XXX -- Born to Lose, Live to Win

Roger Holland

Ugly as sin and utterly uncompromising for 30 years, now, Motörhead remains the squarest of pegs in an industry obsessed by round holes.

I was born to rock 'n' roll,
Everything I need.
I was born with the hammer down,
I was built for speed.

51; "Built For Speed" (Orgasmatron)

In the beginning was the word, and the word was... parallelogram. Brothers and sisters, we are gathered here today to celebrate 30 full years of Motörhead and an imminent landmark in the life of Ian Fraser Kilmister, né Lemmy.

He may have been born to lose. He may even have meant it when he growled "I don't want to live forever". But Lemmy's still here, and on Christmas Eve 2005, there'll be no fewer than 60 candles on his birthday cake. Sixty. No-one has ever grown old quite so disgracefully. Live to win, indeed.

My theory is that Lemmy has been preserving himself in alcohol for decades in a cunning attempt to achieve immortality through vodka, and I wish him luck with his plan. But rock 'n' roll immortality is already his. Released to commemorate and exploit the latest Motöranniversaries, these four double disk CD releases — Motörhead's second, fourth and sixth albums, plus a collection of recordings made for the BBC — present an irresistible opportunity to review the early daze of this most legendary band.

Referenced Albums
All titles released in the US on 15 November 2005 and in the UK on 10 October 2005.

Motörhead, Overkill [2-Disc Deluxe Expanded Edition] (Sanctuary)

Motörhead, Ace of Spades [2-Disc Deluxe Expanded Edition] (Sanctuary)

Motörhead, Iron Fist [2-Disc Deluxe Expanded Edition] (Sanctuary)

Motörhead, BBC Live & In Session (Sanctuary)

Lemmy once said that if Motörhead moved in next door to you, your lawn would surely die. Back in 1986, I had the privilege of visiting the band at their shared North London Motörhouse and, contrary to rumor, no nearby lawns had perished. However, both sets of neighbors had moved out, taking the chance to sell up while the band was away on tour.

I can still remember my day chez Motörhead with almost perfect clarity. Lemmy's lair within the Motörhouse was a long, knocked-through-living-room space. Old posters, backstage passes, and assorted Motörmemorabilia cleaved to the walls. The curtains were drawn. They probably hadn't been opened since the day the band moved in. The room had that unmistakable air of perpetual dusk. The only light came from the flickering of the TV screen. A thousand and one videotapes were arranged across the floor. Everywhere I looked, there was a guitar. And yet the room was still dominated by a pair of speakers that could only have been liberated from a upscale recording studio. For deaf giants. Those motherfuckers went up to 13.

It was like taking tea with the Pope. Only with vodka and extra strength beer, and none of the sanctimonious, misogynistic bullshit.

Lemmy formed Motörhead in 1975 after he was kicked out of Hawkwind for taking the wrong kind of drugs. He played with a number of different musicians before the "classic" Motörhead line-up of Lemmy, "Fast" Eddie Clarke, and Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor coalesced around a collection of old, new, borrowed and blue material. Ugly as sin and utterly uncompromising, the trio was the squarest of pegs in an industry obsessed by round holes. Consequently, by mid-1977, they were already set to wrap things up with a farewell show at London's Marquee Club. Luckily, at the last minute, Ted Carroll of Chiswick Records invited the band to record a single for him. They took Carroll's studio time, recorded the backing tracks for a single, an album and a subsequent EP, and thus parlayed his offer into the chance to record their eponymous debut album.

The abundantly raw but slightly muggy Motörhead charted in the UK and sustained the trio. But it was their second album, Overkill, originally recorded for Bronze Records and released in March 1979, that finally scrawled the name Motörhead high, wide, and hideous across the rock 'n' roll landscape.

From the inimitable double bass drum pound and rushing manifesto of the title track to the last trashing chords of "Limb from Limb", Overkill rocked like no band had rocked before. This wasn't metal as such. This was a pulsing stress-test ordeal, as primal as a streetfight between the Stooges and the Ramones, but better. It was punk with long hair and more attitude than the Bromley Contingent could shake a stick at. Or, as Lemmy would have it, it was rock 'n' roll, pure and simple.

"Stay Clean" spiralled around a vast circular saw riff, argued that to live outside the law you must be honest, and boasted the best bass solo ever — official! "Damage Case" rocked like Evil Elvis on the cheapest trailer crank. "No Class" eloped with the riff from ZZ Top's "Tush", did it roughly and repeatedly up the wrong un, and made it Motörhead's bitch for life. While "Metropolis" and "Capricorn" both slowed the pace and ground out the groove like nobody else could. As a passing John Wayne said at the time, "Surely, this is the son of God".

On this double disk deluxe expanded edition, Overkill comes complete with the non-album single and b-side pairing of "Louie Louie" and "Tear Ya Down", plus two alternate versions of each song, the b-sides "Too Late, Too Late" ("Overkill") and "Like A Nightmare" ("No Class"), three songs from a John Peel session from 1978 and most of a BBC concert recording from 1979. The b-sides are essential. The alternates are for trainspotters only. The BBC recordings are extracted from BBC Live & In Session, of which more later.

Motörhead's second album for Bronze, Bomber, was released in October 1979, just seven months after Overkill. Fine tuning the raw savagery of its predecessor, while retaining the fury at the heart of the beast. Bomber set the scene for the band's landmark album, Ace of Spades, which was released barely a year later in November 1980. Clearly this was a band on mission. Motörhead released three of the greatest rock 'n' roll records of all time in the space of just 20 months, while touring prodigiously throughout. In 1979, the band played 65 shows. In 1980, they played 66. I would wonder how they managed to find the time to sleep, except I know how they managed not to.

Fourth day, five day marathon,
We´re moving like a parallelogram

— "Motörhead" (Motörhead)

Some say Ace of Spades is the best rock 'n' roll record of all time, and almost everyone says it's the best Motörhead record. I actually prefer Overkill and Bomber, but Ace of Spades was certainly the one that grabbed the world by the balls and snarled "Listen". Although the Motörhead sound has evolved continually over its 30 years, this is the record fans point to as definitively Lemmy. This is the one that inspired every metal genre that scorns shampoo and thinks faster is better. Sadly, most of them entirely missed the point.

Songs like "(We Are) The Roadcrew", "Bite the Bullet", and "The Hammer" broke the sound of speed repeatedly — or was it the other way round? But it was the slightly slower moments, such as "Love Me Like a Reptile" and especially "The Chase Is Better Than the Catch" that captured the sheer immense beauty of rock music at its very best. For the clearest possible explanation of why less is more, fastest is not best, and the spaces in the music should be cherished, check out the millimeter perfect transition from "Bite the Bullet" to "The Chase Is Better Than the Catch", and bathe in the churning majesty of the latter.

The bonus material on Ace of Spades is less impressive than Overkill's. "Dirty Love", the b-side to the "Ace of Spades" single is presented in three different versions, and there are eight alternate versions of tracks from the album, plus the bulk of a BBC session that the band recorded for David "Kid" Jensen in October 1981. Nice to have, at best. Following on from Ace of Spades, the live album No Sleep Til Hammersmith (July 1981)captured the "classic" Motörhead line-up at the very height of its powers and fame. An exceptional achievement, sadly, it also marked the end of Motörhead's seemingly inevitable surge towards world domination.

The next studio album, Iron Fist (April 1982), was not a bad record by any means, and this double-disk package contains some excellent bonus material. Listen to Iron Fist in isolation, in ignorance of the earlier works, and it will still rock your dick at least half way off. But it was an anti-climax after the previous repeated peaks, and it marked an undeniable downturn in the band's fortunes. With the world at their feet, Lemmy, Phil and Eddie somehow fell on their faces.

At the time, I thought the band's mistake was to embark on the Iron Fist tour before the record had shipped. Thousands of fans were turning up to worship at the altar of Motörhead, only to discover that the set was dominated by material we'd never heard before. With hindsight, there were other issues at play. And egos. Iron Fist was co-produced by "Fast" Eddie — the band's first step into the control booth. Is that why it seems rushed, unfinished in places? Who knows? But Iron Fist clearly lacks both the distinctive personality of each of its predecessors and the sense of continuing evolution. For the first, and possibly only time in the band's career, it seemed like they were unable to progress, as if they were... whisper it... just going through the motions.

Probably the strain of their schedule had begun to tell. During 1981, they played 103 shows across Britain, Europe and America. Lemmy's willingness to embrace his newfound rock godhead had begun to alienate his band mates. Recording with the British band Girlschool was not a problem, but dabbling with the Nolan Sisters and working (and beyond) with Wendy O Williams (Plasmatics) clearly was. Similarly, Lemmy was beginning to find his band mates becoming a little precious, a bit too full of themselves.

Finally, "Fast" Eddie quit the band. Two dates into the band's first ever world tour.

The tour had begun in Toronto — a show that makes up most of the Iron Fist bonus material. Two days later, they played the New York Palladium. And then Eddie Clarke walked out. Brian Robertson, the ex-Thin Lizzy guitarist, was drafted in to help meet the group's immediate commitments. He stayed for 18 months. Musically, Motörhead benefited from the introduction of the eccentric Scottish hell-raiser. His one album with the band, Another Perfect Day (June 1983), showed a marked improvement on Iron Fist. Yet it failed commercially. Robertson's playing was perhaps a little too polished, and he certainly failed to click both with the fans and with Lemmy. Consequently, to many, it looked like Another Perfect Day marked the end of line for Motörhead.

Except it didn't.

As he told me that afternoon in 1986, Lemmy simply had business to take care of. First, as Bronze Records had begun to withdraw support from Motörhead, so Motörhead had to withdraw from Bronze. Eventually Lemmy's lawyers had to drive the label into liquidation simply to get Motörhead out from under. Next, Taylor and Robertson both had to go. During the dispute with Bronze, touring was the only way for Motörhead to make a living.

"They weren't committed to the band at all. Live, they wouldn't even do the standards: 'Bomber', 'Overkill' or even 'Motörhead'... "What the fuck did they think the kids were paying their money for? If I went to see Little Richard and he didn't do 'Long Tall Sally', I'd be straight round the fucking dressing room, banging on the door, going 'what the fuck is this?'"

With a new label, a new band and a new spirit, Lemmy's Orgasmatron was a belated but worthy successor to Ace of Spades. Unfortunately, time had moved on and Motörhead were unable to recapture the momentum that had carried the band through their golden years. Nonetheless, this most definitive of rock 'n' roll bands has continued to evolve, to inspire, and to render virtually all other rock and metal bands redundant. In the 19 years since Orgasmatron, there have been 10 new studio albums from Motörhead. Most recently, Hammered (2002) was a remarkably strong work; and this year's Inferno was every bit as good.

Despite the power and status of Overkill and Ace of Spades, BBC Live & In Session is the most satisfying of these four deluxe double CD packages. It's certainly the ideal Christmas gift for the awkward adolescent male in your life — whatever his age. It's a marvelous collection of moments that captures the masters of iconography and defiance at their raw best, at critical times in their career, playing live (or all but) for the BBC's John Peel (1978), David Jensen (1981, and Tommy Vance (1986), and for the BBC In Concert show in 1979. And, of course, it contains all the BBC material included on the Overkill and Ace of Spades bonus disks. It should be impossible to pick a favorite performance from the 23 tracks here, but I'm going to have a lot of happy hours trying.

Ian Fraser Kilmister is a likeable, intelligent and determinedly unrepentant man. He has a way with words, and a lot to say on issues as varied and as important as religion, politics and war. He's a fierce champion of personal freedoms. And he brings all these elements to Motörhead. But, at base, he also understands, intuitively, that the most important thing in rock 'n' roll is rock 'n' roll. So that is what he does. That is what he is.

Don´t you listen to a single word
Against rock 'n' roll.
The new religion, the electric church,
The only way to go
I don't give a good god-damn
My life's been alright
I'm going crazy out of my mind
Every single night.

— "Built For Speed"

Anarchist and icon, intense and immense, Lemmy is Motörhead For Life. And we can all thank fuck for that.


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