Motörhead were an English rock band formed in June 1975 by bassist, singer, and songwriter Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister, who was the sole constant member, guitarist Larry Wallis and drummer Lucas Fox. The band are often considered a precursor to the new wave of British heavy metal, which re-energised heavy metal in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Though several guitarists and drummers have played in Motörhead, most of their best-selling albums and singles feature the work of Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor on drums and “Fast” Eddie Clarke on guitars.
Motörhead released 22 studio albums, 10 live recordings, 12 compilation albums, and five EPs over a career spanning 40 years. Usually a power trio, they had particular success in the early 1980s with several successful singles in the UK Top 40 chart. The albums Overkill, Bomber, Ace of Spades, and particularly the live album No Sleep ’til Hammersmith cemented Motörhead’s reputation as a top-tier rock band. The band are ranked number 26 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. As of 2016, they have sold more than 15 million albums worldwide.
Motörhead are typically classified as heavy metal, and their fusion of punk rock into the genre helped to pioneer speed metal and thrash metal. Their lyrics typically covered such topics as war, good versus evil, abuse of power, promiscuous sex, substance abuse, and, most famously, gambling, the latter theme being the focus of their hit song “Ace of Spades”.
Motörhead has been credited with being part of and influencing numerous musical scenes, thrash metal and speed metal especially. From the mid-1970s onward, however, Lemmy insisted that they were a rock and roll band. He has said that they had more in common with punk bands, but with their own unique sound, Motörhead is embraced in both punk and metal scenes.
Lemmy died on 28 December 2015 from cardiac arrhythmia and congestive heart failure, after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. The day after his death, drummer Mikkey Dee and guitarist Phil Campbell both confirmed that Motörhead had disbanded. By 2018, all three members of Motörhead’s classic lineup (Lemmy, Taylor and Clarke) had died.
Motörhead is the self-titled debut studio album by the band Motörhead, released on 21 August 1977, on Chiswick Records, one of the first for the label. It is officially regarded as the band’s debut album, though an album was recorded in 1975 for United Artists which was shelved, and was only released in 1979 after the band had established themselves commercially. This would be the first album to feature what would become the “classic” Motörhead lineup of Lemmy Kilmister, “Fast” Eddie Clarke and Philthy Animal Taylor and their only release under Chiswick, as they were signed to the larger Bronze Records by early 1978.
Motörhead hired lead guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke in early 1977, and he was originally to serve as the band’s second guitarist along with Larry Wallis in what was intended to be a four-piece lineup, but Wallis left shortly after for his own reasons. Sensing that the fledgling band had dim prospects for success, Motörhead decided to disband after playing one final show at the Marquee Club in London that year. Ted Carroll, founder of the upstart Chiswick Records label, knew Lemmy well from his rare 45 Record’s store in London of which Lemmy was a frequent customer. Carroll decided to give the band a break and hosted what was to be their final performance at the Marquee. The decision was made to record the gig. As Clarke recalls in the documentary The Guts and the Glory:
It was going to be our farewell gig. I said, Let’s get a mobile down at least to record the fuckin’ year and a half we’ve been together and put something on the fuckin’ tape, you know? The problem with the Marquee was they wanted 500 quid for doing a recording at the Marquee. Well, that was out of the question in those days.
Feeling that the band had already seen its share of adversity, Carroll offered the band two days of studio time at Escape Studios in Kent, England, to record a single with producer John “Speedy” Keen. As Clarke explained to John Robinson of Uncut in 2015, the band finished the gig at the Marquee and drove straight to the studio in Kent for a weekend of recording:
That was Friday night, so we had all Saturday and Sunday. We’d been playing these songs for a year, so we thought fuck it, we can do an album. In a few hours we had all the backing tracks down. Put the vocals down. Bit more speed, put some more guitars on. Few more beers – we were fucking steaming. Come Saturday night, we’d nearly finished it.
As biographer Joel McIver recalls in his book Overkill: The Untold Story of Motörhead:
As the story goes, by the time Carroll came back to the studio to hear the results, the band had recorded no fewer than 11 tracks. Impressed, he paid for more studio time to allow them to complete an album. The album did well enough to ensure the band would remain together, but it would be their next album, 1979’s Overkill, that proved to be their true breakthrough.
Due to the very limited studio time afforded the band, the decision was made to re-record the unreleased United Artists album almost in its entirety; only “Fools” and “Leaving Here” weren’t re-recorded at the Kent sessions. In addition, two new self-penned compositions, “White Line Fever” and “Keep Us on the Road”, were added, as well as a cover of John Mayall’s “Train Kept A-Rollin”. Three tracks on the album were actually composed by Lemmy while he was still a member of Hawkwind, “Motorhead”, “Lost Johnny”, and “The Watcher”, the latter a psychedelic acoustic piece.
Like the band name itself, the song “Motorhead” (About this soundsample (help·info)) is a reference to speed – Lemmy’s drug of choice at that time- and was coupled with the non-album track “City Kids” (a Larry Wallis composition from his Pink Fairies’ days) for release as 7″ and 12″ singles. In his autobiography White Line Fever, Lemmy recalls working with producer Speedy Keen and engineer John Burns and the challenges arising from a lack of time:
“(They) were speeding out of their heads because they couldn’t afford to go to sleep – they didn’t have time, and they wanted to make an album as much as we did. They mixed twenty-four versions of Motörhead alone!”
The band members were less than pleased with the finished product, and guitarist Clarke has referred to the album’s muddled sound as “pretty dreadful”. Four remaining tracks from the session were shelved until 1980, when they were released as the Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers EP. In his memoir Lemmy noted:
“Once again it was cash-in time – for the record labels, at least. I’ve never recorded more than we need since! But having said that, I don’t begrudge Ted Carroll that – he saved my band.”
The B-side and the EP tracks were later added as bonus material on the CD release.
The sleeve artwork featured the debut of Snaggletooth, the War-Pig, the fanged face that would become an icon of the band and would appear on most of the band’s album covers. Snaggletooth was created by artist Joe Petagno, who had earlier worked with Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis and had designed the Swan Song Records logo for Led Zeppelin. According to its creator, Snaggletooth represents a combination of a bear, a wolf and a dog skull with boar tusks. The original Motörhead album cover contained a swastika on the spike of the helmet, though it was removed from future copies of the album.
The inner sleeve featured old and new photographs of the band and friends by long time friend Motorcycle Irene, who took most of the 70’s pictures of Motörhead, plus letters of thanks from Lemmy, Eddie and Phil. Advertisements for the album, single, and tour bore the words “Achtung! This Band Takes No Prisoners”. (wikipedia)
Before forming Motörhead, Ian Kilmister (aka Lemmy) could boast of having been a member of space rock cowboys Hawkwind and a career in horsebreaking (that’s horsebreaking, not housebreaking). He was also, to top it all, the son of a vicar. Having been expelled from his former employers after a disagreement with border guards over the contents of his luggage, he took the name for his new band from the final song he’d written for Hawkwind. Together with Larry Wallis of the Pink Fairies and drummer Philthy Animal Taylor, Motörhead recorded a debut album that was rejected by United Artists (you can just imagine the face of the poor guy who got the short straw and had to tell Lemmy), though it was eventually released as On Parole in 1979. As a result, the group expanded with the addition of “Fast” Eddie Clarke on guitar. Wallis then left after just one rehearsal, leaving the classic Motörhead lineup in shape for their debut proper. Rock & roll had never heard the like. Though only a minor chart success, Motörhead patented the group’s style: Lemmy’s rasping vocal over a speeding juggernaut of guitar, bass, and drums. The lyrical theme was “Don’t mess with us” instead of “Don’t mess with our hair.” Before this, hard rock was about musicianship and exhibitionism. Motörhead, conversely, returned mainstream rock to its most brutal base elements — no wonder the punks liked them. (by Alex Ogg)
“Fast” Eddie Clarke (guitar, background vocals, vocals 10. + 13.)
Lemmy Kilmister (vocals, bass)
Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor (drums)Tracklist:
01. Motorhead (Kilmister) 3.10
02. Vibrator (Wallis/Brown) 3.35
03. Lost Johnny (Kilmister/Farren) 4.14
04. Iron Horse/Born To Lose (Taylor/Brown(Lawrence) 5.19
05. White Line Fever (Kilmister/Clarke/Taylor) 2.37
06. Keep Us On The Road (Kilmister/Clarke/Taylor/Farren) 5.55
07. The Watcher (Kilmister) 4.27
08. Train Kept A-Rollin’ (Bradshaw/Kay/Mann) 3.16
09. City Kids (Single 1977) (Wallis/Duncan/Sanderson) 3.23
10. Beer Drinkers And Hell Raisers (1980) (Gibbons/Hill/Beard) 3.25
11. On Parole (1980) (Wallis) 5.58
12. Instro (1980) (Kilmister/Clarke/Taylor) 2.28
13. I’m Your Witchdoctor (1980) (Mayall) 3.00
“Fast” Eddie Clarke
(05 October 1950 – 10 January 2018)
(24 December 1945 – 28 December 2015)
Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor
(21 September 1954 – 12 November 2015)