Lemmy formed Motörhead in the aftermath of his departure from Hawkwind, the progressive acid speed drone rockers whose “Silver Machine” characterised the era of patchouli oil soaked head banging. Citing a desire to be fast, raucous and arrogant, with a side order of paranoia and speed freak rocking overkill, Lemmy enlisted Larry Wallis (ex-Pink Fairies) to add electric guitar lines to his bass while the original drum seat was taken by Lucas Fox. Having practiced their act in a disused furniture store in Chelsea, close by Lemmy’s latterday home on a moored Thames barge, the trio format was established and they supported Greenslade and the Blue Oyster Cult on early dates in 1975 before Andrew Lauder signed them to United Artists. It wasn’t plain sailing. Phil “Philthy Animal” replaced Fox and a would-be debut was recorded at Rockfield in Wales with Dave Edmunds. That remained unreleased until 1979 when it appeared as On Parole, and mighty fine it was too. Even so the classic Motörhead line-up didn’t hit plastic until Stiff released the “Leaving Here” single while the band actually considered packing it in. Satan forbid. Salvation of a sort arrived via Chiswick Records - a feisty independent who gave them studio time and the debut single and album, both called Motörhead hit the racks in summer of ’77 while all around them was punk. Motörhead’s hardcore attitude meant they avoided being cast into the dinosaur pit however and the album is well worth another look today since it features stalwarts from their live set like “Lost Johnny” and the thrashy “White Line Fever”.
Going out under the banner “Achtung! This Band Takes No Prisoners” the rejuvenated ‘head changed production, subbing Speedy Keen for Jimmy Miller to create Overkill with its stand out cuts “No Class” and “Metropolis” studding a rough and ready collection that easily passes muster four decades later. Check out the Deluxe Reissue with 2-CDs. The groundswell of good reviews continues with Bomber (1979), an entirely in-house project that contains the legendary tracks “Lawman” and “All The Aces”, autobiographical in content, and the Len Deighton-inspired title track. Again the reissue is a double-CD affair that is perfect for rediscovery.
By now the Lemmy effect is in full flow and the band prove adept at bossing then destroying theaters with a look and sound that is every bit as vital as anything in the hip punk world. While the terrain starts to shift they emerge with the classic Ace of Spades, produced by Vic Maile in less than three weeks, summer 1980. The title track, a signature tune of massive import, will hit the charts while the parent album soars to number 4 in the UK and there are TV appearances on Top of the Pops, and bizarrely, the kids show Tiswas. Nostalgia aside this is one of those albums you have to hear, its impact on the development of thrash metal is beyond dispute. The Deluxe Edition contains many alternative takes and it’s a real gem.
After combining with the female metal act Girlschool to make the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre double header 45 the boys document their exploits on No Sleep ‘til Hammersmith (1981), their first live album. This will hit number one in the UK and set Motörhead on the path to true greatness. But just as their star rises highest internal friction leads to Clarke’s departure after Iron Fist. Enter Brian Robertson, ex-Thin Lizzy axe man, for the five star comeback, Another Perfect Day (1983).
Combining Sci-Fi excess and cartoon nightmare artwork this disc is one of our all time ‘head faves with particular reference to “Shine”, “Die You Bastard!” and “I Got Mine” where the trio are at their smoothest.
Those playing catch up should check out the compilation No Remorse, basically four sides of utter mayhem with a large dose of grandstanding Motörhead genius and the bonus appeal of four new recordings based on sessions under a new guise of Lemmy, Phil Campbell, Wurzel and Pete Gill (ex-Saxon). Time to take stock here and wouldn’t you know, this lot is suddenly accepted as the thinking person’s headbangers: grizzled without pretention, albeit biker mean throughout.
Now is the time to rediscover Orgasmatron (produced by Bill Laswell of Material, no less) and the sleek Rock ‘N'Roll (muscle in on “Eat the Rich” and “Traitor”) and then gird yer loins for the next live disc, No Sleep at All (on the boards in Finland). It’s ten years on now and Motörhead are giants of rock. So what else to do but make an album, 1916, that is portentous in reference to the Great War, a Lemmy fixation, but is equally loved for “R.A.M.O.N.E.S.”, their tribute to the New York punk contemporaries who also shifted the parameters of fast noise back in the day. Both acts have of course become tee-shirt icons.
We pick ourselves back off the floor for Sacrifice, made in America, and one of those things that slipped through the net on release but shouldn’t have done since it is one of Lemmy’s top picks, and ours. Groove harder though on Overnight Sensation where there is a change of tack as they ditch the quartet and return to classic trio formation without breaking step.
The really great reviews that We Are Motörhead received are more than justified by their version of the Sex Pistols' “God Save The Queen” and the rabid crowd pleasers “Wake the Dead” and “Stay Out of Jail”. Also look out for Hammered and the comprehensive 4-CD box set Stone Deaf Forever, a fantastic career overview with fascinating liners, fantastic artwork from the ever-loyal genius at work known as Joe Petagno (his gloriously lurid paintings help define the outfit) and really, just hours of not too harmless fun.
Search and destroy for the BBC Live & In-Session (2005) and don’t neglect the most recent Aftershock where all those years of rock and roll experience flourish anew.
It’s been a tempestuous career; with ups and many downs but so many recorded highlights that we blush to point out most of them are here for your perusal. And on any given dark night when the sound of the crowd rises to a roar and the name of Lemmy is chanted on the wind you will realise its got to be time to discover Motörhead all over again. Rude not to, in fact, very rude indeed.
With the 1980 release of Ace of Spades, Motörhead had their anthem of anthems -- that is, the title track -- the one trademark song that would summarize everything that made this early incarnation of the band so legendary, a song that would be blasted by legions of metalheads for generations on end. It's a legendary song, for sure, all two minutes and 49 bracing seconds of it. And the album of the same name is legendary as well, among Motörhead's all-time best, often considered their single best, in fact, along with Overkill. Ace of Spades was Motörhead's third great album in a row, following the 1979 releases of Overkill and Bomber, respectively. Those two albums have a lot in common with Ace of Spaces. The classic lineup -- Lemmy (bass and vocals), "Fast" Eddie Clarke (guitar), and "Philthy Animal" Taylor (drums) -- is still in place and sounding as alive and crazed as ever. The album is still rock-solid, boasting several superlative standouts. Actually, besides the especially high number of standouts on Ace of Spades -- at least relative to Bomber, which wasn't quite as strong overall as Overkill had been -- the only key difference between this 1980 album and its two 1979 predecessors is the producer, in this case Vic Maile. The result of his work isn't all that different from that of Jimmy Miller, the longtime Rolling Stones producer who had worked on Overkill and Bomber, but it's enough to give Ace of Spades a feeling distinct from its two very similar-sounding predecessors. This singular sound (still loud and in your face, rest assured), along with the exceptionally strong songwriting and the legendary stature of the title track, makes Ace of Spades the ideal Motörhead album if one were to choose one and only one studio album. It's highly debatable whether Ace of Spades is tops over the breakthrough Overkill, as the latter is more landmark because of its earlier release, and is somewhat rougher around the edges, too. Either way, Ace of Spades rightly deserves its legacy as a classic. There's no debating that.
Words: Jason Birchmeier
Before forming Motörhead, Ian Kilmister (aka Lemmy) could boast of having been a member of space rock cowboys Hawkwind and a career in horsebreaking (that's horsebreaking, not housebreaking). He was also, to top it all, the son of a vicar. Having been expelled from his former employers after a disagreement with border guards over the contents of his luggage, he took the name for his new band from the final song he'd written for Hawkwind. Together with Larry Wallis of the Pink Fairies and drummer Philthy Animal Taylor, Motörhead recorded a debut album that was rejected by United Artists (you can just imagine the face of the poor guy who got the short straw and had to tell Lemmy), though it was eventually released as On Parole in 1979. As a result, the group expanded with the addition of "Fast" Eddie Clarke on guitar. Wallis then left after just one rehearsal, leaving the classic Motörhead lineup in shape for their debut proper. Rock & roll had never heard the like. Though only a minor chart success, Motörhead patented the group's style: Lemmy's rasping vocal over a speeding juggernaut of guitar, bass, and drums. The lyrical theme was "Don't mess with us" instead of "Don't mess with our hair." Before this, hard rock was about musicianship and exhibitionism. Motörhead, conversely, returned mainstream rock to its most brutal base elements -- no wonder the punks liked them.
Words: Alex Ogg
Recorded in late summer 1979 and released by the end of the year, Bomber quickly followed up Overkill, Motörhead's landmark breakthrough album from earlier in the year. Bomber bears a lot in common with its fan-favorite predecessor. For starters, it features the classic Motörhead lineup: Lemmy (bass and vocals), "Fast" Eddie Clarke (guitar), and "Philthy Animal" Taylor (drums). Also like Overkill, Bomber features the production grace of Jimmy Miller, the man responsible for the Rolling Stones' late-'60s/early-'70s albums, including such masterpieces as Beggars Banquet, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main St. And the music here on Bomber explodes on song after song, thanks to the crazed performances of the aforementioned bandmembers as well as the well-overdriven, ear-rattling production perfection of Miller. Actually, there's only one marked difference between Overkill and Bomber that's worth noting: the songs. There are a couple killers here, namely "Dead Men Tell No Tales," "Stone Dead Forever," and "Bomber," but overall, the songs of Bomber aren't as strong as those of Overkill were. Granted, this is somewhat of a moot point to raise, as Bomber is still a top-shelf Motörhead album, one of their all-time best, without question. But it does fall just a notch or two below Overkill and Ace of Spades, the latter of which would follow a year later and catapult the band to further acclaim. Bomber kicks ass, in any event, and its best moments are as superlative as any Motörhead would ever record. The band was really on fire during this point in time and could seemingly do no wrong.
Words: Jason Birchmeier
Recorded by the original Motörhead lineup of Lemmy, Lucas Fox, and Larry Wallis, On Parole is famous as the debut album that the band recorded in 1975 -- only to be shelved by a U.K. label that simply couldn't understand what all the noise was about. Produced by Fritz Fryer, a man whose past with Merseybeat-era heroes the Four Pennies should have guaranteed at least a little pop sensibility, On Parole contrarily turned in a bludgeoning blur of riffs and roaring, a bare-fanged threat to the order of things, a slobbering, slavering, three-headed monster that should have been strangled at birth. UA did the next best thing. They decapitated it. On Parole was buried, Motörhead were dropped, and, by year's end, the band had shattered. And there the story should have ended. But Lemmy was made of sterner stuff -- Motörhead not only had the temerity to return, they compounded their audacity by scoring hit singles. By 1978, Motörhead were arguably the biggest heavy metal band in the world. And On Parole didn't sound so distasteful any more. Countless reissues followed, and here is another one, released in 1997 as part of EMI's centenary celebrations. And that in itself is a bit of a joke -- the last time the label celebrated Motörhead, it was the day their contract went into the bin. This time, though, there's something to cheer about. Before the Fryer sessions, Motörhead tried out some demos with producer Dave Edmunds, a quartet of long-lost songs whose legend has so increased in dimension that, umpteen reissues of On Parole later, one would still trade one's first born for the chance to buy it one more time, with the Edmunds sessions appended as a bonus. Well, here's your chance -- and don't forget to pack up the diapers. The added songs themselves are familiarity itself -- "On Parole," "City Kids," "Leaving Here," and "Motörhead" reappear not only on the main album, but in various forms across so many other Motörhead and Larry Wallis/Pink Fairies recordings. But the arrangements are devastating, steeped in blues, drenched in booze, the highest octane pub rock of all. No matter how well you think you know Motörhead, still it's nothing like you're expecting. A true sonic symphony, this is Wagner with whiplash. Imagine Edmunds' own Subtle as a Flying Mallet if the mallet flew straight through your head; think of "Girls Talk" if Courtney Love started the conversation. Even more alarmingly, however, it makes promises that Motörhead themselves could never keep and posits a future so far from all that eventually transpired that the On Parole material itself sounds like abject surrender, or at least foul betrayal, by comparison. The Motörhead that people know and love threatened to take on the world. The Motörhead here would simply have taken it over. No wonder they got canned.
Words: Dave Thompson
Released in 1981, the live album No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith recaps the highlights from the legendary run of albums Motörhead released during the prior few years, namely Overkill, Bomber, and Ace of Spades. The band's lesser self-titled debut album is also accounted for here with two inclusions ("Motörhead" and "Iron Horse"), but by and large, the focus is on the standout songs from the aforementioned trio of classics. This alone makes No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith noteworthy, for it plays like a greatest-hits set, opening perfectly with "Ace of Spades." But what makes it all the more noteworthy -- and more than simply a run-of-the-mill, gap-filling live album -- is the performance: in a word, it's breakneck. The trio of Lemmy (bass and vocals), "Fast" Eddie Clarke (guitar), and "Philthy Animal" Taylor (drums) absolutely rips loose through this 11-song set, upping the intensity and speed of the already intense and speedy studio recordings. Yes, believe it or not, these performances are even more crazed than their studio-recorded counterparts. Of course, the fidelity isn't as clear and the instruments aren't nearly as in relief, since this is a live recording (and while it's of high quality for live recordings of its day, it's relatively lo-fi by today's standards). Still, the breakneck nature of this performance distinguishes No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith from its studio predecessors, making it an excellent, recommended complement to those essentials. Moreover, it's an important release because it captures Motörhead live during the peak of the classic lineup's rise to fame. Motörhead could do no wrong at this point in time, as they were laying the foundation for the coming thrash movement, in a way, and their winning streak continues here on No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith, one of the best live metal albums of all time.
Words: Jason Birchmeier
On the surface, Motörhead appear to be trying something new with Orgasmatron, bringing in producer Bill Laswell to put a slightly different slant on their signature sound. Laswell does beef up the mix with added sonic detail, which works to particularly good effect on the title track -- the densely layered production helps transform the song and its simple riff into a chugging psychedelic noise-fest. Elsewhere, the production sometimes has the effect of muting the band's energy, sounding oddly processed and lacking the raw bite of past work (which foreshadows their decline over the next few years). It doesn't help that the songwriting is somewhat inconsistent, with "Deaf Forever" and "Built for Speed" standing out among a batch of tunes that sometimes sound as though Motörhead were trying a little too self-consciously to do what people expected from a Motörhead album. Still, in Motörhead's case, that distinction is easily lost, so even if Orgasmatron is somewhat erratic, most fans will find a hidden favorite or two.
Words: Steve Huey
Following the extremely thrashy Sacrifice, Motörhead returned to their typical three-chord rock & roll onslaught with 1996's Overnight Sensation. Also the band's most eclectic in years, its tracks range from pedal to the metal stompers like "Civil War" and "Eat the Gun" to mid-paced groovers like "Listen to Your Heart" (featuring acoustic guitars -- shock!) and the classy "I don't Believe a Word." Always a great lyricist, vocalist /bassist Lemmy takes it up a notch with the highly ironic title track and what is quite possibly the band's greatest song of the decade, the exceptionally funny "Crazy Like a Fox." Despite its terrifying cover (featuring the trio's ugly mugs instead of the band's trademark iron monster), this wonderfully raw and honest record is guaranteed to please, especially older fans.
Words: Eduardo Rivadavia
The common misconception about Motörhead is that they've been recording the same album over and over again for 30-plus years, but nothing could be further from the truth. Just ask the band's most discerning, long-serving fans and they'll eagerly wax poetic about the nuanced distinctions between, say, the amphetamine blues of Overkill, the blazing Spaghetti Western slugfests of Ace of Spades, the bruising metallic crush of Orgasmatron, or the thrash-fueled onslaught of Sacrifice. If anything -- and not even these die-hard fans can deny this -- one could say that the band's albums released from the late ‘90s onward began blending together somewhat, for lack of cohesive personalities and enough quality songs. So bucking these two trends is essentially the mission faced by Lemmy and co.'s 20th career studio album, the cheekily named The Wörld Is Yours (which, in a novel marketing ploy, was delivered in time for Christmas 2010 with an issue of Britain's Classic Rock Magazine, ahead of its 2011 release worldwide). And, believe it or not, its mission was accomplished, to a certain degree, on both counts! Particularly in reference to challenge that first point, since The Wörld Is Yours may eventually be remembered as Motörhead‘s ultimate "rock & roll" album, thanks to a clutch of consistently bluesy, ‘50s rock-rooted, tunes like "Get Back in Line," "Rock ‘n' Roll Music," and "Bye Bye Bitch Bye Bye." Then again, Lemmy has always stressed that his is a rock & roll band, not a heavy metal band, and he proceeds to press the point home with an unusually large number of speed-averse offerings, as well, including "Waiting for the Snake," the nightmarish "Orgasmatron" throwback, "Brotherhood of Man," and "Born to Lose" (a new song named after an old Lemmy slogan so entrenched in band lore, even knowledgeable Motörbangers may be surprised that it wasn't used already). As for challenge number two, it's hard to proclaim any Motörhead "all-timers" out of this lot with unwavering, absolute conviction, but there are several winners among the cuts cited above, plus a pair of absolute corkers in the rollicking, defiant "I Know How to Die" and the thrill-a-second "Outlaw," which sounds like three songs wrapped into one with its memorable chorus, searing Phil Campbell guitar solo, and pulverizing twin-kick-drum tattoos courtesy of Mikkey Dee. This pair of grizzled old vets, together with their seemingly indestructible, mutton-chopped leader, still constitute a formidably powerful and a well-oiled rock & roll machine, there's no doubt about that. And that's one thing that certainly has been repeated many times over on most every Motörhead album, The Wörld Is Yours more successfully than others.
Words: Eduardo Rivadavia
After doing the unthinkable (selling out!) on their commercially minded -- and only -- major-label release March or Die, underground heroes Motörhead thankfully returned to a more familiar sonic formula (extremely loud and fast) on the excellent Bastards. Gloriously distorted thrashers such as "On Your Feet or on Your Knees" and "Death or Glory" set the pace, and "Born to Raise Hell" is undoubtedly one of the band's greatest latter-day classics. As usual, major departures such as the acoustic-driven and socially conscious "Don't Let Daddy Kiss Me" stick out like a sore thumb, but the more balanced "Lost in the Ozone" (some acoustic, but also lots of noise) is a pleasant surprise. Though it is often overlooked, this album remains one of the band's strongest releases in the '90s.
Words: Eduardo Rivadavia
Another first-rate Motörhead album -- the fifth in a row, to be precise -- Iron Fist is the final one to feature the band's classic lineup, as guitarist "Fast" Eddie Clarke would depart following the album's completion. Released in 1982, Iron Fist is mostly distinguished from its predecessors in terms of production, and not favorably. Clarke produced this album himself, whereas industry veterans Jimmy Miller and Vic Maile had respectively manned Motörhead's past four albums. Clarke's production is a bit sterile in comparison, with his guitar in the forefront, sounding slightly more polished than usual. These are minor points, however. Iron Fist is a fine Motörhead album, and there's not much at all to complain about here. As usual, the performance is ferocious and there several standout songs ("Iron Fist," "Heart of Stone," "Speedfreak," "[Don't Let 'Em] Grind You Down") amid a strong selection overall. If Iron Fist falls a little short of its four-star predecessors, it's still in a class with those albums, at least relative to what would follow in the years to come. Sadly, it was downhill from here for Motörhead, slowly but steadily. Not until the '90s would they reach heights near this again.
Words: Jason Birchmeier