MÖTLEY CRÜE (1981–PRESENT). Vince Neil (1981–1992, 1997–present; lead vocals, replaced by John Corabai), Nikki Sixx (bass), Mick Mars (guitar), Tommy Lee (1981–99, 2004–present; drums, replaced by Randy Castillo, Samantha Maloney).
Mötley Crüe are one of the most influential and popular metal bands of the eighties and nineties (if not in the history of American heavy metal), who also may be as well known for their off-the-road escapades with drugs, alcohol, flirtations with the law, reality shows, public feuds, and X-rated appearances. The band started in 1981 when the rhythm section of Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee decided to form their own band, eventually settling on guitarist Mick Mars and vocalist Vince Neil. The band quickly became a favorite, playing relentlessly in Los Angeles, and self-released their first record, which soon sold an astounding (for that time) 20,000 copies, getting the band a record deal with Elektra, and making them one of the first metal bands to make the leap to the majors so quickly.
By the time the band had released the Too Fast for Love album, they had begun to solidify their sound that borrowed from classic metal, glam rock pop, and a little punk thrown in as well. When the album Shout at the Devil was released, the Crüe formula was finally in place. Hook-laden choruses plus dynamic guitars bottomed out with the steady rythym section of Sixx and Lee. The band had also developed a signature stage appearance that, although it would influence many upand-coming metal bands, was also strikingly original in its use of leather, spiked metal-style hair, and face paint. The killer hooks of songs like “Shout at the Devil” and “Looks that Kill” with their anathematic choruses were also extremely radio- (and MTV- ) friendly, with enough crunchy guitar to satisfy most metal purists.
The next album, Theatre of Pain in 1985, found the band retrenching (years later Crüe would identify that record as particularly weak considering the power of the previous two records), particularly in a cover of the Brownsville Station classic “Smoking in the Boys’ Room” that played to the Crüe’s macho audience but also helped to pioneer what was fast becoming a staple of the metal scene: the power ballad. In the mid-eighties many bands began to realize that they were selling records to a predominantly male audience who enjoyed the macho swagger of the band. But to the Crüe and many other bands this also raised a dilemma, both how to expand the audience base beyond metal fans and how to attract a female demographic. The answer was the power ballad, and Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home” was the kind of “lift your lighter in the air” soft ballad designed to appeal to both sexes, and presumably, to lure more girls to go backstage after the show.
Girls, Girls, Girls, which came next, was a retrenchment of sorts with evenfewer good ideas but demonstrated the Crüe’s mastery of the metal video in the self-titled offering that featured strippers cavorting on poles. The formula seemed to be wearing thin, and the band’s nonstop touring was starting to put pressure on not only the interband relationships but also on their songwriting chops. Although the next record contained classics by Crüe standards, such as the title song, the magic was running out. Many of the group’s members were more than dabbling in illicit substances. In 1987 Sixx nearly overdosed on heroin, leading to a cancellation of a lucrative European tour and he continued to do drugs for many more years, starting the day after his overdose (Sixx 2007). In 1992 interband tensions finally reached the boiling point, and vocalist Neil was sacked in favor of John Corabi, a choice that infuriated many fans, especially after hearing the lackluster follow-up album, 1994’s Mötley Crüe. The band seemed to be floundering in a musical landscape where the simplicity of grunge fashion and its Black Sabbath meets Black Flag riffs made the Crüe seem outdated and maybe even sad. Almost inevitably, Neil was reinstated in 1997. By 1999, Lee had left the band to form his own group, the rather forgettable Methods of Mayhem. He was replaced first by Ozzy Osbourne drummer Randy Castillo and then perhaps inexplicably by Hole drummer Samantha Maloney.
The band found time to write a group autobiography, The Dirt, in 2001, including input from all four original members, but Lee still refused to rejoin for a reunion tour. Following the death of Castillo in 2002, the band went through various media-related sniping against each other, although they eventually reunited as a full group in 2005 for a tour. Currently Mötley Crüe are touring with all the original members, although how long the band will last as a group is still up in the air at this point.
To many born past their heyday, the band is better known for reality show appearances and books than for their music. Drummer Tommy Lee is notorious for his escapades outside the band. He was famously married to ex-Baywatch star Pamela Lee Anderson from 1995–98 and was the star of a “leaked” sex tape that showed the two cavorting in various positions. Lee also starred in a short-lived reality show, where he went back to college, took classes, and joined the college marching band.
Lead singer Vince Neil has also had his share of notoriety outside the band. In December 1984 he was involved in a drunken automobile accident that killed Razzle (aka Nicholas Dingley), the drummer of Finnish glam rockers Hanoi Rocks, and seriously injured the two passengers in the other car. Neil served 30 days in jail, paid an undisclosed financial settlement to the families of the passengers involved and made numerous public safety announcements about drinking and driving. Neil was also the star of reality shows, including the D-list celebrity Surreal Life and another on VH1 called Remaking Vince Neil, where he underwent a career makeover that involved a strict physical fitness regimen as well as plastic surgery to make him look younger, all captured on television. Mick Mars has kept a relatively low profile aside from his health concerns, including a reported bout with substance abuse and a degenerative bone disease that led to a hip replacement in 2004 as mentioned in The Dirt. Bassist Nikki Sixx penned a surprisingly well-written and shocking autobiography called The Heroin Diaries (Pocket Books 2007) in which he detailed his years on the road, sexual exploits, and struggles with years of drug addiction. The Crüe’s legacy is unmistakable; they are one of the most successful bands in metal history. In spite of their numerous break-ups and reformations, the band continues to be a draw on the metal circuit and will go down in metal history as one of the bands that helped break a new poppier style of metal mixed with hard rock to an enthusiastic audience on MTV.
Discography: Too Fast for Love (Mötley/Beyond, 1981); Shout at the Devil (Mötley/Beyond, 1983); Theatre of Pain (Mötley/Beyond, 1985); Girls, Girls, Girls (Mötley/Beyond, 1987); Dr. Feelgood (Mötley/Beyond, 1989); Mötley Crüe (Mötley/Beyond, 1994); Generation Swine (Mötley/Beyond, 1997); Live: Entertainment or Death (Beyond, 1999); New Tattoo (Mötley/Beyond, 2000); Carnival of Sins: Live, Vols. 1-2 (Eleven Seven Music, 2007).