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.

 

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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.