Former Hanoi Rocks Singer Michael Monroe Celebrates 30-Year Solo Career With New ‘Best’ Compilation
After a car crash that claimed the life of Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle as the Finnish group was in the middle of its first-ever U.S. tour with Motley Crue, the band would eventually part ways less than a year later. The situation could have left singer Michael Monroe at a bit of a crossroads, but as he tells Ultimate Classic Rock, the change opened a huge door for him.
“I was comfortable doing my own thing," he says. "It was actually in my solo years that I really came into my own as a songwriter, and my style of music was more straight ahead, more punky and simpler than Hanoi Rocks was. In Hanoi Rocks, I kind of gave up on writing after a while when it seemed like [guitarist] Andy [McCoy] always had a better idea or he said that he had something better. I allowed it to get to the point where he just wrote most of the stuff, which was my choice.
"But when I started solo, my solo stuff is much more me and closer to my heart and, therefore, it felt good -- after I got over the devastation of losing my best friend and my band breaking up, which was a big thing at the end of ‘84. But the beginning of ‘85 in London, all of a sudden, everything was gone. Not only had Razzle died, Sami Yaffa left the band and we had no bass player. It was just me, Nasty and Andy, and we were not connecting at all at the time. We couldn’t keep it together.”
Stiv Bators of the legendary punk band Dead Boys became a reliable friend to Monroe and helped him put the pieces together for what would become his solo career. "He really helped me get through that time and encouraged me to start going solo," Monroe recalls. "My first goal was to maintain Hanoi’s reputation and maintain the integrity of the band and break it up before it became a parody of itself, because the guys that were going to join the band were totally wrong and it would have been a disaster, especially if we would have gotten as big as people [thought] was possible. It’s possible that we would have been one of the biggest bands in the world, but it would have been even worse that way. It would have been a curse, because it wouldn’t have been right. I wanted people to remember Hanoi as it was, as cool as the band was. I figured that there should be one band in the world that doesn’t do it for the money.”
The Best, a recently released anthology, takes stock of Monroe's 30-year solo career, a chapter that began in 1987 with the release of his solo debut, Nights Are So Long. The new 29-track collection includes a fairly comprehensive and diverse selection of material, including songs from all of Monroe’s solo albums, as well as several selections from Demolition 23, the ‘90s band that found Monroe working with his former Hanoi Rocks bandmate Sami Yaffa, who played bass on the group’s only album, which was produced by Little Steven.
Listen to Demolition 23's 'Deadtime Stories'
Because Demolition 23's album has been out of print for years, the new compilation includes four songs from it. "They’re the strongest and the most known songs from that album," Monroe explains. "I also consider it one of my best albums."
The new anthology also features five previously unreleased bonus tracks, including the new single, “One Foot Outta the Grave,” and, for the first time, a previously unreleased alternate version of “Magic Carpet Ride.” Longtime fans will recall that Monroe and Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash teamed up in the ‘90s to record the Steppenwolf classic for the Coneheads soundtrack. They actually recorded two distinct versions of the song at that time. As he was working on compiling The Best, Monroe was thrilled to discover that he had a copy of the unreleased version.
Listen to Michael Monroe's 'Magic Carpet Ride'
“We turned the chords around -- Little Steven actually had a lot to do with that, too," Monroe recalls. "I brought in the idea, and Slash said, ‘That’s cool, let’s do both versions and see which one the record company picks for the movie.’ They ended up picking the new arrangement version. So the other version was never used. We had done a version with the original arrangement, and I probably had the only copy of that in existence. I had it on an audio cassette all of these years."
Monroe says he sent Slash an email about using the track on the new compilation. "I expected it to be so much hassle that it probably wouldn’t happen," he says. "He was so cool about it. First he said, ‘Can I hear it?’ Then he just sent me a reply and said, ‘All you have to worry about is paying the songwriters for the publishing. Sure, you can use it.’ He’s such a sweet guy."
The experience was consistent with his previous dealings Monroe had over the years with the GNR camp. "When Axl decided he wanted to do ‘Ain’t It Fun,’ in memory of Stiv Bators on The Spaghetti Incident, we did it as a duet," Monroe says. "When I heard that he wanted to do that, I said, ‘That’s great, man.’ I wanted to make sure that song ended up on the album, because I heard that some of the old bands that they were covering on that album got a bit greedy and tried to get a lot of money. The main thing for me was that I wanted that song on the album. My manager at the time called me and said, ‘Okay, let me negotiate this deal,' and I said, ‘You stay the hell out of it. You’re not going to touch this one. I don’t want any money.’ All I wanted was for it to say on the album cover, ‘in memory of Stiv Bators’ for that song and to spell my name right. And that happened. That song was the first single off the album.”
According to Monroe, he played a small part in helping to introduce Rose to the music of the Dead Boys when he was in Los Angeles to add saxophone and harmonica to the song “Bad Obsession” from Use Your Illusion.
Even as Monroe sums up the first 30 years of his solo career with The Best, he’s already looking ahead to his next solo album -- half of which is already written. “We’re going to keep doing this,” he says.
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