1980 in Los Angeles
Core Group Members:
- Vince Neil (born Vincent Neil Wharton on February 8, 1961 in Hollywood, California) - Lead vocals, guitar
- Nikki Sixx (born Frank Carlton Serafino Feranna, Jr. on December 11, 1958 in San Jose, California) - Bass guitar, backing vocals, main songwriter
- Mick Mars (born Bob Alan Deal on May 4, 1951 in Terre Haute, Indiana) - Guitar
- Tommy Lee (born Thomas Lee Bass on October 3, 1962 in Athens, Greece) - Drums, piano, backing vocals
Whatever its musical limitations, Motley Crue appears very prominently in the first chapter of any tale recounting glam metal, hair metal, pop metal and '80s hard rock in general. In fact, it could be said that these original Sunset Strip superstars launched the very specific brand of rock that would grow to rule the '80s, fueled by high volumes of glossy production, makeup, hair spray and trashy style. Other popular hard rock bands from L.A. made a significant impact in the late '70s (namely Van Halen), but none brought the theatricality, sleaze and dark swagger central to Motley Crue's early template.
Motley Crue Origins:
Unlike many of the other L.A. hair metal bands inspired by its sound and style, Motley Crue actually boasts a direct link to the largely British glam rock acts of the '70s that made the '80s pop metal phenomenon possible in the first place. By 1978 Sixx had joined up with future W.A.S.P. frontman Blackie Lawless in one such throwback outfit called London. That band failed miserably to get off the ground and soon splintered, with Sixx going on to form Motley Crue with Lee. Mars came on board next, bringing with him the band's distinctive name, and then Neil became the final component to snap into place.
On the strength of rising buzz on the Sunset Strip club scene, the newly formed quartet quickly set upon recording a debut album, Too Fast for Love, which the band self-released in late 1981. After a brief Canadian tour highlighted by various shenanigans, Elektra Records re-released the record by late summer 1982, which set the stage for Motley Crue's emergence as America's foremost fledgling glam metal band via the new popular medium of MTV. The band established a fierce edge and threatening image, especially through the dark-tressed Sixx, Mars and Lee. Despite the makeup, the music often exuded gritty intensity.
Motley Crue - A Model of Pop Metal Consistency:
As major superstars of '80s hard rock, the quartet demonstrated a tremendous amount of staying power in releasing four best-selling albums every other year starting in 1983. Along the way, the band dabbled in power ballads ("Home Sweet Home" and "Without You"), crunchy metallic rockers ("Kickstart My Heart"), silly occult tomfoolery ("Shout at the Devil"), and, of course, mildly misogynistic sleaze ("Girls Girls Girls" and "Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)"). But as much as I hesitate to admit it, Motley Crue stayed remarkably true to its original glam/bad-boy vision for the whole of the decade.
More impressive than the sustained popularity and massive record sales is, quite simply, the resilience of the band in the face of scandal, tragedy and extreme substance abuse. Granted, most of these things were largely self-inflicted, but that doesn't diminish Neil's manslaughter charge upon the auto accident death of a friend (Hanoi Rocks drummer, Razzle), Sixx's numerous brushes with Death's sickle, and the band's collective, ultimately triumphant battle to gain sobriety. This is prime Behind the Music stuff, to be sure, but Motley Crue's output and relative '80s unity still strike me as quite the achievements.
Later Years & Legacy:
While the '90s were not particularly kind to the band musically, the group's members often remained firmly in the limelight, either through high-profile marriages to Playboy Playmates, a certain sex tape that still hardly anyone has seen (ha!), and the tragic loss of Neil's young daughter, Skylar, to cancer. In addition, the band seemingly saved up all its breakup dramas for this decade, as first Neil left the band and then Lee followed suit by the turn of the millennium. However, the most recent full-tilt reunion in 2009 kept the original band together, with more recording and touring anticipated for the new decade.