The boundaries of polite society will forever keep most serious artists from achieving widespread acclaim. Although advertisers certainly benefit from outrage-driven traffic, those in power benefit from a maintenance of the status quo.
Public opinions on virtue and vice tend to be fluid over time, and what was considered taboo in the 1980s can very well be seen as righteous, progressive, or even good common sense under the lens of today.
Multi-platinum hair metal staples Mötley Crüe were never opposed to courting the mainstream on principle. A band that built their brand on Satanic shock-tactics and casual misogyny, they were used to running afoul of censors, parents, and church groups and generally understood that pushbutton outrage was a big part of their ticket to record sales. Big breasts and pentagrams were one thing; real-life issues like intimate partner violence were a completely different beast, as Mötley Crüe would find out when they tried to tackle the subject in 1987 with their video, “You’re All I Need.”
Directed by Wayne Isham, the black-and-white video tells the story of a violent end to a failed relationship. During a heated argument, a man kills his romantic partner and then proceeds to experience a hallucinatory breakdown while destroying his home. Eventually, he is taken into police custody as the woman is hauled away by paramedics in a body bag. Although the violence occurs offscreen, MTV considered the material to be potentially inflammatory and banned the video.
In a statement regarding MTV’s rejection of the song, Mötley Crüe bassist and lyricist Nikki Sixx said: “There’s a positive and negative side to everything. That includes the music and videos of Mötley Crüe. But some people seem to focus only on the negative. ‘You’re All I Need’ doesn’t condone or exploit this tragedy. It clearly shows how one life is destroyed and another ruined forever. And it’s probably a lot less graphic than much of what we see on the 6 o’clock news every night.”
Perhaps not wanting to bite the hand that feeds too much, Sixx added: “Mötley Crüe has had a good relationship with MTV for years. We’re just sorry they can’t see things from our point of view.”
Years later, Sixx would speak about the song and relate to the world that the lyrics were perhaps less socially conscious than he initially let on. Inspired by real-life violent impulses towards his girlfriend at the time, who he was convinced was cheating on him with soap opera actor and budding pop star Jack Wagner, “You’re All I Need” was itself a thinly veiled threat towards a romantic partner.
As the bassist told Rolling Stone: “I took the cassette over to her apartment and I didn’t say anything. I just had a little cassette player and I just played it for her, and she started crying, and I walked out the door. I was like, ‘Well now, that’s that.'”
Check out the video for “You’re All I Need” below.