It’s nearly two years, but it feels like yesterday that we were reeling from the news of the passing of Lemmy. A live album quickly followed, and it was good, but it was easy to see that he was a man in decline. That he played to the end was a fitting tribute to his dedication to his band, his craft and his fans.
So, now we have, for perhaps the last time, a new Motorhead album to buy. ‘Under Cover’ is a collection of cover versions, some taken from previous albums, and some taken from work done for cover albums. The obvious centre point of this CD is the song that was new, a cover of David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’. This song has, of course, been on YouTube for a while. The liner notes say that Lemmy was unsure about covering this song. It’s impossible to know how it would have been received had he still been with us, but it’s hard to imagine anyone would have not loved it. It’s certainly one of the best covers the band ever did, with Lemmy singing more than usual, and a song that was not heavy in it’s original incantation getting a real lift from the Motorhead treatment. Apparently this cover was done for a Wrestling organization, not recorded for consideration for ‘Bad Magic’. Either way, this song alone justifies the purchase of this album, even if you have all the others. Phil doesn’t try to duplicate Robert Fripp’s guitar lines too much, he more than anyone mounts the Motorhead takeover of this song to a hard rock classic.
As for the rest, the album starts off with ‘Breaking the law’, a Judas Priest cover. This is a pretty classic and straightforward song and Motorhead turned in a credible cover of it for a Judas Priest tribute album called ‘Hell Bent Forever’.
‘God Save The Queen’, by the Sex Pistols, was actually a single from ‘We are Motorhead’, complete with a video. It was not overly well received at the time. Motorhead were often considered to be a punk band in the early days, because they were fast like punk. Lemmy famously tried to teach Sid Vicious bass (of course, Sid didn’t actually play on ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’). It’s a good song, and a decent cover, but not a highlight of the CD.
‘Starstruck’, the old Rainbow track, was recorded for the posthumous Ronnie James Dio tribute, ‘This Is Your Life’. Lemmy was not well enough to sing on it, so Biff Byford from Saxon steps in. This song is Phil and Mikkey playing, not Lemmy singing. It’s very good. It’s particularly interesting to hear Phil playing in a style very different to Motorhead, and pulling it off in style.
Motorhead’s most panned album, ‘March or Die’, contained this cover of Ted Nugent’s ‘Cat Scratch Fever’. Time has been kind to this song, in this context it holds it’s head up higher than it did on the original album.
The next two songs are both Rolling Stones covers. ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ was on the re release of Bastards, probably their best album. It probably fits better here. Given how many of the covers are of metal or hard rock bands, it’s interesting to see older songs hold their own.
‘Sympathy For The Devil‘ is, of course, off ‘Bad Magic‘. This is a song that’s been covered a fair bit, Guns and Roses famously covered it. Compared to ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash‘, this is a very classy Stones song, and this cover certainly does it justice. It’s another song that has Lemmy singing in a vein that’s more subdued than the average Motorhead song. The song turns in to a tour de force of Phil’s lead playing towards the end and it’s this section that gives the song a lift and adds something a bit extra to the original track.
Ozzy Osbourne had great success with his ‘No More Tears‘ album, and Lemmy provided both lyrics and whole songs for that album. ‘On March Or Die’ he recorded one of those songs with his own band, and this version of ‘Hellraiser‘, which was also used in the movie Hellraiser III, is worthwhile because, while it’s technically a cover, it’s actually his song.
Ramones song, ‘Rockaway Beach‘, was recorded as a demo in 2002. It was recorded for a Ramones demo. The song was credited to Motorhead on that CD, but, it’s obviously not Lemmy singing.
‘Shoot Em Down‘ is perhaps the best ever Twisted Sister song, and was recorded for a tribute album, called ‘Twisted Forever‘. This is a great version of this song, Lemmy really taking glee in lines like ‘he’s a master baiter’. For anyone who missed that tribute CD, this is definitely another strong reason to get this album.
‘Whiplash‘ is, of course, a Metallica cover, and it’s the song that got Motorhead an overdue Grammy. This is obviously the most aggressive song on the CD, and Motorhead still manage to give it a lift, sounding just a bit faster and heavier than the original. The whole band sounds fantastic on this song.
Lemmy has, of course, sung a lot of covers, from ‘Please Don’t Touch‘ and ‘Stand By Your Man‘ through to the 50s songs he recorded with HeadCat. However, Motorhead also did a lot of covers for tribute albums, and bonus tracks. It’s easy to get on to YouTube and find covers of ‘Shout It Out Loud‘ (KISS), ‘It’s a Long Way To the Top‘ (AC/DC) or ‘Highway to Hell’ (also AC/DC). There’s also an incredible version of ‘Let It Rock‘ (Chuck Berry), recorded live on some TV show where the show band get involved. It’s not clear how many of these songs might have faced licensing issues or other setbacks, but it would be amazing to see them all appear on a companion disc at some point. Until that day comes, it’s a shame to see so many songs on this CD that every Motorhead fan already owns, and two Lemmy doesn’t even sing on, but there is value in having a CD you can spin to hear the cover songs collected together. There’s certainly some obscure covers from hard to find tribute CDs and those, along with ‘Heroes‘, make this a must buy for any fan of Motorhead, which is kind of the same as being a fan of heavy metal.