Behind the Band Name: Mötley Crüe

The name Mötley Crüe conjures a lot of things for a lot of people. In one way, the moniker stands for raucous music that empowered a generation of rockers and partiers.

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For others, like Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, the name brings to mind debaucherous times when hair bands ran amok.

But no matter your own personal association with the name, the band was certainly a hit in the 1980s and 1990s with albums like Dr. Feelgood, Too Fast for Love, Shout at the Devil, and more.

Let’s dive in.


The heavy metal glam group, Mötley Crüe, was formed in Los Angeles in 1981. The group was started by bassist Nikki Sixx, drummer Tommy Lee, lead guitar player Mick Mars, and eventually, lead singer Vince Neil after a few failed attempts with other singers at the outset. Today, many of those names are as indelible as the tattoos on the artists.

The group has sold over 100 million albums worldwide, including seven platinum certifications and nine top-10 albums on the Billboard charts.

Despite this success, the group has experienced many ups and downs, including several short-term lineup changes in the ’90s and 2000s. Further, Lee, who was known for drumming with reckless abandon with his shirt often off, later married actress Pamela Anderson and dealt with the tumult surrounding their leaked and infamous sex tape.

Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll

The band was known for its hedonism, like the song “Girls Girls Girls” may attest to. With so much success so fast, it was hard to avoid the rampaging parties often associated with rock stardom. Their live shows featured flame thrower guitars, roller coaster drum kits and pyrotechnics, which even accidentally set Sixx on fire.

The band’s most recent album, Saints of Los Angeles, came out in 2008, and more recently, the band has gone back on tour with Def Leppard (with Lee bowing out due to broken ribs).

The Name

After the band formed in the early ’80s, they needed a name.

At the time, Sixx was considering many options, even bringing the title “Christmas” to the band members, who were not enthusiastic about the idea.

While still looking for a name, Mars remembered a moment in the recent past when he was playing with a group called White Horse. One of that band’s members called his group “a motley-looking crew.” Mars remembered that phrase and brought it later to the band, spelling it “Mottley Cru.”

Eventually, the group modified the spelling and added some odd-looking punctuation—metal umlauts—and finally “Mötley Crüe” was born. The umlauts were inspired by the German beer Löwenbräu, Sixx says. A beer the band liked to sip on.

With the name set, the group released its single, “Stick to Your Guns/Toast of the Town,” and the rest is metal glam rock band history. Their first album, the 1981 LP, Too Fast for Love, was released and they were off.

Photo by Ross Marino/Getty Images

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