Mötley Crüe - Biography

LA’s Sunset Strip of 1981 was a decadent place, and no band better embodied the decadence of the entire era than hair metal rockers Mötley Crüe. The band’s first single, “Stick to Your Guns/Toast of the Town,” on their own Leathür Records label had more in common with punk and garage rock than the mainstream, radio ready anthems they would soon release. However, the themes of girls, indulgence, and debauchery were already fully in place. Mötley Crüe quickly joined the ranks of Kiss and Sweet in the debauched image department, and the lifestyle resulted in deaths, prison sentences, overdoses, and the occasional torrid tell-all. At least the Crüe knew their market. The band has sold tens of millions of records worldwide and gone as high as six times platinum for releases like Theatre of Pain (1985 Elektra), Girls, Girls, Girls (1987 Elektra), and Dr. Feelgood (1989 Elektra). After a career’s worth of egotistical drama and legal battles, the Crüe is back together and touring.


Mötley Crüe formed in 1981 when bassist Nikki Sixx (Frank Feranna, Jr.) and drummer Tommy Lee (Thomas Lee Bass) left their respective bands to start a new project. They hired Mick Mars (Robert Deal) to play guitar and Vince Neil (Vince Neil Wharton) as their vocalist. The group played Los Angeles heavily and became cult favorites thanks to their love of grotesque theatrics and anthemic songs. Manager Allan Coffman paid for their debut album, Too Fast for Love, issued on their own independent label Leathür Records in 1981. The album sold enough to grab the attention of major label Elektra, who re-released it later that year. Wholeheartedly trashy and vibrant, the songs reflected the simplicity of garage rock and punk, but added flash. The album, adorned with a cover photo of a groin clad in studs and leather, would eventually go platinum. According to lore, the Crüe’s first tour included an arrest at Edmonton International Airport in Canada for possession of dangerous weapons and indecent material. Next, their managers allegedly called in a bomb threat at the band’s Edmonton venue, drumming up more press. Lee completed the bad boy marketing debut by throwing a television set from a hotel window. Canadian rock magazine Music Express reported that the band had been “banned for life” from the city.


Major label follow-up Shout at the Devil (Elektra) was a much more calculated, slickly produced version of the Crüe. Released in 1983, the album hit number 17 on the Billboard 200 and it would go on to quadruple platinum status. Driving guitar and Neil’s trembling warble characterized the hit song “Shout at the Devil.” Their video for “Looks that Kill” blanketed the MTV airwaves and the band was riding high as mainstream outlaws. The following year, Neil killed his friend Nicholas Dingley of the band Hanoi Rocks in a drunken driving collision. Guilty of vehicular manslaughter and driving while intoxicated, Neil was incarcerated for thirty days in 1985.


With their reputation solidified by arrests and jail time, 1985’s Theatre of Pain (Elektra) charted even higher, hitting number seven on the Billboard 200 and unleashing a smoking cover of Brownsville Station’s “Smokin’ in the Boys Room.” The album went quadruple platinum with the help of the power ballad “Home Sweet Home.” Less heavy and more pop, Theatre of Pain is radio metal at its apex. The music video for “Home Sweet Home” became MTV’s most requested music video for four months straight and a 44-minute home video cassette, Uncensored, containing rare live footage and interviews, was released in 1986. That year, Lee married actress Heather Locklear.


Girls, Girls, Girls (1987 Elektra) destroyed the Billboard 200, landing at number two in 1987. The self-titled single propelled the album to quadruple platinum status. The uncensored video for the popular title track got banned from television, only adding to its impact. The group began a tour for the album, but Sixx overdosed on heroin and the tour was canceled. According to reports, Sixx was declared legally dead and it took two shots of adrenaline to bring him back to life. The experience inspired the single “Kickstart My Heart” on their next album, Dr. Feelgood (Elektra), which was released in 1989 after the band went into drug rehabilitation.


Arguably, sobriety benefited Mötley Crüe as Dr. Feelgood found the number one spot on the Billboard 200 and would go six times platinum. Dr. Feelgood and “Kickstart My Heart” both nabbed Grammy nominations in the Best Hard Rock category, but lost to Living Colour. Amid rumblings of revolt from the emerging grunge scene, the 1991 compilation Decade of Decadence (Elektra) became a Billboard 200 number two and went double platinum. The group created Mötley Records and signed a new contract with Elektra for $25 million. In 1992, sessions for Mötley Crüe’s next album fell apart. Neil was fired and replaced with vocalist John Corabi, formerly of The Scream.


1994’s Mötley Crüe (Elektra) was a commercial disappointment, hitting only number seven on the Billboard 200. The metal hair party looked like it was finally over and a quiet period began as grunge took hold. In 1997, Corabi was fired and Neil was rehired for Generation Swine (Elektra). The album found its way to number four on the Billboard 200. Greatest Hits (Mötley Records), released in 1998, included “Without You,” “Primal Scream,” and “Looks that Kill.” Shortly after the supporting tour, Lee was arrested for spousal abuse and sentenced to jail. He left the band in 1999 to form Methods of Mayhem and was replaced with Ozzy Osbourne’s drummer, Randy Castillo.


The tour for 2000’s New Tattoo (Mötley/Beyond) seemed cursed when Castillo fell ill and sat the tour out. The band enlisted Hole drummer (and lifelong Crüe fan) Samantha Maloney for the job. In May of 2001, the tell-all collaborative biography The Dirt capitalized on the band’s immense legend and became a best-seller, which paved the way for an eventual reunion. Sixx wanted to tour, but Lee and Neil continued to fight. In 2002, former producer Tom Werman sued the band over royalties. Neil’s ex-wife Heidi Mark publicly accused him of abuse, and Neil was booted from a live radio show for drunkenness. Maloney and Sixx also rowed. Also in 2002, the band’s former drummer Castillo died of cancer.


In 2005, Lee and Neil appeared on celebrity TV shows and all four original members announced reunion tour dates. That year’s greatest hits compilation, Red, White & Crüe (2005 Mötley/Hip-O), went platinum. The following year’s live album set, Carnival of Sins: Live, Vols. 1 & 2 (2007 Mötley), was followed by new original material on Saints of Los Angeles (Eleven Seven/ Mötley) in 2008. “Face Down in the Dirt” and “Down at the Whisky” take it back to basics, reminding the original fans why they began shouting at the Devil in the first place. The band embarked on a reunion tour in 2009. In 2011 the band embarked on a 30th anniversary tour with Poison and New York Dolls. The band plan on a new release for 2013.


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