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35 Years Ago: Motley Crue Are Born

Chris Walter, Getty Images
Chris Walter, Getty Images

Even though Mötley Crüe have closed up shop, going out with a huge concert in Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve 2015, we still feel it appropriate to say “Happy birthday!” That’s because on Jan. 17, 1981, one of rock’s most dangerous — in a riding-a-motorcycle-standing-up sort of way — acts was born.

That was the day that bassist Nikki Sixx and drummer Tommy Lee created a trio with guitarist and singer Greg Leon in 1981. Leon decided soon thereafter to bow out, so Lee and Sixx started looking for a replacement, which they found when they came across an ad in the local classifieds that read, “Loud, rude and aggressive guitar player available.” The ad had been placed by a fellow named Bob Deal, who’d changed his name to Mick Mars. He proved to be what Lee and Sixx were looking for, and so became the new third member.

The last piece of the puzzle was a frontman. Mars had seen singer Vince Neil wow crowds in a Cheap Trick cover band and thought he’d be perfect. Neil balked at first, but eventually auditioned and took the job. After a beer-fueled brainstorming session, the band decided to call themselves Mötley Crüe.

They played their first show at L.A. venue the Starwood Club, where Sixx worked and played shows with his previous band, London. Sixx said in an interview with L.A. Weekly that club manager David Forrest did them a favor by letting them open for already-established metal band Y&T.

Dave Meniketti, Y&T’s singer and guitarist, said he only watched Mötley Crüe for a couple of songs. He recalled watching with Y&T bassist Phil Kennemore, saying “I remember the two of us looking at each other and going, ‘Hmmm. I don’t know.’ They were a little bit green at that time, but obviously years later [it was] a completely different story.”

The Crüe quickly built a reputation for themselves in the bustling L.A. metal scene as crazed party animals. They released their first album, Too Fast for Love, on their own small label, Leathür Records, in 1981. In 1982, they were ready to take their act on the road and went on their first tour.

Their first tour was a financial disaster, thanks in large part to the band’s destructive antics. However, those same antics, along with some wacky, staged P.R. stunts, like Neil’s bag of porno, deemed too indecent to be allowed through the Edmonton International Airport, proved useful as they cultivated the band’s reputation as dangerous rebels.

Mötley Crüe also enjoyed the fortunate timing of the birth and rise of a new television channel named MTV. The music video turned out to be the perfect medium for a band that had already developed a signature look and embraced theatrics, as the Crüe had been doing with their Kiss-like live shows.

They also gained the attention of metal icon Ozzy Osbourne, who brought them on his own tour as the opening act. By this time, they’d released their second album, Shout at the Devil, which became their first big success.

All of these factors together meant that Mötley Crüe had, in two short years, become one of the biggest metal acts in the world. They would dominate ’80s hard rock radio, releasing one successful album after another.

But by the time the ’80s became the ’90s, cracks were beginning to show within the structure of the band. A decade of drugs, alcohol and hedonism began to take its toll.

But in true Mötley Crüe fashion, the fellows eventually found a way to make all of their old, destructive behavior work in their favor. In 2001, they released an especially candid autobiography called The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band. The book stayed on the New York Times Bestseller list for four weeks. A movie is also in the works.

Mötley Crüe helped shape an era of American metal and fostered an image of rock and roll decadence that continues to influence music and pop culture today.

Watch Nikki Sixx Talk About Motley Crue’s Birth

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