Ruling with an Iron Fist – The Legacy of Motörhead

By on Thursday, 28th June 2012 at 11:00 am
 

They’re a band that have stood the test of time and brought their balls-out, not-a-single-fuck-given attitude to the mainstream music scene at a time that needed it most. They are Motörhead. And they have been levelling venues across the world for almost 40 years with front man Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister steering the band toward global domination since the band’s inception.

The purveyors of the heavy metal umlaut formed after Lemmy was booted out of the infamous space-rockers Hawkwind for cocaine possession at the Canadian border whilst on tour – or as he put it in the book ‘White Line Fever’, for “doing the wrong drugs”. Lemmy has been no stranger to controversy over the years, having been accused of Nazism due to his extensive collection of paraphernalia and his often vocal positive stance on drink and drugs. But Motörhead’s fans (or Motörheadbangers, if you will) take it in their stride, as Lemmy is nothing short of a metal legend – warts and all.

Motörhead are a juxtaposition to the music Lemmy made with Hawkwind, in fact the band name comes from the last track he recorded with the psychedelic five-piece. But that was in the past, and Motörhead became a force to be reckoned with in a relatively short period of time. Enlisting what would be dubbed the ‘classic’ line-up, it was Lemmy, ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke and ‘Philthy’ Phil Taylor that made up the band who would spearhead both speed metal but also be a forerunner for the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the late ’70s/early ’80s.

After being named the ‘Best Worst Band in the World’ by the NME in the early days, Motörhead went on to defy all naysayers with a string of seminal albums and singles that are still pumped out at rock clubs today. Their breakthrough album ‘Overkill’ in 1979 reached number 24 in the UK albums charts and features the thrash fests of ‘No Class’ and ‘Metropolis’ that still work their way into the trio’s set lists today.

It’s often the case for a band to have a hit album early in their career, but to release two big-hitters in the same year is now almost unheard of. But ‘Bomber’ came crashing into stereos in autumn 1979, reaching number 12 in the charts. The title track has become synonymous with the band worldwide and has featured on no less than four live albums.

One year later (after countless shows across the world) the band released what would be their most famous record: ‘Ace of Spades’. It’s an all-out brawl of noise and snarling from the terrible trio who crammed 12 tracks into 37 minutes of snaggletooth snarls and brash, visceral sound clashes. As well as ‘Love Me Like a Reptile’ and ‘Fast and Loose’, it’s the title track that everyone still knows and adores to this day. A song that is ramped up at every sweatbox dive, every karaoke bar, every music festival and every house party across the world for over 30 years. That is metal. That is Motörhead.

Although ‘Ace of Spades’ reached number four in the charts and achieved gold status, it’s 1981’s ‘No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith’ that gained them a number one spot and firmly established themselves as one of Britain’s best heavy metal acts, although metal isn’t a scene that Motörhead find themselves fully connected to. Lemmy has often stated he feels most at home with punks rather than metalheads, and you can hear that influence in the music. If it wasn’t for the brief solos and chuggier riffs, Motörhead could have become synonymous with the rise of British punk rather than metal. But they’re a band who bridged the gap, which was no easy task.

In 1982 the band released their last album as the ‘classic’ line-up. That record was ‘Iron Fist’ and as well as the pit-starting title track, ‘Speedfreak’ and ‘(Don’t Let ‘Em) Grind You Down’ became fan favourites and have remained a part of the Motörhead show. Following the release of the record, though, Eddie Clarke left the band due to an argument about the band’s principles. A few years later Phil Taylor left the band shortly after recording ‘Ace Of Spades’ for ‘The Young Ones’. In between these two unfortunate occurrences, though, the band enlisted Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian Robertson to record ‘Another Perfect Day’ that reached number 20 in the album charts and it was the last time Motörhead reached the top 20 in the UK.

Down but not out, Motörhead underwent numerous line-up changes over the next ten years including a brief reunion with Phil Taylor, before settling on the eleventh incarnation that is touring today of Lemmy, Phil Campbell and former King Diamond sticksman Mikkey Dee.

Despite all the member changes, though, the band are still metal as fuck. They have been credited with being the loudest band on Earth for a gig in the ’80s that reached an ear-popping 130dB (this has since been beaten by KISS), and they closed their 1986 Monsters of Rock performance with a flyover from World War II fighter planes – that sentence alone can’t get much more metal. Lemmy himself is one of the meanest but coolest guys alive, with hundreds of rumours and stories making him a piece of music folklore. One of the best has to be: because of his constant smoking and Jack Daniel’s drinking, Lemmy cannot give blood as his own blood will kill a regular human being – and vice versa. Whether this is true or not, we don’t want to know, but it’s one of the most badass qualities a man can possess.

The band might not be topping the album chart any more, but they’re still bashing out an LP every 2 years (the most recent being 2010’s ‘The Wörld is Yours’) and playing some of the biggest stages in the world. Last year they laid waste to the main stage at Sonisphere festival to tens of thousands of Motörheadbangers who still admire the band for both not giving up but for continuing to kick major arse. And for dedicated metalheads to embrace their love for Lemmy and the gang, a new box set has been released containing the six most iconic Motörhead albums – ‘Overkill’, ‘Bomber’, ‘Ace of Spades’, ‘No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith’, ‘Iron Fist’ and ‘Another Perfect Day’. Not only that, but the speed freaks are on tour with thrash legends Anthrax in November across the UK. If you love it loud, live and lary, then this album collection and a gig ticket may be in order, so you can pay tribute to the band that have been dedicated to the cause since 1975.

‘Motörhead: the Classic Album Selection’ is available now from Universal.

Tags: essay, legacy, Lemmy, Motorhead, retrospective, video

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