Being into pop music is easy. You follow who is current, and the stars of yesteryear do package tours and play to old people in town halls. Metal is different. We respect our heritage. We know where our music came from. Iron Maiden play bigger shows now than ever, and they are packed with young metal heads. But, if you’re young, metal has been around almost 50 years. How do you get a handle on all that music? Well, that’s where we come in. Every two weeks, we’ll be running a column that covers a classic metal band and tells you how to best get into them, what albums to avoid, as well as a bio and an indication of their impact on this metal world we all love. Sit back, strap in, don’t forget to take notes.
When Lemmy Kilmister was kicked out of the band Hawkwind (for taking ‘the wrong drugs’), he went back to the UK (the band was touring Canada at the time), with two goals. First, to find the ‘old ladies’ of all his ex band members and shag them as revenge. Second, to start “the dirtiest rock’n’roll band in the world. If you moved in next door, your lawn would die.” He claims he achieved the first. We know he achieved the second. Taking his blueprint mostly from the 60s rock he’d loved so much, he made it louder, faster and dirtier. The first line up imploded and their first album was not released until after the band was later successful (that’s the CD called ‘On Parole’). Much of that session was re-recorded for their first, self titled album. From there, the ‘classic’ lineup of Lemmy, ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke and ‘Philthy Animal’ Phil Taylor recorded five albums and one double live album, which debuted on the charts at number one. After recording one album with Brian Robertson, who was not well received by fans, the ‘Orgasmatron’ album was the first to feature Phil Campbell (on rhythm guitar). Wurzel, the lead guitarist, stayed for six albums and Philthy Phil returned on drums during this time, but from 1996’s ‘Overnight Sensation’, the final lineup of Lemmy, Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee (formerly of King Diamond) on drums, had solidified. It was this lineup that went through a purple patch of increasingly high quality albums, right up to Lemmy’s tragic passing in December, 2015.
Lemmy’s biggest influence was 60’s rock and roll, an avenue he also explored with his ‘HeadCat’ project (with Slim Jim from the Stray Cats). Motorhead started in 1975, the same year as the Sex Pistols. Heavy Metal was nothing like this at the time, and they attracted a punk audience. They were considered metal mostly because they had long hair. If you look at the impact that bands like Metallica and Slayer had on the USA market, it’s clear that a huge influence on the speed they brought to metal, was Motorhead and possibly Venom. The love between Metallica and Motorhead is well documented, and it’s fair to say that, without Motorhead, Metallica would have sounded a lot more like Diamond Head
(the albums even a casual fan owns)
No Sleep Til Hammersmith’ (1981)
This album, coming after a four album hot streak that culminated in the legendary ‘Ace of Spades’, saw Motorhead hit an early peak. They would never be this mainstream again. This album debuted at number one, which Lemmy would often say was ‘nice, but, the only way from there was down’. The cream of those first four albums, given an extra kick from being played live, makes this an absolute classic. On the cover you can see the ‘Bomber’ lighting rig that used to descend on the band during the song of the same name. We guarantee that Lars wore out a copy of this album.
After the success of their first live album, Motorhead’s label thought they were finished. They asked for a ‘best of’, Lemmy obliged only if they included some new tracks. That album, “No Remorse”, included the cracking ‘Killed By Death’, but Motorhead no longer had a record label. Having been passed over by all the major labels, they set up their own label and released Orgasmatron. Named after a device in a Woody Allen film, the song with the same name is actually about the evils of religion and is one of their strongest tracks. Pulling out all the stops when backed into a corner, this was a slower, more ponderous Motorhead, and their music was only made heavier for it. Tracks like ‘Deaf Forever’, ‘Dr Rock’ and ‘Claw’ probably seemed like a nod to the heavy music scene of the time, but were unmistakably, uniquely, unforgettably Motorhead.
Ace of Spades (1980)
With the classic front photo shot in a quarry (in England, not Mexico), this was the end of an unbeatable four album run and unquestionably the most classic Motorhead album. The title track is so well known as to be a cliché, and tracks like ‘The Hammer,’ go faster than most bands of the era, while songs like ‘(We Are) The Road Crew’, ‘Jailbait’ and ‘The Chase Is Better Than The Catch’ both rock hard, and ooze with Lemmy’s unique personality. Lemmy came to hate meeting people who told him they loved this album, and who talked as if they’d never recorded anything since. Motorhead built a long, strong legacy of albums over many years, but this is arguably where they made their name and earned their place among the heavyweights.
(the album that didn’t make it big, but every fan loves)
After a two album run with Sony that yielded the excellent ‘1916’, but then the disappointing ‘March or Die’, Motorhead were without a label. This album was released on an obscure German label called ZYX, and did poorly for the simple reason that no one could find it. It is, however, an absolute cracker. Tracks like ‘Burner’ and ‘On Your Feet Or On Your Knees’ are as heavy as any in their catalogue, tracks like ‘We Bring The Shake’ and ‘Born To Raise Hell’ (the latter re-recorded with Whitfield Crane and Ice T for the movie ‘Airheads’) play to Lemmy’s love of straight up rock and roll. The ballad ‘Don’t Let Daddy Kiss Me’ tackles the sensitive issue of child abuse. The re-release contains a cover of ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ as a bonus track. Every real Motorhead fan lights up when you mention this album. For this commentator, it’s their all time greatest album.
Fun fact: Motorhead were initially going to be called Bastard, but in the end got their name from the song of the same name, which Lemmy wrote and recorded with Hawkwind.
(One step below, but these albums still shine in the catalogue)
Lemmy has always been interest in war memorabilia, and here the title track is a ballad written from the point of view of a young man dying in the trenches of World War I. Songs like ‘I’m So Bad (Baby I Don’t Care)’ are classic Motorhead and ‘Going To Brazil’ perfects their 60’s rock on steroids template. A diverse and strong album that saw them see out the pre-grunge era in style.
Rock n Roll (1987)
Containing a rare slide guitar song, the song ‘Eat The Rich’, from the movie of the same name, and a spoken word piece by Michael Palin, this album continues where Or
The first four Motorhead albums only went from strength to strength and so it’s no surprise that our other early pick is this one, their third album. ‘Overkill’ is such a quintessential Motorhead song that it’s the song Scorpions do live with Mikkey Dee, in Lemmy’s honour. Songs like ‘Stay Clean’, ‘No Class’, ‘Damage Case’ and ‘Metropolis’ were constant fixtures in their setlist because this is the sound of a band who have found themselves, having established the template they perfected with “Ace Of Spades.”
(The one fans disagree on)
Another Perfect Day (1983)
With the end of the ‘classic’ Motorhead line up, after Eddie Clarke left in disgust when asked to participate in a cover of ‘Stand By Your Man’ with Wendy O Williams, Brian ‘Robbo’ Robertson of Thin Lizzy fame was brought in for this one album. The controversy surrounding him mostly centered on things like his insisting on wearing shorts on stage, but, for whatever reason, this album was derided by fans for many years. The truth is, Robertson was one of the most gifted guitarists to play with Motorhead, and this was a change in song but is still a strong album that is undeniably Motorhead. In later years, Lemmy started adding the track ‘Shine’ to their live set, where it was well received.
Buy this last
(Not all bands have a ‘bad’ album, but this is the worst of them)
March Or Die (1992)
Despite guest appearances by Slash and Ozzy (and a cover of a song that Lemmy wrote for Ozzy), as well as a rather pointless Ted Nugent cover, this album, their second on Epic, was a poor follow up to the success 1916 gave them. Motorhead always seemed able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and so here, when their stock was high, they rushed out an album that was sadly sub par. Only ‘Snake Bite Love’ competes with this as a low point in their career. This is the sound of a band with a unique sound, trying to forget who they are, and chase commercial success.
(A killer playlist for your phone)
Ace Of Spades (Ace of Spades)
The Hammer (Ace of Spades)
(We Are) The Road Crew (Ace of Spades)
Stay Clean (Overkill)
Rock n Roll (Rock n Roll)
The Wolf (Rock n Roll)
Deaf Forever (Orgasmatron)
Doctor Rock (Orgasmatron)
Stone Dead Forever (Bomber)
On Your Feet Or On Your Knees (Bastards)
We Bring The Shake (Bastards)
Born To Raise Hell (Bastards)
I Am The Sword (Bastards)
Killed By Death (No Remorse)
Going To Brazil (1916)
We Are Motorhead (We Are Motorhead)
God Was Never On Your Side (Kiss Of Death)
Rock Out (Motorizer)
The Thousand Names Of God (Motorizer)
In The Name Of Tragedy (Inferno)
Whorehouse Blues (Inferno)