The Motley Crüe story is defined by excess. They’re one of metal’s most iconic groups and inspired a generation of androgynous rockers to live life to the fullest. They’ve released nine studio albums and sold more than 100 million records worldwide. They partied like no other band on the planet and, despite several near-death experiences, all four original band members have lived to the tale.
So much has been written about this beloved ‘80s group that it’s difficult to know where to begin. However, we thought it would be a good idea to give you a brief taster of the group’s history, allowing you to get acquainted with four of the heaviest rockers to ever take to the stage.
From a couple of guys to a Motley Crüe
On January 17th 1981, one of metal’s most notorious metal groups was born. Comprised of Nikki Sixx (bassist), Mick Mars (guitar), Tommy Lee (drummer) and Vince Neil (guitar), the band came together gradually, with various other musicians being tried out before the final lineup was reached. Famously, the group recruited enigmatic guitarist, Mick Mars, in response to a newspaper ad he placed which read, ‘Loud, rude and aggressive guitar player available.’
From the off, Motley Crüe knew what kind of band they wanted to be - hard, fast and fun. Lead singer, Nikki Sixx, described his vision for the band as “like David Bowie and the Sex Pistols thrown in a blender with Black Sabbath” and, with the Crüe’s androgynous look, devil-may-care outlook and flair for the theatrical, it’s hard to argue that they didn’t achieve that goal.
After playing their first gig at the Starwood Nightclub on the 24th of April, the band settled on their famous moniker, choosing to include the umlauts over the u in honour of their favourite beer, Löwenbräu. Over the next few months, the band refined their act, wrote an album’s worth of material and, in November of that first year, released their first record, Too Fast for Love. Despite only moderate commercial success, the band were signed to Elektra Records at the start of ‘82.
The first taste of international stardom
The band’s first brushes with stardom occurred on their 1982 Crüesing Through Canada tour. In what would later emerge to be stage-managed PR stunts, the band were arrested at Edmonton Airport for carrying dangerous weapons and pornography, a bomb threat was made against the group and a TV was thrown from a hotel window.
While these events garnered a fair amount of media attention, it wasn’t until the Crüe’s 1983 US Festival performance that their music started to acquire a significant fanbase. Capitalising on their growing fame, they released their sophomore effort, Shout at the Devil. A by-the-numbers heavy metal album that flirted with satanic symbolism, it marked Motley Crüe’s arrival on the world stage.
Though the band’s heavy drug and alcohol use was well documented, the true extent of their excess only became clear towards the middle of the decade. In 1984, Neil crashed his car under the influence, killing his passenger, Nicholas Dingley. Having released the band’s third album Theatre of Pain in 1985, Nikki Sixx went on to overdose in February 1986. His unconscious body was hidden in a rubbish bin. He survived but, refusing to heed the warning signs, overdosed again in 1987. This time he did die, only to be resuscitated with two shots of adrenaline.
Dr. Feelgood and post-overdose Crüe
Following his overdoses, Stixx entered rehab in an attempt to get clean. He was soon followed by the rest of the members of the group who, under the instructions of their management, were told that they wouldn’t be allowed to tour again until they had attempted to tackle their substance abuse issues. Drawing on his near-death experience, Sixx would go on to write several of the Crüe’s biggest hits and the band would release their first number one album, Dr. Feelgood, in 1989.
As the ‘90s arrived and it became increasingly clear that metal’s time in the sun was over, the band went on a large world tour and released their first greatest hits album. After the success of Dr. Feelgood and the demands of touring, the band began to experience serious burnout and tensions between band members continued to grow.
Lineup changes and band difficulties
In early 1992, Vince Neil was either quit or was kicked out of the band. Like a lot of Motley Crüe history, the details are a little sketchy and the group’s love for self-mythologising has obscured many of the facts. However, it would seem as though the dispute stemmed from a relatively innocuous argument in the studio. John Corabi, who previously played in the group Angora, replaced Neil and would stay with the band until Neil’s return in 1997.
This five-year period was defined by the band’s change of direction, which resulted in considerable backlash from the fans, many of whom resented Neil’s departure. Both the album released during this time and the effort released upon Neil’s return were commercial flops and the band went into something of a decline, with several lineup changes and some of the members focusing on solo projects. In 2002, the band released a statement that suggested they wouldn’t be making music together any time in the near future.
Getting the band back together - the reunion tours
Three years later, the Crüe reunited for a world tour and continued to play live shows around the globe for the next two years. This coincided with a revival of their reputation, much of which can be attributed to intelligent PR and marketing decisions, including the release of Stixx’s biography, a series of collaborations with contemporary Nu Metal groups and a tie-in with the popular Rock Band video game.
Not for the first time, the band called it a day in 2015. However, they reunited again in 2018, making the most of the release of the band’s Netflix biography, The Dirt. A worldwide tour featuring all four of the original members was announced for 2020, though the COVID pandemic forced it to be rescheduled twice and it is now anticipated to take place in 2022.