MOTÖRHEAD (1975–PRESENT). Classic lineup: Lemmy Kilmister (vocals/bass), “Fast” Eddie Clarke (guitar, replaced by Brian Robertson, Phil Campbell), Wurzel (guitar, 1984–95), Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor (drums, replaced by Peter Gill, then Taylor, then Mikkey Dee).
Motörhead’s logo are a key part of both punk and heavy metal history, as epitomized in songs such as “Ace of Spades”. Led by the charismatic gravelly voiced and wartsporting (he has often joked about removing and selling his wart on eBay) lead singer and bassist Lemmy Kilmister, Motörhead have been on the vanguard of hard and heavy music for over thirty years. The band was originally started by Lemmy, an ex- Jimi Hendrix roadie and member of psychedelic pioneers Hawkwind. Lemmy originally recorded the song “Motörhead” that gave the band its name. This term is derived from an American expression for a “speed freak,” a drug Lemmy was particularly fond of, and was written by Lemmy in one of his few songwriting contributions to the band. The song later became a favorite of Motörhead fans across the globe.
The original lineup consisted of Larry Wallis on guitar and drummer Lucas Fox, who recorded their debut album with Dave Edmunds (!) but both the lineup and the producer didn’t click. Soon Edmunds was out and followed soon after that by Fox (the debut album was not released until 1979 as the On Parole record), who was replaced by fan favorite Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor, and although Fast Eddie Clarke was originally brought in to augment the band’s sound, eventually Wallis left the band and the classic, and most crucial, lineup finally consisted of Lemmy on bass and lead vocals (singing upward to his trademark elevated mic stand) along with drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor and guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke.
The band scored a quick and puzzling chart hit with a rough-edged cover of the garage rock warhorse “Louie Louie,” which propelled them up the charts and led to a bizarre appearance on the top of the charts. The band signed to Bronze records (home of Uriah Heep) in 1979 and released the classic Overkill record that year. The trio sound like a five piece thanks to Fast Eddie’s innovative guitar work and Lemmy’s distorted bass. Motörhead was quickly becoming a favorite of people who enjoyed harder music, and early punks as well as metalheads flocked to Motörhead shows. This may have been partially due to the distinct look of the band, who all dressed in black leather like the Ramones or a more butch Judas Priest. Some said they looked more like a biker gang than a rock and roll band (not too far from the truth). The Ace of Spades album was their masterpiece, and the title single, with its hardcore beat and lyrics about being “born to lose” made Lemmy an iconic figure. The song’s theme was akin to what many rock and roll fans felt: that they were fated to bad luck and to forever be dealt the “dead man’s hand” (aces over eights in poker is known as the dead mans’ hand, because it was what legendary gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok was holding when he was shot in the back of the head). Ace of Spades increased Motörhead’s popularity exponentially and massive touring soon followed, and the band’s formidable back line eventually helped them garner the title “the loudest band in the world” by the Guinness Book of World Records. Motörhead at that time also helped mentor the all-female metal group Girlschool and collaborated on the “Please Don’t Touch” single and the double entendre–filled “Headgirl.” The original lineup was starting to show cracks, and in 1982 Clarke left the band to start his own project, Fastway, and was replaced by Brian Robertson of Thin Lizzy fame. This would be the start of a revolving door of guitarists and eventually drummers for Motörhead. Robertson left and was replaced by two guitarists, Philip Campbell and Wurzel, and Taylor left as well, replaced by Peter Gill for the classic “Killed By Death” single, leaving Lemmy as the sole creative voice in the band.
Although the Orgasmatron record that followed was a strong effort, the band had lost momentum, and much of the late eighties’ material is forgettable, except for the “comeback” record 1916, where Taylor briefly rejoined the band, only to be replaced by Mikkey Dee, formerly of satanic metal band Mercyful Fate.Wurzel left acrimoniously in 1995, the year in which Motörhead celebrated both their twentieth anniversary and Lemmy’s fiftieth birthday, complete with a Motörhead “tribute” band called “The Lemmys” (actually Metallica) playing Motörhead classics.
Today Motörhead continues on their way, perhaps one of the most beloved metal bands on all sides of the aisle. Their catalog of songs, including “Overkill,” “Eat the Rich,” “Jailbait,” and the classic ode to the men who load the Econoline vans, “We Are the Road Crew,” made Motörhead one of the highest-drawing acts in metal to this day. Motörhead always acknowledged their debt to the Ramones, and on the World War I-themed 1916 album, they wrote a song called “R.A.M.O.N.E.S.,” which the Ramones themselves would later cover. Lemmy also contributed vocals to the Dave Grohl Probot side project in 2004.
As of 2008, Motörhead was very active and participating in the historic Monsters of Metal tour along with Testamant, Judas Priest, and Heaven and Hell. Motörhead, a band that predated the Sex Pistols, is one of the most lasting and ferocious influences on both the punk and metal scenes, and their influence on speed metal, thrash, and hardcore punk alone would have been enough to make them legendary had they stopped recording twenty-five years ago. They continue on, an unstoppable juggernaut, the true Orgasmatron of rock and roll.
Discography: Motörhead (UK Chiswick, 1977; UK Big Beat, 1978; Roadracer Revisited, 1990); Overkill (UK Bronze, 1979; Profile, 1988); Bomber (UK Bronze, 1979; Profile, 1988); On Parole (UK Liberty, 1979; UK Fame, 1982; EMI America, 1987); Motörhead [EP] (UK Big Beat, 1980); The Golden Years [EP] (UK Bronze, 1980); Ace of Spades (Mercury, 1980; Profile, 1988); No Sleep ’Til Hammersmith (Mercury, 1981; Profile, 1988); Iron Fist (Mercury, 1982; Roadracer Revisited, 1990); Stand by Your Man [EP] (UK Bronze, 1982); What’s Words Worth? (UK Big Beat, 1983); Another Perfect Day (Mercury, 1983); No Remorse (Bronze, 1984; Roadracer Revisited, 1990); Anthology (UK Raw Power, 1985); Born to Lose (UK Dojo, 1985); Orgasmatron (GWR/Profile, 1986); Rock ’n’ Roll (GWR/Profile, 1987); Another Perfect Day/Overkill (UK Castle Comm., 1988); No Sleep at All (GWR/Enigma, 1988); Blitzkrieg on Birmingham ’77 (UK Receiver, 1989); Dirty Love (UK Receiver, 1989); The Best of & the Rest of Motörhead Live (UK Action Replay, 1990); Welcome to the Bear Trap (UK Castle Comm., 1990); Bomber/Ace of Spades (UK Castle Comm., 1990); Lock Up Your Daughters (UK Receiver, 1990); The Birthday Party (GWR/ Enigma, 1990); From the Vaults (UK Sequel, 1990); 1916 (WTG, 1991); Meltdown (UK Castle Comm., 1991); March or Die (Sony, 1992); Sacrifice (CMC, 1995); Overnight Sensation (CMC, 1996); Stone Dead Forever (Receiver, 1997); Snake Bite Love (CMC, 1998); Everything Louder than Everyone Else (CMC, 1999); We Are Motörhead (CMC, 2000); Hammered (Metal-Is/Sanctuary, 2002); Motörhead with Girlschool St. Valentine’s Day Massacre [EP] (UK Bronze, 1980).