found them opening for acts such as Kiss, Iron Maiden and Ozzy Osbourne, made Motley Crue the biggest hard rock band in the world. The only thing they couldn't conquer was radio. If Theatre of Pain could spawn a hit single or two, it would cement the band's commercial standing and help it become an arena headliner.
But there were major obstacles. The Shout at the Devil tour ended with Neil's drunk-driving accident that killed Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle, and his six-month trial put the band's future at risk. Even though Neil got off with just 18 days in jail and $2.6 million restitution bill, the relationships between himself and his bandmates became strained. "Nikki, Tommy and Mick were like, 'Fuck you, how could you do this to us?'" Neil recalled in Tattoos & Tequila. "[But] those guys were all doing just as much drinking and drugs as I was doing every single day. I was just the unlucky one."
In fact, as Neil was dealing with his legal issues and working his way toward court-mandated sobriety, his bandmates had all fallen deeper into their addictions, with Sixx developing a particularly strong taste for heroin.
"I had written songs for the album that was to become Theatre of Pain," he confessed in the band's 2001 autobiography The Dirt. "But I had no idea what I was doing or saying or playing. I was so fucked up I could hardly even dress myself anymore."
Watch Motley Crue's 'Smokin' in the Boys Room' Video
Apparently sensing a need for usable material, Neil suggested the band cover Brownsville Station's 1973 Top 5 hit "Smokin' in the Boys Room," a song he performed with his previous band, Rock Candy. It wasn't the first time the singer floated the idea, according to Mick Mars. "When we first started the band, we tried to play that song, and it was like 'uugghyeechh,'" the guitarist told Ear of Newt in 1985. "We sounded like crap, I'll tell ya. And just right before we did Theatre of Pain, Vince said, 'Hey, let's try it one more time.' So we tried it, and it just worked. I think it's because we've been together now for five years, and we know how to play with each other."
With a harmonica solo provided by session musician Mickey Raphael, the Crue's cover of "Smokin' in the Boys Room" was released as the lead single from Theatre of Pain on June 24, 1985, and became the band's first Top 20 hit. Together with the massively successful power ballad "Home Sweet Home," it would help the album sell more than 4 million copies.
But according to Neil, at the time not everybody was thrilled with how that success was earned. "Every night, though I loved singing it, Nikki would complain that the song was stupid and he didn't want to play it," the singer said in The Dirt. "I felt like the only one sober enough to realize how bad some of those [Theatre of Pain] songs were. I was shocked the record went double platinum."