How Motley Crue Kickstarted Hair Metal on ‘Too Fast for Love’
Nobody knew it at the time, but the '80s hair-metal revolution started on Nov. 10, 1981: Motley Crue crawled out of the Hollywood gutters that day, unleashing the original and independent pressing of their debut album, Too Fast for Love.
But Vince Neil (vocals), Mick Mars (guitar), Nikki Sixx (bass) and Tommy Lee (drums) didn't arrive on the scene swimming in hype or even armed with abundant talent. They had to will themselves into existence because the alternative was self-destruction.
As Neil later explained in the band's tell-all tome, The Dirt: "When Motley Crue came on the scene, it was less as a band than as a gang. We'd get drunk, do crazy amounts of cocaine and walk the [Sunset Strip] circuit in stiletto heels, stumbling all over the place."
But the band started booking some shows and making a name, not yet for their musical chops but for their willingness to play anytime, anywhere, and fight all comers just as fiercely when challenged. Before long, Motley Crue were packing fans in for multiple nights at famous Sunset Strip venues like the Whiskey A-Go-Go, but as Sixx admitted in The Dirt, "We were selling out show after show, but no label would sign us. ... So we solved that problem by creating our own label, Leathur Records.
"We booked time in the cheapest studio [we could] find," he continued. "Mick liked the place because it had a Trident board. ... [He] fired the house engineer and brought in Michael Wagner; a jovial, cherubic German who used to be in the metal band Accept. Together, we spit out Too Fast for Love in three drunken days."
That's precisely what it sounded like, but the bare-bones recording conditions only infused roughneck offerings like "Live Wire," "Take Me to the Top" and "Piece of Your Action" with that much more raw power, and maintained an edge even on the hookiest of Crue compositions, including their first hit "Public Enemy #1" and melodic anomalies like "Starry Eyes" and "On With the Show."
In The Dirt, Sixx remembered that the band celebrated the album's release with a party at the Troubadour. Despite depending on an independent distributor to push Too Fast for Love into record stores, the band's bassist and chief songwriter boasted that "within four months, however, we ... had sold 20,000 albums!"
These impressive figures gave young A&R man Tom Zutaut the ammunition he needed to convince Elektra Records to offer Motley Crue their first recording contract, and Too Fast for Love was duly remixed by none other than Roy Thomas Baker (Queen, Journey, the Cars, etc.). Too Fast for Love was reissued in August 1982, nearly a full year after its original release.
By then, word of mouth about Los Angeles' newest bad boys had spread far and wide; radio stations around the country started taking a chance on their songs and the album slowly crawled its way to No. 77 on the Billboard chart. They ultimately sold a few hundred thousand copies and pushing past the platinum sales plateau, after a global breakthrough the following year with the arrival of Shout at the Devil.
Looking back, a strong argument could be made that Too Fast for Love was less a heavy metal record than a bona fide, down and dirty punk-rock album, sonically and spiritually in line with the Stooges' and the New York Dolls' debuts, the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks, and, years later, even Nirvana's Nevermind.
Either way, Motley Crue's filthy and furious debut stands as one of the '80s' biggest underdogs turned unlikely game-changer.
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