5 Best Tommy Lee Drum Parts in Mötley Crüe Songs

Unless you’ve been on another planet for the last four decades or so, you’ve probably heard a little bit about the exploits of Tommy Lee—and probably beyond the music he’s made throughout the years as a member of Mötley Crüe. While that extracurricular exposure certainly hasn’t hurt the popularity of Lee and his band, it also means that praise for his drumming sometimes takes a backseat to all that other notoriety. It’s a tradeoff of which Lee is probably well-aware, but it’s something we can rectify with a look at some of his finest moments on the kit. 

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To the extent that Lee’s drumming does get some fanfare, it’s often in regard to his inventive solos during the band’s live shows. Those performances became more and more ornate over the years, as Lee, ever the showman, kept finding new ways to pump up the degree of difficulty and the visual excitement. But let’s instead focus on what he’s been able to do on Mötley Crüe recordings. Here are five instances when Tommy Lee grabbed the spotlight for nothing other than his ability as a key instrumentalist for a legendary heavy rock and roll band.

1. Live Wire” (from the album Too Fast for Love, 1982)

Why not start at the beginning? “Live Wire” was the first single released by Mötley Crüe, and it featured them operating at a breathless pace. It’s a thriller of a track, and a lot of that is down to the play of Mick Mars on guitar and Lee on drums.

Obviously, Lee has to be right on time during the faster parts of the song. But listen to how he modulates so effortlessly when the song slows down for a bit in the middle portion. There’s also a kind of call-and-response in which he and Mars indulge late in the song that features Lee breaking out a little cowbell to keep us on our toes.

2. “Looks That Kill” (from the album Shout at the Devil, 1983)

One of the things that distinguished Crüe from their heavy metal brethren was their ability to bring just a little bit of swing to the proceedings without sacrificing any of the power. Listen to this smoking single from their second album, and you’ll hear what we mean—and a lot of it comes from Lee’s playing.

There’s a muscular quality to it, but he doesn’t just pummel away without any regard for the song’s rhythmic wiggle. It lends the whole thing a listenability that many of their peers couldn’t quite manage. It’s part of why the band was able to consistently muscle their way onto the charts.

[RELATED: The Origin Story of Mötley Crüe]

3. “Wild Side” (from the album Girls, Girls, Girls, 1987)

Although it broke them big, a few members of the Crüe, including Lee, expressed displeasure after the fact with the 1985 album Theatre of Pain, which may have pushed them too far in a pop direction. Girls, Girls, Girls was a sort of retrenchment, one that got the band back to their harder-rocking roots.

The opening track from the album, “Wild Side,” certainly seemed like an attempt to show the fans what they could do as a band, as it was a complex number with several rhythmic shifts throughout. Lee is the orchestrator of this complexity, and yet he manages to make it all seem tossed off and natural, with the rest of the band beautifully following his lead.

4. “Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.)”  (from the album Dr. Feelgood, 1989)

By the time they reached Dr. Feelgood in 1989, Mötley Crüe were hitting on all cylinders. Having played together for the better part of a decade, they were confident enough to try different styles and genres while knowing they wouldn’t lose the plot. Having Lee as the rhythmic foundation didn’t hurt, as he had proven many times over by then that he could tackle anything thrown at him.

Hence, the boogie-rock of “Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.)” turned out to be no sweat at all. Lee keeps things bopping, busts out the cowbell again in the breakdown, and basically generates the kind of swagger this song needs to work.

5. “Primal Scream” (from the album Decade of Decadence 81-91, 1991)

By the time the ‘90s rolled around, the musical winds of change were starting to blow against bands like Mötley Crüe as grunge took over. But for their 1991 greatest hits album, Decade of Decadence 81-91, the band reached back for a throwback single with the kind of raw energy that made it sound like it could have been on their debut.

Lee is all over the place on the drums, setting the tone with a tough rat-a-tat and then following the song through its various twists and turns with his snares sounding as ferocious as ever, a fitting beat for what would be the end of an era of massive success for the band.

Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

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