Stone Deaf Forever

Many years ago, probably 1981, I walked into a Tech Hifi to buy a needle for my turntable. I happened to be wearing a t-shirt featuring my favorite band. The salesperson asked me what kind of turntable I owned, but then pointed at my shirt and said “But then again, if you listen to Motorhead, it doesn’t matter, does it! HAW HAW HAW!!” I turned around and walked out.

So, fuck him.

Look, I know Motorhead’s music is not for everyone. Their sound runs the gamut from dirty, blues-infused hard rock to gnarly, high-velocity metallics, while Lemmy’s singular vocal stylings and bass/rhythm guitar hybrid give the band an abrasive edge, making mainstream commercial success …unlikely. But Motorhead did what Motorhead does, steadfastly ignoring trends while the musical landscape continually changed around them, and slowly established themselves as an institution. A long-overdue documentary on Lemmy brought the band some well-deserved attention, cementing their status as one of the most influential rock bands of all time, and bestowing upon one Ian Fraser Kilmister some righteous recognition as a rock and roll icon for the ages. Vindication after forty years. So if you don’t like their music, maybe you’re missing something?

Now that Lemmy’s gone, it’s suddenly hip to be into Motorhead, while previously, the word ‘hip’ wouldn’t dare come anywhere near this band. Millions of ‘lifelong fans’ are suddenly cropping up everywhere, buying bootleg tribute t-shirts and downloading shitty ‘best of’ compilations as fast as their modems will allow. And yes, there are some casual fans that want to dig deeper, and there are the genuinely curious who want to know what all the recent fuss is about. Bottom line is: If the only Motorhead album in your collection of ‘Ace of Spades’, you have a lot of work to do. Twenty three* more studio albums await. So as a public service, I offer the following overview, to both the sincerely interested and the douche-y bandwagon hoppers, in the sincere hope that it might aid in the understanding and appreciation of one of Heavy Rock’s most colorful discographies.

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The Essential Five

The five albums detailed below put the lie to the ‘All Motorhead albums sound the same’ line. Here we have Motorhead at their most musical (‘Another Perfect Day’), experimental (‘Orgasmatron’), primal (Overkill) and polished (‘Bastards’), along with their definitive studio statement (Ace of Spades). You’ve also got three different drummers and four different guitarists, each with their own sound and style, and five different producers. We can debate about which is the ‘classic’ line-up all day, but the fact is virtually all of the band’s configurations coughed up at least one stone cold classic.

Ace of Spades (1980) AoS is the musical equivalent to drinking too much and driving too fast. Dirty, dangerous and completely authentic. Vic Maile strips away Jimmy Miller’s warm 70’s tones, revealing the most deadly 3-piece band on the planet. Continuing to somehow straddle the line between punk and metal, here Motorhead kick both genres right in the teeth. The vicious Kilmister/Taylor rhythm section is the secret weapon here, and every performance reeks of confidence and amphetamines. The legendary title track was a UK top 20 ‘hit single’ in 1980, and hit No 12 just after Lemmy’s death. One weak track, ‘Dance’, is easily replaceable with the non-LP b-side ‘Dirty Love’. Aces.

Overkill (1979) With an production upgrade via Jimmy Miller (Rolling Stones, Traffic, Blind Faith), Motorhead suddenly sound like the nexus of heavy metal and punk rock on their second proper album; witness the missing link between Blue Cheer and early Damned. Traces of Lemmy’s Hawkwind history remain in the robotic ‘Metropolis’ and the spacey ‘Capricorn’, but punk elements are felt just as strongly in ‘Tear Ya Down’ and ‘(I Won’t) Pay Your Price’. Add the bluesy hard rock of ‘No Class’ and ‘Limb From Limb’, and you’ve got an astonishing stew of seemingly incompatible styles. Filled with classic songs and blessed with several moments of accidental brilliance, ‘Overkill’ is the real ground zero of the Motorhead Saga.

Another Perfect Day (1983) The addition of Thin Lizzy’s Brian Robertson brings some class and depth to the table, and Motorhead evolve (albeit temporarily) into something somewhat respectable. The songwriting stretches the patented Motorhead sound into unexplored territory by adopting some new elements, such as ‘melody’ and ‘subtlety’. Surprisingly, it works, and works really well; the grit and grime of classic Motorhead meets the style and musicality of some of Robbo’s best playing, and this unlikely amalgam creates something truly unique in the Motorhead canon. A divisive and controversial record for years, ‘Perfect’ has aged quite well and is now fully embraced as a Motorhead classic.

Orgasmatron (1986) Many found the sonic experimentation by producer Bill Laswell on ‘Orgasmatron’ an unwelcome distraction, as this stellar set of songs was nearly overwhelmed by the off-the-wall production. From the opening seconds of ‘Deaf Forever’, it’s plain that somebody been messin’ around at the mixing desk… Laswell (PIL, Yoko Ono, Laurie Anderson) boldly takes the band’s sound to its logical extremes: exploded drums, homicidal buzzsaw bass and caustic, effects-drenched axes dominate the landscape, but in the end, the top notch songwriting shines through. Robert Christgau called ‘Orgasmatron’ a ‘work of art’, and if we’re talkin’ about the title track, I’ll go even further: Masterpiece.

Bastards (1993) Roaring back from the ‘March Or Die’ disaster, a revitalized Motorhead unleash a monster of a record, featuring a tighter and more metallic sound (It must be said: Sorry, Lem, but sometimes when you played rock and roll, what came out was heavy metal). The forward thrust on this record is at times breathtaking; with Mikkey Dee now on board, and the 2-guitars still firmly in place, ‘Bastards’ is a fearsome thing indeed. A modern reaffirmation of the true Motorhead ethos, and just what the alterna-90s needed so badly. Huge mistake signing with Dance music label XYZ Records after leaving Epic/Sony; ‘Bastards’ was only distributed/promoted in Germany, so this amazing comeback record was tough to find elsewhere until it was re-released in 2003.

Essentials, Part II

Five albums, not matter how stellar, don’t tell the complete tale. Here are five more recommended records that round out the Motorhead story.

Motorhead (1977) Witness the birth of a legend. Although actually Motorhead’s second album, it’s the first with the Kilmister/Clarke/Taylor line-up, and therefore essential. 13 songs recorded in 2 days during sessions that were supposed to yield a mere single. Let’s be honest here, this is not a ‘great’ album; there’s a critical shortage of songs written by the trio themselves (‘White Line Fever’ and ‘Keep Us in the Road’ are the only originals). The production sucks, as the three amigos were recorded live, with very few overdubs added. But If the songs and the sound weren’t there yet, the energy and attitude certainly were. In spades.

Bomber (1979) The hastily written & recorded follow-up to ‘Overkill’ includes just enough Motor-classics to qualify as essential. In fact, ‘Stone Dead Forever’ and the title track are among Motorhead’s all-time greatest songs. Jimmy Miller’s at the helm (barely) again, and his nasty segue from ‘Lawman’ into ‘Sweet Revenge’ is fucking badass. The 2nd half flags a little due to some filler (‘All the Aces’, ‘Talking Head’), but the good stuff is phenomenal, and the not-so-great stuff is not-so-bad. Add B-side ‘Over the Top’, and job done.

1916 (1991) Motorhead’s first album for a ‘major label’, and while some commercial concessions are evident, the perfect balance is struck between accessibility and authenticity. Yes, there’s a power ballad (cringe), but there’s also a throwback to Hawkwind (‘Nightmare/The Dreamtime’), and enough Wurzel riffs to sink a battleship. The title track would be considered a major achievement in any genre, and simply has to be heard to be believed. ‘1916’ is as commercial as Motorhead could ever be and still be Motorhead. Note: Those averse to power ballads (guilty) can easily replace ‘Love Me Forever’ with either of the two Motoriffic non-LP B-sides ‘Eagle Rock’ and ‘Dead Man’s Hand’. You’re welcome.

Inferno (2004) An unexpected blinder; their strongest album in 11 years. ‘Inferno’ blasts past at a breakneck pace, one modern day classic after another. Like ‘Bastards’ a decade before, ‘Inferno’ is another thoroughly contemporary-sounding metal album (there’s that word again) from the loudest, meanest rock and roll band of all time. This record is all killer, no filler. That any band could release an album as vital as ‘Inferno’ this far into an almost-30 year career is nothing short of miraculous. Bonus: the all-acoustic ‘Whorehouse Blues’ and two guest-solos by Steve Vai.

Bad Magic (2015) “Victory or Die!!” Motorhead’s final album is filled with thinly-veiled goodbyes. If ‘Until the End’ doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, then you’re reading the wrong blog. There’s also quite a venomous mean streak running through much of the lyrics, and the music is delivered with a dark, relentless determination. Where the lyrics and vocals on previous outing ‘Aftershock’ hinted at Lemmy’s age, no such evidence exists on Bad Magic. No letting up, no slowing down, just a band intent on growing old disgracefully. Ending Motorhead’s recorded legacy with a cover of the Stones’ ‘Sympathy For the Devil’ works brilliantly. Motorhead must have known that ‘Bad Magic’ would be Motorhead’s final album, and crafted it into a fitting farewell. What a way to go.

Under the Radar:

The average metal fan may have lost track of Motorhead after the disappointment of ‘March Or Die’, and many missed the impressive comeback of ‘Bastards’. But ‘Head continued forward, hitting their stride as a 3-piece and releasing a run of consistently solid albums for years, though many were no longer paying attention. 2003’s ‘Inferno’ was considered a comeback by some, and the Lemmy documentary a few years later brought Motorhead back into the conversation… but only after several quality records went unnoticed. Ignore at your peril.

Sacrifice (1995) Their ‘heaviest’ album? The follow-up to the magnificent ‘Bastards’ sounds kinda cruddy, with an especially muddy guitar sound, but there’s a very strong set of songs on display here. In fact, the only thing keeping this one out of my Top Ten is the murky production. Wurzel’s only (and final) appearance is a solo on the awesome ‘Dog Faced Boy’.

Overnight Sensation (1996) If radio gave a shit, this could have been a big record for Motorhead in America. The sound is cleaned up, the writing a bit more mainstream but the result is still 100% Motorhead. Phil Campbell does a great job as the sole guitarist on the first post-Wurzel album. The title track and ‘Broken’ could have been singles.

Snakebite Love (1998) ‘Snakebite’ featured the welcome return of humor to Lemmy’s lyrics, which had become pretty grim. Opener ‘Love For Sale’ sounds like a classic ’80s Motorhead single. Mikkey really shines on this album, especially on the sinister ‘Assassin’. The title track is essential; ‘Take the Blame’ kills.

We Are Motorhead (2000) Side One (that’s right, side one) kicks your ass so hard you barely notice the cover of ‘God Save The Queen’. Side Two includes a ballad (no, not a power ballad, there’s a big difference), done completely on Motorhead’s terms, hence the title: ‘One More Fucking Time’… and it’s great. Other than that, the pace is blistering, culminating with an absolute classic: ‘We Are Motorhead’. Another solid album.

The Expendables:

After the outstanding but oft-overlooked run of records sandwiched between ‘Bastards’ and ‘Inferno’, Our Heroes soldier into their fourth decade with another string of solid releases. Though not up to the standard set during their the band’s first 30 years, this is Motorhead we’re talking about, and each of these records will still kick your ass around the block. I’m thinking that this is also where the ‘No Remorse’ material from way back in 1984 fits in to the bigger picture…

Kiss of Death (2006) Carries forward the mean metallic sheen of Inferno, but the songwriting’s not quite as good, and the track sequence is odd. ‘Sword of Glory’ and ‘Devil I Know’ are badass. Here the metal is balanced out by the rockin’ ‘Christine’ and ‘One Night Stand’. Contains one of Lemmy’s finest-ever lyrics, in the mid-record showstopper ‘God Was Never on Your Side’.

Motorizer (2008) Motorhead let rip with album number 20. Motorizer is one of the more varied late-period records, with each song taking a different approach than the last. Contains ‘Rock Out’, the only song of the handful they did for the WWE that actually sounds like Motorhead. ‘Teach You How to Sing the Blues’, ‘The Thousand Names of God’ and the Bonnie & Clyde-inspired ‘Back on the Chain’ are highlights.

The World is Yours (2010) Huge album for Motorhead, coming out just after the ‘Lemmy’ documentary. It’s decent overall, with a clunker here and there, but ‘I Know What You Need’ kicks major ass, and ‘Devils in my Head’ harkens back to the Wurzel days. Finest moment: ‘I Know How to Die’.

Aftershock (2013) ‘Aftershock’, along with its predecessor, is a solid collection of late-period Motorhead tunes; the difference here is that some bold chances are taken this time around. The good news is that for the most part, the risks all pay off. ‘Lost Woman Blues’ and ‘Dust and Glass’ are high points, and have a bluesy depth and texture, while even the rocker ‘Death Machine’ pushes outside the usual Motor-zone. Lem’s lyrics are somewhat unfocused and that voice is just a shade weaker…

No Remorse* (1984) Motorhead’s first ‘best of’ included 4 new songs (6 if you count the two ‘Killed By Death’ B-sides) and, taken together, they’re almost the debut album by the 2-guitar Motorhead. This new material was a big o’l poke in the eye to those who were pleased with the forward movement on ‘Another Perfect Day’, as Motorhead get back to basics with a simpler, sloppier vibe. If you’re a 2-guitar line-up fan, this stuff is indispensable; the dueling guitar solos throughout the record positively rip. Two or three more songs and this would have been a corker of an ‘old school’ Motorhead album.

Eh.

Any band that releases 24 albums in 40 years is bound to throw the occasional wobbler. Hate mail and death threats can be forwarded via the Comments section.

Iron Fist (1982) The title track is killer, but this is the one true Kilmister/Clarke/Taylor dud. Sacrilege, I know!! Eddie Clarke produced; the multi-tracked vocals & jangly bass sound awful. Lots and lots of filler. On the positive side, ‘Iron Fist’ probably captures Phil Taylor at the height of his ‘Keith Moon on amphetamines’ powers.

Rock ‘n’ Roll (1987) Out of gas. Philthy is back, and there’s a bit of a spark on two or three decent songs, but overall the band sound tired and out of ideas. ‘Eat the Rich’ is the standout, though that was recorded with Bill Laswell a year previous. ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ also contains a brief monologue from Monty Python’s Michael Palin..! Motorhead’s last album before Lemmy’s pilgrimage to LA.

Hammered (2002) Four winners (‘No Remorse’, ‘Brave New World’, ‘Voices From the War’, ‘Red Raw’) mixed in among six losers. And an interesting diversion: the spoken word piece ‘Serial Killer’. Should have been an E.P.!

On Parole (1976) This is Motorhead’s first album, recorded in 1975 and shelved by United Artists. After the success of Overkill and Bomber, it was finally titled and released in 1980. It’s a rough-hewn post-hippie/punk rock hybrid, sounding a lot like a Larry Wallis solo record; in fact, Lemmy gets just three songwriting credits, and all for songs that he wrote and recorded with Hawkwind. Witness Motorhead’s first recorded version of ‘Motorhead’, which starts with the explosive blast of a motorcycle roaring to life. An interesting look at Lemmy’s early struggle to get his band off the ground, but not really a proper Motorhead record.

March or Die (1992) The follow-up to ‘1916’ has none of the energy or character of its predecessor. Lem and the boys succumb to the LA lifestyle and fall (temporarily) to the dark side for their second (and final) major label outing. If you’re looking for Motorhead’s absolute nadir, you’ll find it here: The completely awful cover of Ted Nugent’s ‘Cat Scratch Fever’. Try as I might, I really can’t find anything positive to say about this one.

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(Pauses, catching breath) There you have it. I’m trying to think of another band of Motorhead’s vintage who have delivered a massive 24 studio albums for us to enjoy. If you’ve only heard a few of these albums, I envy you; as someone who has been along for the ride since ‘Bomber’, there will never be anything new for me to explore. If you’re just beginning your Journey into Motorhead, or if you lost track of the band somewhere in the 90’s, fasten your seatbelt, and keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle. It’s gonna be a helluva ride.

 

The Axe Factor

Thin Lizzy. UFO. Scorpions. Motorhead. Four of the most prestigious names in Hard Rock/Heavy Metal history. Three of them still exist to this very day; four if you count Black Star Riders (I don’t). Celebrated for decades, their basic histories are pretty well known to the average fan of heavy rock around the world, while hardcore fans will even recognize names like Lucas Fox or Rudy Lenners. What’s not so well-known is how many ex-members these bands share between them. For these bands early on it was all about getting the chemistry just right; about finding that magic missing piece of the puzzle. What follows is an outline of how these four iconic bands hired, fired, borrowed and traded several guitarists before settling on the line-ups that made them famous. Do try to keep up…

Round 1: Gary Moore quits the band he joined at age 16, Skid Row, in 1971, just before a planned tour of the States. Guitarist Eric Bell, then a member of Thin Lizzy, who have just released their debut album, replaces him for some live dates. Welsh guitarist Paul Chapman is hired soon after as Moore’s permanent replacement. Chapman quit in ’72, and the band folded.

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Round 2: UFO have released 3 albums with guitaris Mick Bolton, to modest success. Bolton, however, quits in January of 1972. The band hire Larry Wallis, who lasts until October; UFO never record anything with him in the line-up. Wallis is replaced by Bernie Marsden, who records a 2-song demo with the band before leaving abruptly while on tour with Germany’s Scorpions in mid-1973. Scorps guitarist Michael Schenker, then 17, plays guitar for both bands for the duration of the jaunt. At tour’s end, Schenker is invited to join UFO permanently. He accepts, and Scorpions split up. Klaus Meine and Rudy Schenker join Uli Jon Roth’s band Dawn Road, bringing the Scorpions name with them.

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Round 3: On New Year’s Eve 1973, Eric Bell quits Thin Lizzy. Bell is replaced by ex-Skid Row guitarist Gary Moore (see Round 1). Moore only stays until April of ’74, but the band record three songs with him that would appear on their next album, ‘Nightlife’. Moore is replaced by ex-Atomic Rooster/Hard Stuff guitarist Jon DuCann for live work. DuCann and Lizzy’s Phil Lynott clash, the band’s Phonogram deal is about to expire, so drummer Brian Downey quits the band. Downey eventually rejoins Lynott, who hires guitarists Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson to complete the classic Lizzy line-up.

Round 4: Paul Chapman (ex-Skid Row, see Round 1) joins UFO as second guitarist for the ‘Phenomenon’ tour in 1974. He leaves in January of ’75, but evidence of the short-lived 2-guitar UFO can be found on the final four tracks of the ‘BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert’ CD.

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Round 5: Also in ’75, Larry Wallis (ex-UFO; see Round 2) joins Lemmy’s fledgeling Motorhead. Wallis appears on Motorhead’s debut album, which is shelved by United Artists as being ‘unfit for commercial release’ and isn’t released until 1979. Wallis quits a year after joining, in 1976, when 2nd guitarist Eddie Clarke is added to the band.

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So at this point, all four bands have entered a period of relative stability, having finally arrived at what many refer to as their their ‘classic’ line-ups, and release a bunch of undeniably classic albums. For UFO it’s ‘Force It’, ‘No Heavy Petting’, and ‘Lights Out’; Thin Lizzy make ‘Fighting’, ‘Jailbreak’, and ‘Johnny the Fox’. Scorpions release ‘Fly to the Rainbow’, ‘In Trance’, ‘Virgin Killer’ and ‘Taken by Force’. Motorhead’s Kilmister/Clarke/Taylor trio begin making records. And then, Restless Guitar Syndrome set in again…

Round 6: In November 1976, Thin Lizzy’s Brian Robertson (see Round 3) severely injures his hand in a bar fight and has to sit out the band’s US tour with Queen. Robertson is replaced by Gary Moore (see Rounds 1&3). After Robertson recovers, he rejoins the band for another album and tour but he is fired for his excessive drinking, and is replaced once again by Gary Moore in June of 1978. This is Moore’s 3rd go-round w/Lizzy.

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Round 7: In June 1977, after wrapping up the UK leg of the ‘Lights Out’ tour, troubled UFO guitarist Michael Schenker (Round 2) disappears. Paul Chapman (Rounds 1 & 4) rejoins the band again at the height of their US polularity. Schenker is coaxed back to complete the tour, and Chapman steps down. A year later, Schenker quits UFO, while at the same time, Uli Roth (Round 3) leaves Scorpions. Scorps hire Matthias Jabs to replace Roth, but after Schenker becomes available, Jabs is kicked to the curb, and Michael Schenker rejoins his brother in Scorpions after 7 years. Schenker plays a handfull of shows with Scorpions but soon flakes out yet again, and is replaced permanently by Jabs. Oh, and Paul Chapman, on his third tour of duty with UFO, finally becomes a permamnent member.

Scorps go on to fame and fortune as a very different kind of band with Jabs. Lizzy will never be the same, with a revolving door of guitarists that never quite recapture the Gorham/Robertson magic. UFO continue onward with some great records but the ‘Chapman Era’ will always be unfairly compared against the ‘Schenker Era’, and usually not-so-favorably… And what of Motorhead?

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Round 8: Fast Eddie Clarke (Round 5), disgusted with his band’s collabration with punk band The Plasmatics, quits Motorhead during the 1982 US tour promoting the ‘Iron Fist’ album. Mere days later, ex-Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian Robertson (Rounds 3&6) is on stage in New York with Philthy & Lemmy, and remains in Motorhead until November 1983. It would be another 13 years before Lemmy and Co. would arrive at the satable 3-piece line-up that still exists to this day.

So what have we learned here?

1) There’s considerably less than ‘six degrees of separation’ between these four bands. The most moves required here to connect any two of these groups is 3.

2) This post is in dire need of a flow chart.

2) Guitarists are mercurial, ego-centric prima donnas.

3) Guitarists may be mercurial, ego-centric prima donnas, but finding the right one was essential to the chesmistry that created the four of the greatest bands and some the greatest music in Heavy Rock history.

 

Volume 50: The End is Nigh!

As I sit and write this, my 50th post for MayoNoise, the metallic corners of the internet are all a-buzz with the announcement that Black Sabbath will embark on their final world tour. This final trek has been officially dubbed ‘The End’, and it was announced via a striking advert that reads “THE FINAL TOUR BY THE GREATEST HEAVY METAL BAND OF ALL TIME”. Listed just under that pronouncement are the names OZZY OSBOURNE, TONY IOMMI, and GEEZER BUTLER. Bill Ward’s name is conspicuous in its absence.

If you read my blog, you know this already. You also know why Ward’s name isn’t on the poster. It’s early yet; maybe they will wrap the tour in Birmingham and have Ward play that set, or a short set at the end of the show(s)… Hopefully they will do the right thing; I sincerely hope everyone involved can find a way to do end Black Sabbath that will include Bill Ward. But regardless; Black Sabbath have announced ‘The End’, and after The End, for me, Metal is over.

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Two days previous to announcing ‘The End’, Lemmy ended a Motorhead set in Austin, Texas after just three songs, saying “I can’t do it” and walking off the stage. Cancelled gigs and postponed tours have become commonplace for Motorhead since 2013, when a plethora of health issues began to plague their fearless leader. Lemmy has stated that he’ll probably die on stage, and, looking back over the last 7 days, it looks like Lem meant what he said and said what he meant. As ever. “I don’t wanna live forever!” indeed. Still, how sad was it to see Lemmy, who turns 70 in December, hobble off stage, with the aid of a cane, after apologizing to the Texas crowd. Lemmy: We love you. Go home and take it easy. Job done.

Bruce Dickinson and Tony Iommi have had recent cancer scares; Malcom Young succumbed to dementia. Bun E. Carlos and Bill Ward have both had to watch their bands carry on without them due to diminished physical capabilities brought on by aging (and, in the case of Ward, likely compounded by years of substance abuse). Craig Gruber, AJ Pero, Allen Lanier, Trevor Bolder, and RJD… It’s as if the Grim Reaper stepped out of one of the gazillion album covers he adorns and began stalking our heroes, ending their lives and/or careers. Who will be the Figure in Black’s next Chosen One? Motorhead resumed the tour in St. Louis a few days after the Texas walk-off… but how much longer can he soldier on?

Ronnie James Dio’s death was a wake up call for me. I have been listening to Heavy Metal seriously since 1976. After forty years of music from these guys, you kind of get used to having them around. These bands and the people in them become part of your life. My favorite bands: AC/DC, Cheap Trick, Motorhead, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Rush… these bands have been with me for 4 decades. Like good friends, they have always been there when I needed them, during good times and bad. It’s a unique relationship; Metal fans are more passionate about their music and the musicians that make it than fans of any other genre of music. And with Dio’s passing, I realized that if The Man on the Silver Mountain could die, then all of my heroes were really just men; men who will grow old. Men who will eventually die. My Favorite Bands of All Time are dancing perilously close to the edge…

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Some of them are growing old gracefully: Rush are acknowledging that playing such physically demanding music gets tougher with the passage of each year, and are tailoring their final years to accommodate this reality. If ‘Clockwork Angels’ is the last Rush album, I’m ok with that. And how long can Iron Maiden continue to perform at their standard level of intensity? Their current strategy of staging shorter tours with longer breaks will buy them a few years, but cancer has already intervened once… As far as their current music, I don’t know what to make of IM’s latest 92-minute opus; it will probably take me the next five years to absorb it. Motorhead may now have no choice in the matter, but if they are in fact all done, they’ve left us with a real scorcher of an album in ‘Bad Magic’, with music full of piss and vinegar, and lyrics filled with thinly veiled goodbyes.

Now would be an excellent time to end it. I mean right now. Deep Purple’s ‘Now What?!’ album is one of their very best records, but the band are planning to do another. Don’t! End your 40+ year career on a high note! Don’t wind the band up with another ‘Bananas’! And I really don’t want to live in a world where a Cheap Trick album exists that does NOT include Bun E. Carlos on the drums. Their last record, ‘The Latest’, was strong; in fact, all of their albums since ‘going indie’ in 1996 have been strong… But a Bun-less CT album will be unwelcome in my home. AC/DC may have hung around for one album too many; ‘Black Ice’ broke records across the globe, but ‘Rock or Bust’ wasn’t quite the global phenomenon expected, and, while I like the album a lot, an AC/DC album without any contributions from Malcom Young needs to be considered carefully… Also, Angus Young, everybody’s favorite naughty schoolboy, is now 60 years old… Class Dismissed!

Lo, ‘The End’ will surely be the end. When the Pantheon of Old Gods is gone, who will be the New Gods? Slayer released a new album this week; just after a much-publicized spat between guitarist Kerry King and Mayhem Festival organizer Kevin Lyman. Lyman was bitching about low attendance during this year’s tour. While Lyman blamed the ‘metal scene’ in general, his issue was clearly with his aging headliners:

“The bands at the top all demand a certain level of fee to be on a tour. Unlike punk rock, metal never knows how to take a step back to move the whole scene forward…What happened was metal chased girls away because what happened was metal aged. Metal got gray, bald and fat.”

King came back with a statement calling Lyman’s remarks ‘business suicide’, and he was right: The 2015 Mayhem run was the last. But Lyman failed to acknowledge the lack of young bands developing into headliners over the past 20 years. During the eight year existence of his festival, which launched in 2008, the festival organizer soon found himself resorting to adding ‘older’ bands to key positions on the bill. Lyman wouldn’t have to resort to costly ‘grey, bald and fat’ bands if there were younger bands capable of filling arenas. When the old guard is gone, who’s gonna sell tickets?

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It saddens me to think that, in our lifetimes, we will live in a world with no Lemmy, no Alice Cooper or Ozzy, no Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore, Rob Halford… No Schenkers, no Youngs… No larger-than-life characters, no living legends, no more heroes. Of course we’ll still have Dave Grohl, but he’ll have no one to jam with! Slash, maybe? Kiss will still be around though. I’m willing to bet that Gene Simmons has been grooming his son Nick for years to take over as Bat Lizard 2.0. The inevitable reality TV show to find the next Starchild will surprise no one.

Most of my favorite bands originated in the 1970s. That they survived the MTV ’80s and the alternative ’90s is nothing short of a miracle. I am grateful that they’ve been able to continue their careers so far beyond their original expiration dates. Back in 1978, no one would have guessed that any of these bands would still be touring and releasing viable music in 2015. I value everything they have given us over the last three or four decades, both good and bad, and I truly wish it could go on forever, that all of my heroes were immortal. But when Sabbath reaches the end of ‘The End’, it will likely be 2017. By then, my friends, the glory days will be well and truly over. How perfect that the band that started it all will be the band that presides over the funeral services.

And the Grammy Goes to… HELL!!

Tired of being pissed off at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame every year? Need somewhere else to direct your hatred toward what’s left of the music industry? Well then, why not try hatin’ on the Grammys this year?

“The GRAMMYs are the only peer-presented award to honor artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry, without regard to album sales or chart position.”

So says NARAS, or the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences. A noble sentiment. It all made sense until 1989. This is the year that NARAS added the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental category for the 31st Annual Grammy Awards.

The Grammys’ entire Heavy Metal history is cringe-worthy. When NARAS finally decided to stop ignoring an entire genre of music (one that had moved hundreds of millions of records throughout it’s history) and recognize the existence of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, Metal Nation was initially pleased. But when faced with the daunting task of actually listening to Heavy Metal, the Academy gave the first award to the only nominated record they could actually get through: Jethro Tull’s ‘Crest Of A Knave’. After this debacle, which was viewed by the rest of the music world as a major embarrassment, the Academy should have just called it quits and left HR & HM alone. But NARAS needed to correct its mistake, and awarded 1990’s Metal Grammy to Metallica for their cover of Queen’s ‘Stone Cold Crazy’. Metallica would have won no matter what they released that year. And thus began Grammy’s 25-year love affair with Metallica, who won the third year as well. It’s a great strategy: Stick with the band that has the word ‘Metal’ in it’s name. It’s like awarding the Grammy for Best Blues Performance to Blue Oyster Cult every other year.

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NARAS couldn’t even get the category right. After the ’89 debacle, the Grammy committee split the category in two, creating a separate category for Hard Rock Performance in 1990. There! All Fixed! Then, in 2012, the category was re-combined again into a single category, Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance. Okay then. And, just in case you needed more evidence of the Academy’s total and utter ineptitude when it comes to these genres, the category was split again in 2014. Ya know what? We’re good. Just leave us alone.

A cursory glance at the list of nominees and winners in this category is a depressing slog through the last 25 years of mainstream metal. Godsmack, Korn, Mudvayne, White Zombie, Cradle of Filth… Nine Inch Nails? I grant that it’s a lot harder to recognize “artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence” in these genres today than it was twenty five years ago. There have been occasions where the Academy has gotten it right; nods for Motorhead’s ‘1916’ and Faith No More’s ‘Angel Dust’ album spring to mind. Machine Head’s ‘The Aesthetics of Hate’, nominated in 2008, was certainly the best metal song I heard that year. Of course, none of these songs actually won, and these nominations are still the exceptions that prove the rule: 99.999% of the time, the Academy gets it wrong.

And how does NARAS address the 30 year period in the genre’s history that came before these categories were created? With their unfortunately-named ‘Hall of Fame’ award. This award is intended to honor recordings that are at least twenty-five years old and that have “qualitative or historical significance“. Led Zeppelin’s debut has been awarded a HoF Grammy, as has ‘IV’; the individual songs ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and ‘Whole Lotta Love’ have also received HoF Grammys. Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and ‘We Will Rock You/We are the Champions’ singles have also been recognized. But that’s it. A nice gesture, but it it’s too little, too late, as it doesn’t exactly address the previous 30 years of Metal in any substantive way. Seriously, how can any Hard Rock band be awarded a Grammy when Rush didn’t win one for ‘Moving Pictures’? None of Black Sabbath’s supremely important first six albums won them a Grammy, but the ‘God is Dead?’, the single pulled from the tired rehash of the ’13’ album, did. Deep Purple (‘Machine Head’! ‘Made in Japan’! ‘Perfect Strangers’!) doesn’t have any Grammys, yet Slipknot has one…

To further illustrate how useless this award is, I’d like to point out that several live songs and cover versions have been nominated over the years. ‘Live’? Really? Don’t we all know by now that anything that claims to have been ‘recorded live’ is probably as bogus as Milli Vanilli (Grammy Winners, 1990!)? C’mon… Furthermore, does anyone truly believe that a ‘live’ version of Ozzy’s “I Don’t Want to Change the World” was the best Metal Performance of 1994? Out of every single performance recorded during that year? Mr. O. has such an extensive history of – ahem – “assistance” in the vocal department, both live and in the studio, that awarding a Grammy to this clown for a vocal performance is like awarding an Olympic medal for Freestyle Steroid Use. His Ozz-ness won again for his um, absolutely spectacular vocal performance of ‘Iron Man’ from Black Sabbath’s live ‘Reunion’ album in 2000. They should have given him 3 gramophone statues for that performance, because if you listen closely, you’ll hear 3 Ozzys singing on that track.

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If a band is nominated (or win) for a cover version, what does that say about how NARAS regards their original music? Anthrax (once called ‘the highest-paid cover band in history’ by Kerrang! magazine) was nominated 2 years in a row for cover versions, and their ‘Attack of the Killer B’s’ album, filled with covers, joke tunes, live songs, and other worthless junk, was nominated in1992. Motorhead have been nominated twice for covers of Metallica songs (!!!), one of which actually won in ’05. I’m gratified that Motorhead can call themselves ‘Grammy Winners’, but isn’t this just another way the Academy gets to kiss Metallica’s ass? Nominate Motorhead’s ‘Inferno’ album from the same year of GTFO. And If Megadeth’s throwaway cover of Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’, tossed off on a soundtrack album, was the HM genre’s ‘artistic achievement’ of the year in 1996, then I’ll eat my studded writst bands.

(Fun Grammy Fact: Metallica and Megadeth, 2 bands forever linked by a dysfunctional family history, are both Grammy record-holders: While Metallica holds the record for most Metal Grammys won (6, including an award for the awful ‘St. Anger’ album), Megadeth holds the distinction of garnering the most Metal Grammy nominations (9) without ever winning one. I’m betting that fact doesn’t bother Dave Mustaine ONE. SINGLE. BIT.)

The travesty continues into 2015, with two Ronnie Dio-related covers nominated for this year’s Grammys: Anthrax’s cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘Neon Knights’ and unfunny joke Tenacious D’s cover of Dio’s ‘The Last in Line’; I can just imagine RJD spinning in his grave (33 1/3 revolutions per minute, no doubt) as I write. That a by-the-numbers cover of this classic song is nominated for a Grammy Award, while the original version remains unrecognized for its “qualitative or historical significance” is an excellent illustration of the ludicrous nature of this entire enterprise. And if comedy rock duo Tenacious D wins the Grammy for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance for covering a song by the legendary Ronnie James Dio, after a decades of goofing on Ronnie and metal in general, I swear to God I seal up my ear holes with Gorilla Glue and never listen to music again.

STOP THE MADNESS. NARAS shouldn’t be giving awards to genres and styles of music it clearly does not understand. They’ve demonstrated time and again that they do not ‘get’ Heavy Metal. I’d love to see Scott Ian or Lemmy get up there this year and outright refuse it, and publicly denounce the entire farce. Grammys? We don’t need no stinkin’ Grammys! But then again, we wouldn’t actually get to see that, as the awards for HM/HR are awarded off-camera every year. So much for ‘legitimacy’. And remember when the Academy failed to include Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman in their ‘In Memoriam’ segment in 2014? That’s two-time Grammy winner Jeff Hanneman?? I got your ‘legitimacy’, right here.

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Still the red-headed step-child. And that’s okay. Hard Rock and Heavy Metal have always existed –nay, thrived– outside the boundaries of legitimacy, propriety, critical validation and mainstream acceptance. Let’s keep it that way. Besides, raising the likes of Rob Zombie and Marylin Manson into the esteemed company of Miles Davis, Ennio Morricone, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Stevie Wonder, etc. is absolutely ludicrous. There are a handful of Hard Rock/Metal records since 1990 that would sit well in that kind of company*; but Jack Black parodying one of the all time greats sure ain’t one.

*Slayer – ‘Reign In Blood’

Raging Slab – ‘Dynamite Monster Boogie Concert’,

Opeth – ‘Watershed’, ‘Blackwater Park’, ‘Ghost Reveries’

Enslaved – ‘Below the Lights’ and ‘Monumension’

Deep Purple – ‘Now What?!’

High On Fire – ‘Blessed Black Wings’

Mastodon – ‘Leviathan’

Corrosion of Conformity – ‘In the Arms of God’

Megadeth – ‘Rust in Peace’

Pantera – ‘Vulgar Display of Power’

Revenge of the Black Sheep, Pt II: AeroHead

Motorhead and melody were never the best of friends. But destiny would bring them together, in May of 1982…

After ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke left Motorhead only 2 shows in to the band’s 1982 North American tour, Lemmy and Phil needed another guitarist fast. Legend has it that Steve Kudlow (a.k.a. Lips) of Anvil was asked, but declined. If I were close to the band, I would have recommended Ace Frehley, who was still a de facto member of Kiss but hadn’t recorded anything with them since 1981. But I’m not, so I didn’t. I still think that woulda been awesome, but anyway… Enter former Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian ‘Robbo’ Robertson. An inspired choice, but the boys were desperate and probably didn’t have many options. Robertson was one half of one of the most acclaimed twin guitar teams in all of rock, AND he had a colorful nickname. Just nine days after Clarke’s departure, the Motorhead machine was rolling again.
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Problems with Robertson became apparent during the completion of the Iron Fist tour, mostly related to his appearance, but also manifesting itself in his unwillingness to learn set list staples like ‘Overkill’, ‘Bomber’, ‘Stay Clean’, etc. Nonetheless, after completing the ‘Iron Fist’ dates and returning to the UK, Lem Phil and Robbo entered the studio together as the New and Improved Motorhead. To many, the addition of Robbo to The Loudest Band in the World looked great on paper; how would it translate onto vinyl? How would Robertson’s skill, musicality and flair jibe with the vicious who-needs-guitars-anyway Kilmister/Taylor rhythm section? Would it work at all? On June 4th, 1983, those questions were answered with the release of Motorhead’s seventh studio album.
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How you interpret APD depends on your point of view on Motorhead in general. If you’re the type of Motor-fan who likes to be beaten about the face and neck with your Motor-music, then you were probably startled by the new additions to the standard Motorhead sound: Subtlety, Dynamics, and *gulp* Melody. The LP’s comic strip insert features a panel depicting Phil asking Lemmy, “He’s a bit musical, isn’t he?” That word balloon sums up APD’s strengths and/or weaknesses, depending which side of the fence you’re on. As far as the new boy’s contributions, ‘Overkill’ is the word that comes to mind. Robertson plays like the legend he is throughout, but the quantity of his guitar playing on APD at least matches, if not surpasses, the quality. And the very first sign that we’re not motorcycling through Kansas anymore comes courtesy of Robbo: the guitar synthesizer featured on album opener ‘Back at the Funny Farm’. Motorhead using synthesizers was akin to a vegetarian ordering a Double Quarter Pounder (w/cheese). The gently picked guitar intros to ‘Dancing on your Grave’ and the album’s title track probably didn’t sit well with many Motorheadbangers, and the boogie-woogie piano on ‘Rockit’ probably raised a few eyebrows as well.

Many were concerned by the album’s first single, the melodic ‘I Got Mine’, which could accurately be described as a ballad (at least lyrically); remove the gnarly vocals and this tune could belong to any number of early 80’s hard rock bands. And couplets like “Come on lover/Go Back to start/I got your picture in my heart” were a far cry from “I’m in your life/I might be in your wife” of “You know you make me vomit/And I ain’t far from it” from a few years earlier. . ‘I Got Mine’ serves as a perfect example of the clash of stylistic approaches on ‘Another Perfect Day’: delicate chorused guitar riff meets savage drums and brutal mid-bass gouging; beauty meets the beast, head on… does it work? Ya, it does, though the song is a bit over-long. But for those who may have been scared away by the record’s first single, the second one, ‘Shine,’ was much more convincing, with it’s double-speed ZZ Top groove, killer guitaring and I’m so badass lyric.
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For some, all of this was too much to take. Fans and critics alike were shouting ‘sell out!’, and throwing the C word around: ‘Commercial’. Yes, it was true; the new Motorhead album was more accessible than anything before it, but any record that starts with ‘Back at the Funny Farm’ and ends with ‘Die You Bastard!’ could hardly be called a sell-out. Frankly, after the lifeless dud known as ‘Iron Fist’, Motorhead needed something… and love it or hate it, Robertson brought something new to the party. But for many, APD was a step too far from the mean and dirty (sloppy?), amphetamine-fueled (fast!) days of yore. I for one welcomed the expansion of Motorhead’s sound, and rate this record in their top 10, although I will admit to being worried at the time by what might come next… But those worries proved unwarranted, as Robbo was ‘fired’ by Lemmy after touring for ‘Another Perfect Day’ was completed. Black Sheep status assured. This is the Motorhead album for people who don’t like Motorhead; a handy way to separate the casual listener from the diehard lifer. But more importantly, ‘APD’ should be recognized as the first indication of how flexible Motorhead’s music, often derided as one dimensional, really is. If you wrote off ‘Another Perfect Day’ as ‘too melodic’ or a ‘sell out’, go back and give it another try. And it it’s your favorite Motorhead album, grow a set and check out ‘Ace of Spades’ or ‘Bastards’.

Less than three months after the release of ‘Another Perfect Day’, Aerosmith released their seventh studio album, aptly titled ‘Rock in a Hard Place’. It took Aerosmith three years to complete a follow-up to their previous album, the half-assed ‘Night in the Ruts’; Joe Perry left before that album was finished, and the chaotic, drug-addled circus the band had become was too busy killing itself to get its shit together and work on a record. Sessions for ‘Hard Place’ limped along for over a year, eventually leading to the departure of Brad Whitford, who, after all that studio time ($1.5 million dollars worth), had only recorded guitars for one song. It kinda sounded like the end for A-smith. But the Bad Boys From Boston pulled it off, and released the one-and-only Aerosmith album without Joe Perry and Brad Whitford’s involvement.
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‘Rock in a Hard Place’ fell on largely apathetic ears. Much had changed during Aerosmith’s three almost-permanent vacation (Hello, Van Halen!). The 70’s had turned into the 80’s, and Hard Rock fans were getting into Even Harder Rock. The conspicuous absence of the names “Perry” and ‘Whitford’ on the record ensured that even many old-school fans wrote the album off. The dwindling ranks of the Aero-faithful supported the album, which peaked at #32, making it Aerosmith’s lowest-charting record since their sophomore album ‘Get Your Wings’. The disastrous tour that followed, which was riddled with on-stage collapses, cancelled shows, and low ticket sales, did nothing to help the record’s profile (See: Deep Purple’s ‘Come Taste the Band’). I didn’t buy it, and I ignored it completely for 32 years; in fact, I’d never heard it start to finish until I started working on these ‘Black Sheep’ posts.

So: Three decades later, what do we have here? Simply stated, ‘Rock in a Hard Place’ is a better album than both ‘Night in the Ruts’ and ‘Done With Mirrors’. Yes. It’s also a better Aerosmith album than both. How can this be? How can an Aerosmith album without Whitford & Perry’s songwriting or playing be more Aerosmith-y than the album that preceded it and the one that followed it? Chemistry, my friends, chemistry… and I ain’t talkin’ about drugs. Most of the writing credits read ‘Tyler/Crespo’, and somehow the pair managed to conjure up more of the old A-smith magic than the Toxic Twins had been able to for several years. The rhythm section of Kramer and Hamilton anchors the record firmly in classic Aerosmith’s blues/rock/R&B wheelhouse, and Crespo plays with the same laid-back-but-red-hot vibe as Perry. And Tyler is Tyler, which is an impressive feat for someone so firmly in the clutches of a heroin addiction. Perry & Whitford eventually returned, and ‘Done with Mirrors’ showed encouraging signs of life, but this band would never again produce an album with the patented nasty-ass swagger of classic Aerosmith after ‘Rock in a Hard Place’.
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In his book, Joey Kramer unfairly dismisses RiaHP as “not a real Aerosmith record because it’s just me, Steven, and Tom — with a fill-in guitar player…. It’s Jimmy Crespo doing the guitar work.” I disagree with Mr. Kramer. ‘Rock in a Hard Place’ is a Real Aerosmith Album, no matter who’s on it. Or who’s not on it. It ain’t ‘Rocks’, or ‘Toys’, but it could rightfully be considered the last album of Aerosmith’s classic era. It could also be considered the first album of Aerosmith’s post-classic era. Or, in true Black Sheep style, it could belong to neither era. And like all Black Sheep records, it could use a little love. Revisit this album, pronto.

Motorhead: The First Three Years

Shortly after his firing from UK space rock pioneers Hawkwind, Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister adopted the biker motto ‘Born to Lose, Live to Win’ and made it his new band’s mission statement. As luck (both good and bad) would have it, he would spend the next few years living both sides of that creedo, earning the right to make it his own every day while struggling to get his new band, Motorhead, off the ground.

Motorhead was doomed from day one. But Motorhead was also destined for greatness. Lemmy knew both of these statements to be true even at the very beginning. Motorhead survived more drama and disaster in their first few years of existence than most bands suffer in decades, all through the sheer force of one man’s will. Lemmy’s bold self-belief, dogged perserverance, and abject refusal to give up and go home kept Motorhead alive during the nearly complete clusterfuck of their first three years.

Of course, being 49% motherfucker and 51% son of a bitch didn’t hurt either.

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Born To Lose: In May of 1975, Lemmy is arrested at the Canadian border for possession of amphetamine sulfate. Management bails him out and puts him on a flight to Toronto. At 4am after the Toronto show, he is fired from the band he once performed with on Top of the Pops, singing lead on their Top Ten (#3) single ‘Silver Machine’ in 1972.

Live To Win: Within two weeks of returning to England, Lemmy steals his equipment back from Hawkwind’s rehearsal space, repaints his psychedelic amps black, and forms a band he calls Bastard. He retains his Hawkwind-era manager, who persuades him to change the name. He re-christens his new band Motorhead, naming it after the last song he wrote for his previous band.

BTL: In July, Motorhead’s live debut takes place at the Roundhouse, a high-profile UK venue. Lemmy himself states the band were “bloody awful”. After a 10-show trek across Britain in August, the band opens for Blue Oyster Cult at the Hammersmith Odeon in October. In December, based on the Hammersmith performance, Motorhead wins “Best Worst Band in the World” in the reader’s poll featured in the year-end issue of the respected UK music paper Sounds.

LTW: Motorhead manages to secure a record deal with Hawkwind’s label United Artists. Dave Edmunds, one of Lemmy’s heroes, is set to produce. The band prep their originals and a few covers and enter the studio In December.

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BTL: After recording only four songs, Edmunds abandons the project. Drummer Lucas Fox, trying to keep up with Lemmy’s speed habit, is a disaster in the studio. His drum tracks are not workable and his behavior is erratic, even dangerous; he is fired before the record is complete.

LTW: 21 year old drummer Phillip Taylor is drafted in as Fox’s replacement. Taylor overdubs all of Fox’s drum tracks (except one) and the album is completed with producer Fritz Freyer.

BTL: United Artists shelve the album, deeming it ‘unfit for release’. Motorhead, still under contract with UA, cannot record for another label. In the Spring of 1976, immediately after Lemmy drafts Eddie Clarke in to the band as rhythm guitarist; Larry Wallis quits.

LTW: Motorhead hire a new manager, who arranges another recording. In July, Kilmister/Clarke/Taylor record a single for Stiff Records, ‘White Line Fever’/’Leaving Here’.

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BTL: Motorhead are still under contract with United Artists, who block the release of the Stiff single. Motorhead have now recorded music for 2 labels and neither label has released anything. They limp through the rest of 1976 with one-off gigs, living in squats and starving. Just a few months into 1977, Phil and Eddie decide to call it a day.

LTW: A farewell performance is booked at the Marquee in London in April ’77. Lemmy convinces Ted Carroll of Chiswick Records to record the show in a last-ditch attempt to get anything with the Motorhead name on it released.

BTL: The mobile studio promised by Carroll never materializes at the Marquee gig; the farewell show is not recorded.

LTW: Carroll shows up backstage after the show and by way of apology, offers the band 2 days of studio time to record a single. The band instead record basics for 11 songs, and their single deal with Chiswick becomes an album deal. Carroll gave the band the cash to complete the unfinished tracks, with which Motorhead records 2 additional songs, for a total of 13. The album, called ‘Motorhead’, released in August of 1977, peaked at #43 in the UK.

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BTL: About a week into the headlining tour to promote their ‘debut’ album, Phil Taylor breaks his wrist in a fight and the rest of the tour is cancelled. The band is unable to do any live work until a November gig at the Marquee. Motorhead’s manager cuts ties with Chiswick, citing lack of support, and the band, in turn, fires him. Phil and Eddie throw together another band, The Muggers, and once again consider leaving Motorhead.

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LTW: Motorhead hire manager Doug Smith, who secures the band a deal with Bronze Records for a single. In August 1978, ‘Louie Louie’/’Tear Ya Down’ was released, and hit #68 on the UK Singles chart. The success of the single resulted in Morohead’s first appearance on BBC TV’s Top of the Pops program. It was Lemmy’s 2nd appearance on the show, his first having been to promote Hawkwind’s ‘Silver Machine’.

So: After three years of struggle, Lemmy had come full circle. He had dragged himself and his new band through a minefield of bad deals, bad breaks and plain old bad luck. Lemmy never wavered. Each and every time he was kicked, he kicked back; every setback was met with a grim determination and a raised middle finger. Lemmy made his own good luck by constantly pushing against any and all obstructions, ignoring his detractors and doing plenty of good old fashioned hustling.

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All of this led up to their watershed moment: the release of their seminal ‘Overkill’ album. Lemmy (and Motorhead) ultimately won. Of course, all of the rejected material that was recorded during this time period was eventually released by labels eager to cash in on the Motorhead’s chart success a few years later. Hawkwind has even re-released ‘Silver Machine’ 3 times, and each time it has charted again. Lemmy of course never saw a dime from any of this thievery, but the vindication is priceless. As if the ongoing success of Motorhead, some 40 years on now, weren’t vindication enough.

The lesson in all this? As the slogan on the back side of the picture sleeve for the ‘Louie Louie’ single reads, “NIL ILLEGITIMUM CARBORUNDUM”.

Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

A Deal With the Devil

June 1981. When Motorhead learned that their live album, ‘No Sleep ‘til Hammersmith’, had reached the top of the UK charts, Lemmy and the lads were slogging around the USA opening for Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Oz. It was a huge opportunity for Motorhead, who’d had a number of charting albums and singles at home in England but were virtually unknown in America.

August 8, 1981. The Heavy Metal Holocaust at Port Vale Football Stadium, Stoke on Trent, England. The bill for the year’s biggest UK Metal festival was originally to have been topped by Black Sabbath. Motorhead, still riding high on the success of their number one album, were to co-headline the event. When the Sabs pulled out due to recording commitments (or fear of a red-hot Motorhead, depending on which story you believe), ‘head were slotted at the top and, in an ironic twist, Ozzy Osbourne’s band was added and slotted in just under the headliner. This would be the UK’s first look at the Aldridge/Sarzo version of Ozzy’s new band. Lemmy introduced a nervous Ozzy’s set that night; Ozzy intro’d Motorhead’s, as several bootleg recordings of the event reveal.

Now jump forward a decade to 1991. Ozzy and Lemmy are both signed to Epic/Sony Records, and a deal of sorts is struck between the two old friends. Lemmy is asked to co-write songs for Ozzy’s forthcoming ‘No More Tears’ album. In return, Ozzy agrees to appear on Motorhead’s ‘March or Die’ album. Who got the better of the deal is a matter of opinion.

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What did Ozzy get? Lemmy wrote the lyrics for four of the songs included on the ‘No More Tears’ album. One of these songs, ‘Mama I’m Coming Home’, became Ozzy’s only solo Top 40 single on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at number 28. The ‘NMT’ recording of another of Lemmy’s contributions, ‘I Don’t Want to Change the World’, would be nominated for a Grammy for Best Metal/Hard Rock Performance. On the strength of this single and the Grammy hooplah, the record would reach double-platinum certification by September of 1992. Lemmy’s other two offerings, ‘Desire’ and ‘Hellraiser’, were also quality songs, and undoubtedly contributed to the overall success of the record. It’s a strong album overall, though a bit mainstream for my tastes; far stronger than it’s predecessor ‘No Rest For the Wicked’, which took 9 years to reach double-platinum status. Simply put, it’s hard to dispute the impact of Lemmy’s contributions to the success of ‘No More Tears’.

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What did Lemmy get? On 1992’s ‘March Or Die’, Motorhead’s second and, thankfully, final foray into the world of major label bullshit, Ozzy appeared as a guest vocalist on the power ballad ‘I Ain’t No Nice Guy’ (Slash also contributed a guitar solo), which garnered some airplay despite record company apathy. Sony pushed the godawful cover of Ted Nugent’s ‘Cat Scratch Fever’ to radio instead. Ozzy also appeared in the ‘Nice Guy’ video. Motorhead recorded their own version of ‘Hellraiser’ for ‘MoD’ and actually got their version featured in the film ‘Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth’ and it’s soundtrack album.

The brief Lemmy/Ozzy/Epic partnership positioned Motorhead for their biggest successes ever. But it wasn’t to be, as none of it worked in Motorhead’s favor. Truth be told, ‘March or Die’ sucks. The record is a typical over-produced major label mess; two producers, three drummers, a radio-friendly cover version, a power ballad, and guest stars galore (Ozzy actually guests on two songs, Slash also appears on two). And the Hellraiser movie flopped. Despite the record company machinations, MoD failed commercially as well as failing completely as a Motorhead album. Motorhead were never suited to play the kind of game that a major label, and mainstream success, demands.

So: who got the better of the deal? It all depends on what your definition of success is, and what your goals are. Me, I’d call it a draw.

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Deep Purple’s Jon Lord said in an interview in 1996 that his royalties for ‘Smoke on the Water’ add up to ‘a tidy six figures’ annually. And that was almost 25 years after the song was a hit. Similarly, Lemmy’s been quoted as saying that ‘the Ozzy checks’ will pay his rent in LA for the rest of his life. In his autobiography, Lemmy states, ‘I made more money out of writing those four songs than I made out of fifteen years of Motörhead – ludicrous, isn’t it?!’

I hear ‘Mama I’m Coming Home’ on my local rock/metal station regularly, and while it’s no ‘Smoke…’, it is firmly established as a minor classic rock radio staple. For Lemmy, Ozzy’s ‘No More Tears’ was such a success that the failure of Motorhead’s ‘March or Die’ was irrelevant. Lemmy, the ultimate rock and roll survivor, would walk away from his flirtation with major label success, soul intact, and release the excellent ‘Bastards’ on indie label XYZ in 1993. Lemmy Kilmister may be the only musician in history to ever have made his deal with the devil (or she-devil, as we all know who is really calling the shots for the Ozzman) and walked away unscathed.