Ah, Mötley Crüe: ’80s band extraordinaire, symbol of debauchery and good hair.
Crüe is so famous for their on- and off-stage antics that Netflix just released a documentary on the band based on the 2006 book The Dirt. The Netflix film shows the band in all their hard-living glory.
We invite you to go watch the movie, but first, prepare yourself by reading about the glory days of Mötley Crüe!
Bass player Nikki Sixx was responsible for the early formation of the band, getting together with drummer Tommy Lee in Los Angeles in 1981. The two quickly found a lead singer in Vince Neil.
Needing a lead guitarist, the trio saw a classified ad for a “loud, rude and aggressive guitar player” who was available and auditioned and signed on Mick Mars, who lived up to his billing.
It was Mars who named the band (having been in plenty of other bands who looked like a “motley crew”). Together the group modified the spelling and came up with the final version “Mötley Crüe,” adding the umlauts in an homage to the German beer Löwenbräu (the band’s favorite at the time).
The group scored a manager and record contract in 1982 and released Too Fast for Love. The band then headed out on tour.
Infamous Parties and Not Playing Well With Others
The band, as the Netflix film portrays, was indeed fast, loud, and nonconformist. On tour, they were the personification of the stereotype of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll.
On their first tour, the band was arrested at the Edmonton International Airport for wearing their spiked leather stage attire (it was sharp enough to be considered “dangerous weapons”). This, along with stunts like bomb threats, the distribution of pornography, and Tommy Lee throwing a television off a hotel balcony, resulted in the band being “banned for life” from Edmonton.
Later, when touring with Ozzy Osbourne in 1984, the band became equally famous for their over-the-top costumes and make-up and their endless consumption of drugs and alcohol.
Sexy Violence and Androgynous Aggression
The Mötley Crüe look, at this point, included elaborate theatrical make-up, costumes of strappy leather with studs, metal spikes and rings (or skin tight animal prints), and sky-high platform and high-heeled boots. The look was completed with big ’80s hair in teased poofs and accessorized by headbands and scarves.
The band members, tall and slim to a man, presented a unique look that combined androgynous classic beauty with the suggestion of violence. It was a fearless combination of the classic, feminine glam look of the 1980s with a post-apocalyptic or biker aesthetic. The hair, make-up, and jewelry (with heavily applied lipstick, eyeshadow, and blush) created the feminine side of the look, with the leather, spikes, and attitude broadcasting violent masculinity.
The band’s look was perfect for the theatrical new medium of music videos on the start-up station of MTV, and the channel helped catapult them to international fame.
Heights (or Depths) of Debauchery
The band’s aggressiveness, substance abuse, and disdain for authority in the glory of their international fame continued throughout the 1980s.
In 1984, Vince Neil was driving home drunk from a liquor store in a high-powered sports car when he was involved in a head-on collision. His passenger, the drummer Nicholas “Razzle” Dingley of the Finnish band Hanoi Rocks, was killed. Neil was convicted of DUI and vehicular manslaughter and served 18 days in jail, also paying a two million dollar fine.
In 1987, then-bassist Nikki Sixx suffered a heroin overdose and was declared legally dead in the ambulance in route to the hospital. Revived by a paramedic with two shots of adrenaline, Sixx later wrote one of the band’s most famous songs, “Kick Start My Heart,” which was a chart topper and the most famous song off the 1989 album Dr. Feelgood.
This period of the band’s career was both the highlight of their international fame and also the period that almost killed them all. In the end, their managers had to refuse to let them tour Europe unless they went to rehab. It was a tough call, but the managers literally expected them to come home from the tour “in body bags” unless something changed. All four men agreed and cleaned up their act.
The hard work of getting clean paid off for the band, and 1989 was likely the group’s moment of peak popularity. Dr. Feelgood charted at number one in September of that year and stayed at number one for 114 weeks.
“Kickstart my Heart” and the title track “Dr. Feelgood” were both nominated for a Grammy as the best hard rock song of the year.
Finally, in 1991, the band released a greatest hits album titled Decade of Decadence looking back on those years. The band continued, with spats and personnel changes through the years, but while they had gained sobriety, they never regained the heights of their 1980s peak popularity.