Getting Into: Motörhead: Part I


Written by: omne metallum
Published: 23.11.2020


28th December 2020 will mark the fifth passing of Ian Fraser Kilmister, best known to the world as Lemmy. A lot has happened in the half-decade since his passing, but one of the few things that hasn't changed is the influence and impact his seminal band Motörhead has had on music and metal in particular.





Given December is likely to be crammed with end-of-year lists and 'best of' articles, I thought now would be the best time to reflect on the storied and gloried career of one of the best metal bands ever to set foot on stage.

They were Motörhead and they played rock 'n' roll.

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Due to the prolific nature of Motörhead, fitting all of their albums into one article would make this a marathon read. In the interests of readers' patience, I've divided the series into three parts, with this one focusing on the original classic line-up, featuring Lemmy, Philthy Taylor and Fast Eddie Clarke.







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1977 - Motörhead



Motörhead was the first record released by Motörhead, although it wasn't the first record by the band, what with them having recorded On Parole a year prior in 1976; however, On Parole was not released by their then-label until 1979. The first recorded piece of work from what would come to be known as the 'classic' line up of the band, Motörhead would bring together Lemmy, 'Philthy' Phil 'The Animal' Taylor and 'Fast' Eddie Clarke in a very raw and primal form. Much of the album sees the band tear through material that cannot contain and present the band's power and energy, with it becoming overwhelmed by this power in most places. A fair portion of the album is cover tracks, which tend to suffer most from this overabundance, particularly "The Watcher" and "Lost Johnny", but thankfully they are redeemed in part thanks to a primal charm, though they would come to be thoroughly outclassed in later years.

Perhaps the most punk the band would sound, owing to the swagger and attitude brought to the table alongside the unpolished sound and song writing, the album does have its moments where it will blow you off your feet if you don't take it seriously, with tracks like "Motörhead" and "Iron Horse/Born To Lose" making up for any shortcomings in the production and unrefined nature by way of raw and direct power. Laying the foundation stone for what would come to be the trademark Motörhead sound, you are introduced to the wall of sound that challenges what bass guitar can be when the rumble of Lemmy's bass playing tears through your speakers for the first time. Alongside his cigarette-stained vocals, you come to realize this is a band who do things unconventionally and most definitely their way. With the rhythm/lead dual role that Clarke assumed still in its infancy, you can expect a few moments that are left somewhat bare (though certainly not quiet) as the band have yet to really perfect their style, with "Keep Us On The Road" being a track that falls short for this reason. Motörhead may not be the final product but it is one hell of a prototype.



1979 - Overkill



Just listen to the opening track and you will hear what has come to be one of the most defining sounds in metal, let alone the band's history. Overkill sees the band battle-hardened and with a wealth of experience under their bullet belts, leading to them perfecting the sound they had threatened listeners with on their debut. Fast, heavy, bluesy and with enough attitude to make the punk scene sound redundant, Motörhead made their mark and they made it hard. The album sees the band perfect the mix of out-and-out metallers ("Overkill", "Damage Case", "Tear Ya Down"), heavy blues ("(I Won't) Pay Your Price", "Limb From Limb") and straight up rock 'n' roll ("I'll Be Your Sister", "No Class"), all shot together with the swagger and unique sound that the band had quickly mastered. Each song offering something new and unique for listeners to wrap their ears around, the album found itself an audience hungry for the type of fare the band were peddling and consequently secured the future of the band.

By now, the band had perfected their signature sound, blues-infused rock 'n' roll played with enough power and attitude that metalheads and punks alike would find something to sink their teeth into. Lemmy's vocal style and central rumbling bass had found the sound he would take forward for the rest of the band's existence, while Taylor and Clarke would both lay down the gauntlet in terms of what could be achieved by a power trio in metal. Clarke's ability to play fast and loose while also swimming in his blues roots would help frame the band's future, while Taylor would provide the power under the hood.

Going on to become one of the most important records in metal, let alone the band's discography, you can hear the influence tracks like those found here would have on music for years to come. That opening drum salvo? It may not be the first recorded case of double bass drumming, but it certainly became one of the most popular and set the stage for bands like Metallica and Venom to build their own sounds off of. Hell, Overkill went the whole hog and named themselves after the record. An absolute must hear and probably the best place to start with the band if you are seeking to expand your knowledge of the band.



1979 - Bomber



Three albums in and Motörheadwas on a roll, releasing the follow-up to Overkill barely 6 months later; Bomber is an album far better than what it should be. Cementing and building on the massive leap made forward from the band's debut release, the band added to what was fast becoming a reputable and classic back catalogue. While still bone-rattlingly heavy and fast, Bomber is a slightly (by the band's standards anyway) slower and more bluesy affair compared with the preceding two releases. Tracks like "Step Down", "Lawman" and "Sweet Revenge" are the kind of dirty blues the band did so well, with a undercurrent of venom that runs through such tracks; do not think they're any less subdued than when the band are flying along at full tilt.

The album, however, would find its more straight-ahead metal numbers to be the ones that the band would play regularly going forward. Amongst some of the band's better known material are tracks like "Stone Dead Forever", "All The Aces", and the live favourite and one of the band's best known songs, the ferocious title track "Bomber". When the deep cuts like "Sharpshooter" and "Talking Head" are as good as they are and have long been overlooked by both the band and fans of the band, you know you have succeeded as a musician. The band were a well-oiled machine by this point; their profile raised significantly, they were fast becoming the band at the fore and had the Midas touch. Bomber would see them make further gains in all areas and establish the their reputation both on record and live as a tour de force wrecking crew.



1980 - Ace OF Spades



If you have managed to go this long without hearing this album or its title track, then I have to question your life choices; given how ubiquitous and legendary both have become, it is a hell of an accomplishment to have avoided them. Yes, with the song that would go on to define the band to many people across the globe, Motörhead had in a few short years reached the summit and placed the crown upon their heads in loud and brash fashion. With that signature bass rumble that starts off the title track and the album, you have a sound that alongside "Overkill"'s double bass drum introduction is etched in stone as an instantly recognizable sound to metalheads and rockers far and wide; the band reached their peak of popularity. The fact that Motörhead managed to continually match and push themselves reaped benefits for themselves and fans of the band, regularly giving you fresh batches of sonic gold.

From the ode to life behind the scenes on the road in "(We Are) The Road Crew" to the mid-paced but no less hard hitting "The Chase Is Better Than The Catch", Ace Of Spades has strength in depth. The rip-roaring "Fire Fire", "The Hammer" and "Bite The Bullet" would give more fuel to the burgeoning thrash and speed metal scenes that would catch alight later in the decade. More groovy but hard-hitting tracks like "Shoot You In The Back", "Jailbait" and "Dance" showed the band could be heavy without relying solely on blisteringly fast tempos.

A nigh-on perfect 12-track run through of the band's power and prowess, all three members had by now settled into their roles but by no means allowed themselves to grow complacent in their roles. Lemmy's voice is more refined, while Taylor had perfected the art of creating interesting drumming patterns without overplaying and detracting from the song. Tracks like "Jailbait" are good examples of where Taylor's talents lie beyond merely the double bass drumming of "Overkill". There is a reason why so many musicians would go on to speak the praises of this album, it is a reputation that is well earned and backed up by the quality contained within. Personally, I find some of the album's better tracks are some of its overlooked songs, with "Love Me Like A Reptile" and "Fast And Loose" being tracks that aren't as immediately attention grabbing, but are just as rewarding as the tracks surrounding them.While I normally don't include compilations or live albums, I had to make an exception for No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith, the extremely rare case of a live album being just as, if not more, popular than a band's studio output; in the UK, it is the only live album by a metal band to hit number one in the album charts. What you have here is a high-speed and intense run-through of some of the biggest hits of the preceding four albums all compiled tight into one offering that will blow out your speakers if you play them the Motörhead way, that is, louder than everyone else.

While it is debatable just how live this record is and how much of a touch up it received in the studio is a separate topic, because as a listener you are treated to a batch of songs unchained from the slightly restrictive constraints of studio versions. Take "The Hammer" and "Metropolis" as two examples, one an out-and-out speed demon and the latter a slower track; presented live, the band ensure both are just as powerful but are able to maintain the subtle touches here and there and not crowd them out with sheer volume.

The 'live' environment also allows the songs to express certain elements that are overshadowed on the original studio versions, with "Iron Horse" and "Jailbait" having surprising space between the instruments where you can hear how the band lock into a groove whilst maintaining their own unique positions in the songs. You are also able to hear clearly the interplay between the drums and bass when Clarke solos, melding together but holding down the rhythm with significant power. The only reason I knock a half-star off is due to the lack of certainty of how much studio polish it was given; while it doesn't detract from the album's enjoyability, how live you can call this live album does linger in the back of your mind as you listen.



1982 - Iron Fist



The cracks in the well-oiled machine had built up over the preceding years, fuelled by the band's renegade lifestyle and a work ethic that had seen them release five albums in five years, but also hit the road in a near-constant blur of noise and drug and drink-fuelled excess. With tensions in the band reaching a head by the time Iron Fist was released, the chemistry that had fuelled their meteoric rise would now prove to be the time bomb that would blow up from under their feet, leaving this album the last iteration of the band's 'classic' line up. With Clarke taking a central role as co-producer, he was tasked with trying to corral a disintegrating band and a set of material that was a step down from the out and out classics the band had been throwing out with frightening regularity up to this point. The album would seek to highlight the twin problems of slightly weaker song writing with a weaker production in a symbiotic matching. Songs like "Loser", "Heart Of Stone" and "(Don't Need) No Religion" sound like Motörhead tracks, but B-sides tracks really.

Few qualms can be given to the performances put in by the members of the band; what does hold them back, however, is the album's production. The songs feature a weaker and murkier sound that dulls the impact of each instrument to the point that it isn't as 'in your face' as what was considered normal by now. Clarke's guitars would ironically be the greatest casualty; they are devoid of power in the mix and reliant on the inherent strength of the riffs he is playing to relay the weight he is bringing to bear on the tracks. "America" and "Shut It Down" are good examples of this. Lemmy's vocals are also drenched in effects, to the point that he sounds as if he is standing behind some kind of voice distorting wall that is between him and the microphone. It would be a huge oversight to say Iron Fist has no redeeming features or qualities, with songs like the title track, "Go To Hell" and "Sex And Outrage" providing the adrenaline hits of the same potency fans of the band had grown accustomed to by this point. Aside from the title track, however, none of the tracks would go on to become enduring hits for the band and are largely forgotten gems.For the first time since 1976, the band would see a change of personnel; out went 'Fast' Eddie Clarke, and in his stead came Brain 'Robbo' Robertson of Thin Lizzy fame. This was a much better pairing on paper than it would turn out to be; both had reputable pedigrees as bands that blended hard rock and blues to create some of the standards of both genres. Due to a clash of personalities (the litany of problems with Robertson are numerous and hilarious), neither side were able to gel well as a unit and bring the sum of their parts together the way they threatened to on Another Perfect Day.

A bit of an anomaly among the band's back catalogue, Another Perfect Day is a unique album that sees Motörhead produce probably their most blues-indebted album, putting more gravitas on style than power. "Dancing On Your Grave" is probably the greatest summation of this sound, a song that sounds like it could have been written for any of their earlier records but develops a style of its own with the introduction of Robertson's guitar flair. Robertson by no means is a bad player nor one who drops the ball as such, his performances across the album are of high quality, with songs like "Shine" and "Rock It" solid examples of what he could bring to the table. It was just that his style didn't mesh well with the sonic template that had been laid long before his arrival, setting at odds fans of the band who wanted something fresh and new and those who were a fan of the style laid out by the band.This shouldn't be taken as a negative, however; Another Perfect Day is a good record and one that is fun to listen to. It is just one that is somewhat ill-fitting in the band's career. Songs like "One Track Mind" are an extension of blues jams like "Step Down" off of Bomber, while "Marching Off To War" is reminiscent of "Tear Ya Down" from Overkill. It is with the introduction of Robertson that the band would sound similar but not the same. For my money, it is tracks like "I Got Mine", "Tales Of Glory" and "One Track Mind" that stand amongst the best efforts from what would ultimately be a short experiment as a line up.


=========================
Drawing a close on Motörhead as a trio (for now), the band had burst onto the scene and staked their claim as one of the loudest and formidable bands around, entering a period of change that would see members come and go while entering into a period of shrinking success; times may have changed but the ethos did not.

Rock 'N' Roll turned to eleven.

Coming soon, Getting Into: Motörhead: Part II.



 



Written on 23.11.2020 by Just because I don't care doesn't mean I'm not listening.


Comments

Comments: 20   Visited by: 87 users
26.11.2020 - 01:07
musclassia

I remember pirating all of these (bar No Sleep) back when I was in the early days of getting into heavy stuff; I didn't find any of them fully enjoyable front to back, that Overkill-Bomber-Ace Of Spades run had 3-4 killer tracks each; Iron Fist had the epic title track but not the strength in depth beyond that, the self-ttiled just wasn't for me, and I can barely even remember Another Perfect Day. So if you add a star or so to each of the ratings I would give we probably get what you scored them as.
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26.11.2020 - 01:08
musclassia

Also, my main memory of discovering motorhead was getting a digital copy of 'ace of spades' from my brother when he came back from his first term of uni, where he'd got a lot of heavier music from a friend there. The song 'Ace of Spades' was correct, so I didn't question the rest, or pay attention to the lyrics, but I eventually realized that none of the rest of the songs were the actual rest of the album - I thought Jailbait was a killer song for ages, but eventually googled the lyrics and worked out that song that I thought was epic was actually Metropolis lol
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26.11.2020 - 04:24
Troy Killjoy
perfunctionist
I am one of those people whose life choices you're questioning, to an extent. My only interaction with Motorhead has been the "Ace of Spades" track but I've never listened to the album or literally any other song by them. I suppose that song never enticed me to investigate them further and even when I began listening to more aggressive styles of music, heavy metal wasn't something I gravitated toward (with Priest and Maiden being the exceptions), so I basically wrote them off. Not that I've come around to enjoying heavy metal since then, but I should still do a little investigating of their back catalog just to see what all the fuss is about.

Nice writeup too. Succinct, informative, and with good flow.
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"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something."
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26.11.2020 - 08:59
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Written by Troy Killjoy on 26.11.2020 at 04:24

I am one of those people whose life choices you're questioning, to an extent. My only interaction with Motorhead has been the "Ace of Spades" track but I've never listened to the album or literally any other song by them.

Jesus f Christ, Troy. There should be a law against that. Like you cannot unlock the rest of metal, until you finish Motorhead, Black Sabbath, Metallica, Slayer and Judas Priest.
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Serenity is no longer wishing you had a different past.

2021 goodies
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26.11.2020 - 09:19
Cynic Metalhead
Nasha Vich Paisa
Written by RaduP on 26.11.2020 at 08:59

Written by Troy Killjoy on 26.11.2020 at 04:24

I am one of those people whose life choices you're questioning, to an extent. My only interaction with Motorhead has been the "Ace of Spades" track but I've never listened to the album or literally any other song by them.

Motorhead, Black Sabbath, Metallica, Slayer and Judas Priest.


Megadeth, Anthrax, Iron Maiden and Nuclear Assault.
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26.11.2020 - 09:21
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Written by Cynic Metalhead on 26.11.2020 at 09:19

Written by RaduP on 26.11.2020 at 08:59

Written by Troy Killjoy on 26.11.2020 at 04:24

I am one of those people whose life choices you're questioning, to an extent. My only interaction with Motorhead has been the "Ace of Spades" track but I've never listened to the album or literally any other song by them.

Motorhead, Black Sabbath, Metallica, Slayer and Judas Priest.


Megadeth, Anthrax, Iron Maiden and Nuclear Assault.


Nuclear Assault wish they could be that relevant.

Back on topic, great article, even if some stuff got omitted. But their 1979-1980 run was incredible.
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Serenity is no longer wishing you had a different past.

2021 goodies
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26.11.2020 - 16:12
Troy Killjoy
perfunctionist
Written by RaduP on 26.11.2020 at 08:59

Jesus f Christ, Troy. There should be a law against that. Like you cannot unlock the rest of metal, until you finish Motorhead, Black Sabbath, Metallica, Slayer and Judas Priest.

I got the rest of them, but Sabbath kicked off my doom interest and the Big 4 sent me on a thrash journey. Maiden and Priest never gave me the same urge to look up more heavy metal and to this day it's one of metal's subgenres that I have no interest in.

It isn't exactly a priority but I'll at least give Ace of Spades a listen eventually and see if it inspires me to check out more of their material.
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"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something."
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26.11.2020 - 16:13
Troy Killjoy
perfunctionist
Written by Cynic Metalhead on 26.11.2020 at 09:19

Megadeth, Anthrax, Iron Maiden and Nuclear Assault.

One of these things is not like the others.

Hint: See Radu's comment.
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"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something."
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26.11.2020 - 20:04
Bad English
Tage Westerlund
I agree whit Radu

Anyway sortha hate or love band, even as much I like , I dont like. I think they need 2 guitarists, but I can live whit 80's albums they are classics. I like in some way all specially after Ian died. Good music, simple and primitive lyrics . Philty like to fought but John McAleese, would kick his ass.
Band what many gruw up whit, band what can not do anything else, one of rock n roll legends. How many old farts are left ? Saxon and John Michel. This is their best IMO? Even 90's are decent to.

They were Motorhead, they plaid rock n roll
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Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
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26.11.2020 - 20:50
nikarg
Mod
This is a great write-up, man. Congratulations!

3 stars is the lowest I would give to any Motorhead album and for sure Another Perfect Day is not one of them (4 or 4.5 I'd rate it). I find it one of their best to be honest, it was Robbo's image and attitude that did not gel with the band not his guitar playing. I agree with all the other ratings, maybe Bomber would get 4 stars from me.

Troy, I agree with what Radu said. But also with BE - they are a love/hate band. If you want a place to start with Motorhead, maybe for you personally Inferno is the best place because it is their heaviest - almost thrashy - album. And it kicks serious ass.
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26.11.2020 - 21:56
Bad English
Tage Westerlund
Written by nikarg on 26.11.2020 at 20:50

This is a great write-up, man. Congratulations!



Troy, I agree with what Radu said. But also with BE - they are a love/hate band. If you want a place to start with Motorhead, maybe for you personally Inferno is the best place because it is their heaviest - almost thrashy - album. And it kicks serious ass.


To me this is how you grow up, I might be last what remembers pre internet days metal, todays kids has to much to chose from to know this band.
To me, they need 2 guitars, but they manage well whit one. This is party band, beer band, bourbon band,
----
Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
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27.11.2020 - 19:44
MetalDoomMaster

I was kind of in the same boat as Troy at one point. I respected the band for what they were but didn't really consider myself a "fan" until I heard this track, which got me REALLY into Mothorhead. Such a dark song.

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28.11.2020 - 15:43
In Bone Factory

Motörhead for life \m/
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a hammerhead goobrian
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02.12.2020 - 11:59
gavdann

My earliest journey in to heavy music went something like
Bon Jovi => Iron Maiden => Metallica => Motorhead
Obviously I'd heard of them but it wasn't until I read the name Motorhead in every single Metallica interview that I took the plunge and bought the Ace of Spades album. Overkill and then Bomber followed shortly after.
Great little article though this.
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04.12.2020 - 14:40
Hyamendacil1450

I seriously don't understand why Bomber is rated so high almost everywhere, because musically speaking, the album is average all across the board, compared with its predecessor and successor. There are only 2 good songs in, Dead Men Tell No Tales and Stone Dead Forever. The title track is painfully average.

The only logical reason why this album received so much undeserved praise is due to it being sandwiched between 2 exceptional albums. Somehow, Motorhead aficionados believe that it must be as good or almost as good as those 2. It isn't.
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04.12.2020 - 15:23
JoHn DoE

On Parole deserves to be mentioned here as well.
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I thought the two primary purposes for the internet were cat memes and overreactions.
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04.12.2020 - 15:29
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Written by JoHn DoE on 04.12.2020 at 15:23

On Parole deserves to be mentioned here as well.

I also find it weird that there is 0 mention of Lemmy's previous band. The song "Motorhead" was written while he was still in Hawkwind, and the band was kinda formed in response to his departure from them.
----
Serenity is no longer wishing you had a different past.

2021 goodies
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04.12.2020 - 19:26
musclassia

Written by RaduP on 04.12.2020 at 15:29

Written by JoHn DoE on 04.12.2020 at 15:23

On Parole deserves to be mentioned here as well.

I also find it weird that there is 0 mention of Lemmy's previous band. The song "Motorhead" was written while he was still in Hawkwind, and the band was kinda formed in response to his departure from them.


Cos not everyone is as obsessed with mentioning everything tangentially linked to a band when writing a 'getting into' article for newcomers as you are? :p

I guess for On Parole, over half the songs were on the self-titled anyway
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06.12.2020 - 13:08
Nokturhn

Really enjoyed this. Looking forward to part II
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07.12.2020 - 14:43
gavdann

Written by musclassia on 04.12.2020 at 19:26

Cos not everyone is as obsessed with mentioning everything tangentially linked to a band when writing a 'getting into' article for newcomers as you are? :p

Hardly! Lemmy being in Hawkwind prior to him forming Motorhead is a big part of their early history. He sang their biggest hit for chrisakes.
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