“We’re the ultimate underdog band—the most underdog underdog band there’s ever been.”
Lemmy is Motörhead and Lemmy is Rock and Roll. Let’s make that clear out of the gate.
There is no musician that defines the power, excitement, style and swagger of the genre more than Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister and no one has proven to be much more sincere, consistent and determined with his music and views on life than the heart and soul of Motörhead, who we sadly lost in 2015.
Motörhead is swagger, attitude and sheer audacity personified. They are not for everybody, but they never cared for that and they just focused on doing their own thing, which accomplished something very important: to prove their doubters wrong.
I’m going to talk in this article about the career of Motörhead and, of course, of Lemmy. What made Motörhead, their different lineups and the albums that made them one of the most important Rock bands in the history of the genre.
“I like Lemmy, because he’s straightforward. He shakes your hand, looks you in the eye and tells you what’s on his mind. I’m sure we’d work well together. There’d be the occasional punch-up, but then we’d go to the bar, have a few and all would be forgotten.”
To think of the beginnings of Motörhead in the mid-70s, we first need to look at Lemmy’s music career that started many years before when he was playing his trade as a guitarist and he would go on to be in multiple bands but lacking consistency in all of them. Perhaps his first major gig in the late 60s in the music business was working as Jimi Hendrix’s roadie and doing a jam or two with the man himself.
“I was sleeping on [Jimi Hendrix’s roadie] Neville Chester’s floor — he was sharing a flat with Noel Redding, so whenever they needed an extra pair of hands I was right there. I didn’t get the job for any talent or anything,” Lemmy said in 2010. “But I did see Jimi play a lot. Twice a night for about three months. I’d seen him play backstage too. He had this old Epiphone guitar — it was a 12-string, strung as a six string — and he used to stand up on a chair backstage and play it. Why he stood up on the chair, I don’t know.”
Lemmy since an early age had a reputation as a troublemaker when he was at school and that conflictive nature of his came to full life when he joined the band Hawkwind, a prog rock group that was, in hindsight, quite a different musical leaning to what we would expect from Motörhead’s eternal frontman: much more melodic, much more technical and without that raw, dirty and thunderous nature that has defined the band throughout the decades.
Ironically enough, Hawkwind was Lemmy’s first gig as a bass player… without having no experience whatsoever playing that instrument.
“Yes. It was a free show on the back of a truck,” Lemmy said in 2003. “I showed up for the guitar player’s job but they decided not to get a new guitar player as Dave Brock was switching to lead. So they said, who plays bass? And keyboard player Dik Mik pointed to me and said, he does. I said, you cunt, I’ve never picked one up in my life! And then the bass player didn’t show up and left his fuckin’ gear in the van. Talk about stealing his gig, eh?”
Despite these adversities, Lemmy would grow into the role as a bass player and the proof of that is that he has never went back to guitar, making bass his instrument of choice and starting to develop in Hawkwind that thunderous guitar-like sound he would become famous for.
And to be honest, this period of Lemmy’s career deserves more attention because Hawkwind is a very solid band and their 70s work is experimental, inventive and with enough hooks and melodies to get the attention of those that might not be so keen on listening to this group.
But things would not last forever as tensions within the band started to develop given that Lemmy sang in the Hawkwind hit single Silver Machine and the rest of the guys were not very happy about it due to simple, old school jealously, plus there was also the matter of the drugs they were using and how different that was from Lemmy’s preferences at the time.
“I got sacked by them for taking the wrong drugs,” he said in 2011. “Can you believe that! Getting sacked by the most cosmic band ever for taking the wrong drugs! They were into acid and I was into speed. I ended up in jail in Canada overnight on tour and they then sacked me. I loved that band. Would have probably still been in them now.”
So, in 1975, when he was going to be exactly 30 years old and with the experience of having played in multiple bands, Lemmy decided to create his own group and named it Motörhead, after the last song he wrote for Hawkwind (also the slang term for the speed drug in the United States at the time).
And we have to say that Motörhead didn’t hit the ground running when they came to the scene, with the first lineup consisting of Lemmy on vocals and bass, Larry Wallis on guitar and Lucas Fox on drums starting with very subpar performances on their shows and going as far as being labeled the worst band in the world of by Sounds magazine on a poll.
This would be a constant during Motörhead and Lemmy’s career: the mainstream would often give them a disservice or downright ignore, but Kilmister is not known for backing down from a fight and the next year was entirely dedicated to the band touring, doing shows and crafting the songs that were going to end up in their self-titled debut. And Lemmy would also take the time to make changes in the lineup, first adding a new drummer in Philthy “Animal” Taylor and a new guitarist in “Fast” Eddie Clarke, both who would go on to become the first major and historical Motörhead lineup (and for a lot of fans, the best).
Both Lemmy and “Fast” Eddie Clark always had major differences on a personal level, but they always thrived on a musical level because they both had the same preferences. “Yeah, my roots are definitely in the Blues, but, as I said, I am third generation,” Fast Eddie Clark said many years later. “I think that’s why Lemmy and I got on so well when we were writing, we both had similar musical roots. We wrote some great songs together and there are definitely some of our early influences in there.”
Add to that the maniac rhythms of “Animal” Taylor on drums and you had a band that perfectly adjusted to Lemmy’s desire of mixing up Rock and Roll, Punk and the nascent Metal genres into a fascinating result that would be defined by the man’s now signature vocals. And that’s how we got their 1977 self-titled album.
Looking back so many years before Motörhead’s debut album was actually somewhat different to what became part of the band’s signature sound later on. One of the first things we can tell from this album is that it has a bigger Punk influence and that may put off some fans that like that classic Motörhead sound. Having said that, the musicianship is actually quite tight given that the band took an entire year to get a label interested in them and that gave them time to craft and master their songs, so the songs are actually quite strong.
The album did extremely poor and the band was dropped by their label, which resulted in them even going as far as trying to breaking up, but at the end they decided to carry on and finally got the backing of the Bronze label, which allowed them to record their sophomore effort, 1979’s Overkill–an album that definitely changed Motörhead’s career and establishing as one of the fastest, most aggressive and charismatic bands of the entire genre in the late 70s.
“We had so many false starts and disappointments,” said Fast Eddie about that period in the band’s career. “That by the time Overkill came around we had stored up a lot of energy and ideas, and we were just waiting for the opportunity to show what we could do.”
More mature than their debut, but also keeping that gruff and hard edge feel to it, Overkill feels like the natural progression that Motörhead needed as a band, with the title track, Limb from Limb, Damage Case or Metropolis being some of the strongest tracks in their entire career and showing at the same time how they were evolving as musician given the surprising musical diversity of the album. And of course, you also have Taylor’s double-bass drumming that would change the genre forever.
“The drummer that introduced me to that double bass type of thing was Phil Taylor from Motörhead,” said Metallica’s Lars Ulrich. “When I first heard Overkill in early 1979, that was what blew my head off.”
The album entered the Top 30 in the UK and it was an unexpected success, which resulted in Bronze making the band go to the studio that same year in order to record a third musical effort and ride their current wave of success. And while their third album, Bomber, is far from being a commercial or artistic dud (actually, it sold very well and it’s a very solid release), it had a much crisper and cleaner production, which can make a band like Motörhead lose some of their bite and edge.
“I can’t say it’s an album I am happy with,” said Lemmy in 1979. “The songs are all good, but Jimmy Miller (the producer)… well, we made the mistake of letting him do what he wanted without arguing. Sure, Bomber sold well. But I doubt we’ll work with Jimmy again. He has his own demons to deal with, and it made him difficult and unreliable.”
Regardless of the production, how rushed it was and the complications with the producer, I can personally say that I find Bomber to be one of the most interesting Motörhead releases as it maintains Overkill’s musical diversity while adding a somewhat more melodic and rhythmic approach to things. Dead Man Tell No Tales is a personal favorite of mine and the title track is one of the band’s most famous songs, but there is much to like about this album and it’s often forgotten because it’s located between two classic periods in the band’s career.
This was also a very interesting period in Motörhead’s career because the band was starting to establish themselves in the music business while getting a lot of rejection from the specialized press and a lot of love from the bands. They were also a very unique musical act; Lemmy and the boys didn’t belong to Metal, Rock or Punk, but they were rather an hybrid of all these musical leanings and did so with charisma, personality and a very gruff attitude to everything going on in their trajectory to the top.
“This is what it’s all about,” Lemmy said. “Everyone’s just out to have a good time, and that’s what I’m all about as well. If we can put smiles on faces, we’ve done our job.”
And the eighties were coming and so was Motörhead.
“I want to shove our music in the faces of all those muthafuckers who said we were a waste of time. Is that me being vindictive? Yes, it is. But I’m fed up with know-nothing music industry arseholes who think they know what good music is. They’re the sort who’d have told Little Richard he was wasting his time when he first started.”
There is no discussion where wild, challenging and incredibly successful for Motörhead as the band was already proven and with enough experience to withstand a new decade as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and the upcoming Thrash Metal wave in the United States, all influenced by Motörhead, were starting to make noise in the music business. Lemmy, Clarke and Taylor were not worried about it as they managed to kick start the decade with what is widely considered their best and most important release of all time: 1980’s Ace of Spades.
Sometimes it can be very difficult for a lot of iconic albums to live up to the hype and legend that they have developed throughout the years, but I can safely say that Ace of Spades is actually that good and I can also state why: it’s the musical pinnacle of this Motörhead lineup as they had experience, knowledge of each other and enough skill and talent to build an album of this ilk. Ace of Spades is intense, gruff and powerful, but it’s also musical, skillful and with the musicianship of three seasoned individuals that know their way around a studio and a stage.
Of course, the title track would become the band’s signature song and the one they are most famous for, often to the point of annoyance (Lemmy in his 2002 autobiography, White Line Fever, was very clear that he was sick of playing that song live, but that he was doing it for the fans). And quite frankly, it’s simply an awesome song. It’s Motörhead at their core: fast, dangerous and with lyrics that I think define the group’s attitude towards music and life quite.
“He might have written it in the fucking shitter for all I know,” Clarke humorously said in 2017. “He used to do that. We’d say: ‘Man, we need some fucking lyrics for this.’ So he used to go for a shit and write the lyrics. But if he said he wrote it in a Transit van, then you’ve got to believe him.”
And even though that song is phenomenal and a great hit that propelled the band’s commercial success, just focusing on them would be doing a disservice to what is one of the greatest albums in the history of Rock music. It also provided the band with the opportunity of making their first live album and one that is widely regarded as the best of their careers and one of the greatest of Rock/Metal history: No Sleep ‘Till Hammersmith of 1981.
This live concert shows what is considered as Motörhead’s definitive lineup at the peak of their powers and showing the sheer intensity, power and precision that this band always had. A Motörhead concert is a life-changing experience and here you can see the band firing on all cylinders, providing the best live versions of most of their classics and also of tracks that perhaps that didn’t get a lot more attention throughout the years.
Lemmy and the boys were constantly being pushed more and more by their label, Bronze, which led Taylor to the belief that they were working more so that they wouldn’t be aware that they were getting ripped off because of the lack of money they were making at the time despite the success that Ace of Spades enjoyed. The band went to the studio to record what would become 1982’s Iron Fist, but the producer quickly left the project and “Fast” Eddie Clarke decided to take the role himself because Lemmy at the time was very busy drinking and partying harder than ever before during the band’s trajectory.
“I was pissed off ’cause we let Eddie produce it,” Lemmy said in the Motörhead documentary The Guts and Glory. “I wasn’t at the time, though. Fair play. But it became obvious after it was released – I sort of sobered up and realized it was garbage, most of it. And there’s at least three songs on there that weren’t even finished. We just finished them in the studio, you know, like cobbled it together. It just was a substandard album. But the trouble is how do you follow a live album that went straight in at #1? There’s nothing you can do.”
And while Iron Fist sold well for Motörhead at the time and I find it to be a very solid release (the title track, America, Speedfreak and Go To Hell are personal favorites of mine, showing the lineup’s capacity still at their peak), it was a hard hit on their trust to each other and resulted in the end of the lineup, with “Fast” Eddie Clarke fired due to the disputes in the production side of things. “I just didn’t realize that Lemmy had sort of gone to war with me. I didn’t find out until 20 years later,” Clarke said of the situation many years later.
But Lemmy has never been one to give up and quickly started the search for a new guitarist and decided to go for former Thin Lizzy guitar player, Brian “Robbo” Robertson. “I didn’t really know him that well,” Taylor said of Robertson in The Guts and the Glory. “But I always thought he was one of the best guitar players in the world.”
Robertson was without a doubt a very talented and capable guitar player, but he wasn’t too fond of the aggressive nature of Motörhead and that would prove to be quite challenging for his relationship with Lemmy and Taylor. “I said, ‘If I’m going to be part of the band, then we really need to change the direction here, because I can’t play that old Motorhead stuff; it’s just too in your face,’” Robertson said in 2011. “I wanted to do something a little bit more melodic with it and they told me to go ahead, so I started writing.”
The result of this was 1983’s Another Perfect Day, which is perhaps one of Motörhead’s most controversial works due to the more melodic approach to things, so if you’re a longtime fan of the band is very likely that you don’t find it as appealing, but I find it to be an album that grows on you and where you can tell that Robertson, while someone that was always at odds with Lemmy and Taylor, has a very positive influence in the songs and he is usually the star of brilliant tracks such as I Got Mine, Tales of Glory, Back At The Funny Farm and Die You Bastard. And while the album was moderately successful on a commercial level and it was initially rejected by the fans, I think Another Perfect Day is perceived on a better light these days.
But as I have mentioned before, Robertson was never a great fit with Motörhead and his personality and music perceptions clashed too much with what Lemmy wanted the band to be. “Making Another Perfect Day was fucking torture,” Lemmy said in The Guts and the Glory. “Brian would take 17 hours doing a guitar track. It fuckin’ took so long compared with the other albums. And then when it was released everybody fucking hated it.”
The aftermath of Another Perfect Day was pretty chaotic for Motörhead. Coming into the mid-80s, they were no longer the biggest hotshots in extreme Metal and Thrash and Heavy Metal were becoming much more notorious in the underground and mainstream media while Motörhead basically imploded with Robertson leaving the band due to the aforementioned artistic differences and Taylor left in 1984 due to problems with Lemmy at the time, which resulted in the latter taking three full years to make another Motörhead release, but it was one hell of a comeback: 1986’s masterful Orgasmatron.
In order to make one of the strongest and heaviest albums in the band’s career, Lemmy surrounded himself quite properly: he got the services of former Saxon drummer, Pete Gill, and also made auditions to get a guitarist, but since he couldn’t decide between the last two, he ended up choosing both: Michael “Würzel” Burston on lead guitar and Phil “Wizzö” Campbell, with the latter remaining in the band until their end in 2015.
If there were people missing the heavy and powerful pounding sound of classic Motörhead, well, I have to say that Orgasmatron is exactly what you were looking forward. Whether it’s the sheer insanity of Lemmy’s vocal performance on Claw, the style and hard edge of Deaf Forever (with lyrics more reminiscent to Viking Metal), the hymn that is the title track or mighty bullet train that is Ridin’ with the Driver, this album is one of Motörhead’s strongest offerings and I duly recommend you to listen to it because every single song here is a winner.
While Pete Gill had a strong performance on drums, at least from my perspective, his band mates were not getting along too well with him and he was removed from his position, with Taylor coming back to the role once again. “Peter was his own worst enemy,” Lemmy said in his autobiography, White Line Fever. “He was another one who wouldn’t just be content in the band. He went up against me on a couple of decisions, and he was making Phil and Wurzel upset too. I got tired of him moaning, so when he kept us waiting while he hung around in the lobby of his hotel for twenty minutes while he read the paper or something, that was the proverbial last straw. I know it sounds trivial, but most flare-ups in families are, aren’t they? And a band is a family.”
Proverbial straws or not, with Taylor back in the fold, Motörhead released what would be their last album in the 80s and the last one Lemmy would make before relocating to Los Angeles from the UK: 1987’s Rock ‘n’ Roll.
While it’s always great to listen to a Motörhead album with Taylor on drums and Würzel and Phil Campbell are two extremely capable guitar players, I can’t help but think that Rock ‘n’ Roll feels a bit more flat than Orgasmatron and somewhat less inspired. You can still enjoy some great rockers like Blackheart or The Wolf, but I think it’s not the band’s best effort and a somewhat unfitting end to what was an otherwise extremely profitable era in the band’s career.
It was also in 1987 when the band appeared on the Peter Richardson film Eat the Rich and where the band supplied six different songs for the soundtrack, which propelled Motörhead’s profile on the mainstream media a bit more and started to give Lemmy the cultural status he already had as one of the most influential musicians of the 80s.
The rest of the decade would be about the band touring all over the world, legal struggles with the label GWR records, a new deal with the label Epic and also had to cope with Lemmy getting hospitalized when he was struck by a sharp object thrown by the crowd in a concert they did in Yugoslavia. And yet, Lemmy, continued and finished the concert, proving the type of man and committed musician he was.
WTG, an Epic Records subsidiary, gave Motörhead a lot of time and financial resources to make the best possible album and that was part of the reason they moved to Los Angeles: to make a bigger impact in the American market. “When they said ‘pre-production’, we replied, ‘Oh, you mean like rehearsal time?’” Taylor said many years later about the backing they received. “They said, ‘No, no, no, guys… pre-pro-duc-tion.’ And it was like, ‘Oh, we’ve never done that before.’”
Every single decade proved to be a new challenge for Motörhead, but the 90s were a complete different animal to deal with and Lemmy and the boys were ready and willing.
“There was an interview in England for The Daily Express. They asked Lemmy’s three favorite bands and guitarists and Lemmy had said Jimmy Hendrix, Jeff Beck, and me. I photocopied it and sent it to everyone I know. He doesn’t try to dictate at all. It’s all an equal musical and business partnership. We all earn the same money.”
The 1990s were perhaps the most challenging era for pure Metal and Hard Rock bands al over the whole because the mainstream media lost interest in them in favor of the rise of Grunge, Alternative, Nu Metal and Groove Metal during the different installments of the decade. Also, most of the biggest Hard Rock bands of the 1980s were on the end of their contracts with the labels and the latter didn’t want to pay copious amounts of money for them, so they decided to go with the likes of Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pantera and others.
In short, you had two choices in the 90s: to go with the new trends of the times or go more extreme, with the Death and Black Metal scenes becoming much wider and evolving during the decade. Motörhead decided keep going with the sound and attitude that defined them and also experimenting at the same time, which resulted in the bizarre experience that is their 1991 album 1916.
This album is one of the most varied and experimental works in their career, which yet again proves that the notion that Motörhead always recorded the same album is rather foolish and misleading. Regardless, 1916 had a lot of backing from their label, but they also took way too long to record it and they even had to postpone 1990 UK tour on December to keep the recording process going.
“We haven’t had any time to rehearse a live show and Motörhead don’t believe in giving below-par performances,” Lemmy said when announcing that they were postponing that tour. “It’s better that we wait till the New Year and give our fans not only our best LP ever, but our best ever tour as well.”
And while I wouldn’t dare to say 1916 is the best Motörhead album, I can say that it was a very strong way to open the new decade and worth the wait after four years without the band releasing a new LP. There is a lot of musical variety here, with No Voices in the Sky, the title track (a haunting ballad about the horrors of war), the Punk blaster R.A.M.O.N.E.S., the power ballad Love Me Forever, the Heavy Metal classic Going to Brazil and the fantastic opener The One To Sing The Blues being some of the strongest tracks in the album and definitely worth your time.
The album was a commercial success and the band was bigger than they ever were, even going as far as getting a nomination for 1992 Grammy for Best Metal Performance, but they lost to Metallica’s Black Album. And when Lemmy and the boys were accused of being sellouts due to the success of 1916, the bassist and vocalist had it very clear:
“I don’t give a damn what people say,” Lemmy said at the time. “Why should I stay in England? I lived there for almost 44 years and almost starved as a musician. I hadn’t been in the States for two years before we got our first Grammy nomination.”
Despite the Grammy nomination, Motörhead never felt too comfortable with a big label and the label seemed to feel the same way as they let them go with ease, with the band being managed by a couple of different people, including Ozzy Osbourne’s wife and manager, Sharon. But they finally decided to go with Todd Singerman, who worked with the band until Lemmy’s passing in 2015.
The band got back to the studio to record their 1992 release, March ör Die, but there were problems in the recording process as Taylor was struggling to play and make music, which was exponentially getting worse as time went on.
“He just didn’t have it for some reason,” Campbell said in Joel McIver’s Motörhead biography Overkill: The Untold Story of Motörhead. “It was getting bad. He couldn’t play four bars without fucking up. For three years when he rejoined, we gave it our best shot, but… he couldn’t see anything wrong with his drumming, which was even worse. We’d be in the studio practicing and he’d be out washing his car.”
This resulted in Taylor just being part of one song, I Ain’t No Nice Guy (which also featured a duet of Lemmy with Ozzy) and the vast majority of the album being recorded by former Whitesnake drummer Tommy Aldridge, with the hit single Hellraiser having future long term Motörhead drummer Mikkey Dee on drums.
Eventually, Dee would join the band for the tour and on a permanent basis, which would prove to be one of Lemmy’s smartest decisions as Dee is one of the most consistent, talented and capable drummers in the world, playing with Motörhead until its demise. That doesn’t mean, the early years were not very easy for Dee as the band was having a hard time trusting his way of making music given that it was very different to Taylor’s more free-flowing approach to things.
“I said, ‘You have to listen to me – I’m setting the tempos and I’m staying on the beat.’ Without bragging, my meter is pretty good’,” Dee said in 2016, after the band’s demise and now playing for the Scorpions. “These guys were going all over the place because they never listened to the drummer. Taylor was a great drummer in his style and he fit Motorhead perfectly, but he listened to Lemmy and followed these guys.”
“He didn’t put his foot down and stand his ground, so it took me several world tours before they leaned on me and trusted me. As soon as we did that, we sounded so much better.”
Dee was absolutely right with that last part and while March ör Die is a fun album, with the classic gritty and gruff feel of Motörhead, it was perhaps too commercial for my taste. Regardless, it does feature some solid guitar work from Campbell and Würzel.
As if the band was aware of March ör Die’s uneven qualities and the fact that 1993 was perhaps the year that the world of music was less interested in what a band like Motörhead had to say and do, they decided to go for a more streamlined and Rock ‘n’ Roll-based sound in the aptly titled Bastards. “We made a conscious attempt to kick more ass,” Würzel said at the time, quickly showing what the mindset was while making the album.
And kicking ass they did as Bastards is the strongest album they made since 1986’s Orgamastron: fast, violent, aggressive and even thought-provoking lyrics like Don’t Let Daddy Kiss Me, which deals with child abuse and it was a testament that the band was angry, hungry and eager to prove themselves in perhaps the most challenging of times for a band of their caliber. This was the era where they signed with the German and dance-based label, ZYX Music, which was an independent company and that wasn’t a very smart move as Bastards was very hard to get for a long time due to the label going under.
Regardless, Bastards was a move in the right direction and 1995’s Sacrifice, now working with another German label but more Metal-based, Steamhammer/SPV GmbH, was a consolidation of that sound and that direction, with Dee finally achieving the greatness and input that he had back in his King Diamond days. This was quite likely Motörhead’s best album in the 90s and one where they took a lot of influence from the Thrash Metal bands they inspired the decade before, almost like showing them how it was done.
This is also the last album Würzel recorded with the band given that he was no longer very interested in Motörhead’s direction and wasn’t very comfortable living in the United States at the time. “Würz was great, really up for it at the start,” Campbell said about his exit. “He was always laughing and joking. That lasted for quite a few years, but towards the end he wasn’t quite so interested.”
Despite that, Würzel couldn’t have wished a better musical farewell because Sacrifice still holds up extremely well and loved by the fans and band members alike. It’s a shame that came in the mid-90s, when Metal wasn’t getting a lot of mainstream attention, but Lemmy and the boys have never cared about it–they believed in what they were doing and that was never as clear as was their assault in the 90s. The title track, War for War, Out of the Sun, All Gone to Hell… the whole damn album is a masterpiece.
Now a trio, the longest-lasting (and in my personal opinion, the definitive) Motörhead lineup was established: the trio of Mikkey Dee on drums, Phil Campbell on guitar and Lemmy Kilmister on bass and guitar. And as if they wanted to make a statement that they were still up to the task without Würzel, 1996’s Overnight Sensation came out and became the band’s most underrated work of all time, in my opinion. Everything about this album rocks, with Campbell stealing the show and working in perfect cohesiveness with Dee and Lemmy.
One thing that is worth pointing out is that their new label was truly invested on them and gave them a chance to record Sacrifice and Overnight Sensation with a lot of backing. “What they did is that they did their job,” said Dee when promoting their 1996 release. “That’s what they are doing. We’re as amazed as you are.”
Despite that and the streak of fantastic releases they made in the mid-90s, their next work, 1998’s Snake Bite Love, was a very different experience and an album with a lot of highs and low. Lemmy had a somewhat kind perception of the album, but admitted in his autobiography that it was very rushed and “all over the place”. Mikkey Dee, on the other hand, wasn’t so kind.
“We were stressed out of our minds when we did that album,” Dee said in the book Overkill: The Untold Story of Motörhead. “It turned out OK, but no more than OK. We all know it; we should’ve had three more weeks on that and it would’ve been a great album. I blame it completely on the time we had. For instance, we put on the worst song we ever had, which is Night Side, it’s the worst shit we’ve ever done, and we thought it was shit when we did it. We had no time to write another tune, we had nothing left…So we all feel the same about that album. I’ve heard people say, ‘That’s the best album you’ve got’ and I’m like ‘What planet are you from?’”
While I don’t think it’s the best album that the band has produced and it’s certainly an unfitting end to what was an otherwise great decade for Motörhead in terms of musicianship, Snake Bite Love has some interesting tracks and I find tracks like Dogs of War and Joy of Labour to be some of the strongest songs of the whole thing. It’s just not up to the level of Bastards, Sacrifice or Overnight Sensation, but, how many albums in the band’s catalogue can compare to those works?
Well, a new decade was coming and Motörhead, now fully established as a trio once again and the strongest lineup they ever had, still had a lot to prove.
“I still believe in rock’n’roll. I’m bitter and twisted, but strangely optimistic and full of fluffy gentleness – like a little bunny.”
The early 2000s had a small Heavy Metal resurrection, with many great bands from past decades like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and others going back to their classic lineups and sound, enjoying arena tours and mainstream attention that they completely missed for the vast majority of the 90s. This was certainly the case with Motörhead, but they have been extremely consistent throughout their careers and I think they entered the new millennium in much better shape than the majority of their contemporaries.
They came out strong in 2000 with the release of We Are Motörhead, which is a title that already tells you what the band’s intent was: they were going for the jugular and I have to say that they succeeded with an album that is loud, powerful, extremely well-crafted and with the experience of a trio that know each other and know their way around a studio. This album also counted with the help of Bob Kulick as a producer, who is known for having worked as that and as a guitarist for Kiss, W.A.S.P., Alice Cooper and many others.
There is much to like about this album whether it’s the pounding aggression of Wake The Dead, the sly attitude of Stay Out of Jail or even the Sex Pistols cover, God Save the Queen. It’s one of the strongest Motörhead albums of the last two decades and I agree with Lemmy when he stated on his autobiography that this album didn’t get enough credit.
Having said that, after Lemmy went through some health issues and going through the traumatic experience that was the 9/11, the band’s mood and focus wasn’t the greatest when they made the 2002 album, Hammered. While not a bad album by any means, you can tell a less precise and aggressive Motörhead, to the point they almost feel somewhat subdued. Having said that, the song The Game gained a lot of notoriety because it was used as the entrance song for the wrestler Triple H.
“It’s not our song, it’s their song, but Triple H said he’d like for us to record it for him to use,” Lemmy said in 2002 while promoting the album. “But they’ve got another band that recorded it now; it’s terrible; Triple H don’t like it.”
This was also the time where Lemmy was fully established as not only a legend within the Rock and Metal communities, but also as a cultural icon of British Rock music, whether he cared for it or no, while also further establishing his views on multiple topics of our day and age. “People don’t know how to be outrageous anymore,” he said in an interview in 2004 and it’s still hard to disagree with him sixteen years later.
But that status seemed to motivate him considering that in 2004 he released what is widely considered the best Motörhead in decades and what I consider a modern classic of the Metal genre, Inferno. I find this work to be the pinnacle of this lineup’s trajectory and a perfect mix of the wide variety of influences that have defined Motörhead, plus a modern production that makes everything louder, clearer and a lot deadlier.
Fight is one of the most direct and powerful tracks in the band’s career, Terminal Show is a savage opener (also counting with Steve Vai helping out in guitar), In The Year of the Wolf is a great Hard Rock track with a more melodic approach to things, Down on Me is rough and mighty with some of the best riffs of Campbell’s career… the whole album is just near flawless and my personal favorite of their entire discography. It just clicks, with Lemmy, Mikkey and Phil giving performances for eternity. It’s that good and that memorable. Motörhead at their absolute best.
It was during this time that the band had firmly established a steady schedule of recording an album and touring, which resulted in a lot of fans seeing the band multiple times in different places.
“Some people plan their whole vacations with us, to come on an American tour or something,” Lemmy said in 2014. “I mean, Klaus from Germany showed up in Brazil! A lot of them kids learned about the world through us – they might never have gone outside their own country otherwise. We’re a cultural phenomenon!”
The follow up to Inferno was 2006’s Kiss of Death, which I find it to be a step down from the previous album, but still very good and more of a grower as I find the songs to be a little bit more complex. “We want to sort of evolve but we don’t want to evolve so the band is recognizable,” Campbell said while promoting the album. “We write songs for the three of us, we don’t write them for anyone else, we don’t write for people who buy the records. I know it’s a strange thing to say but we don’t write for people who buy ’em ’cause we write what we want to write for the three of us.”
It’s a good album and songs like God Was Never On Your Side, Under the Gun and Kingdom of the Worm are all phenomenal, so you should definitely give it a shot. But regardless of opinions on Kiss of Death, 2008’s Motörizer proved to be another return to form and a clear statement that Motörhead, now in their fourth decade in the music business, were stronger than ever and releasing consistent quality music on a regular basis, which is something that not all their contemporaries can say.
“Yeah it’s me & Phil that pretty much comes up with the music for every album since I joined the band,” Dee in 2008 when talking about the band’s writing process in the instrumental side of things. “I sing a riff for Phil, I obviously can’t play it as good but I hear melodies and me & Phil are working it out.”
They also did an historical tour in 2008, doing shows with legends of the genre such as Testament, Judas Priest and Heaven and Hell. It was one of the greatest tours in the history of Metal and there was also some of the best banter that you can expect from people that have been so long in the business.
We can say that this decade was the era where Motörhead determined a formula to record albums (since Inferno they recorded all their albums in California in order to keep Lemmy rested since he was starting to have health issues), but it was one that worked and kept them as a well-oiled machine. Some people may say that a routine can lead to conformity, but Motörhead found the right balance between consistency and delivering a quality product.
And that was something they kept until their last decade in this world.
“If they stop you, then they do win. And they are not gonna beat me.”
Looking back on his career since his early Hendrix roadie days, one can’t help but feel respect for Lemmy’s output and dedication to his craft. Even though he is somewhat seen by some as an individual fully dedicated to debauchery, this was a man that truly loved music and always gave his 100% in every album he made, with no excuses, no pretentions and no desire to fit in with what was cool at any point of his career. Even his most experimental moments always stroke me as sincere and him not giving a damn about how people may react.
A man that never had time for religion or for cultists of any shape or form, even of the political spectrum. “The only interesting thing about religion is how many people it’s slaughtered,” Lemmy said in 2011. “Communism and Nazism are religions as well, make no mistake about it.”
So when I look back to Motörhead’s three albums in the 2010s, five years after Lemmy’s passing, I’m still amazed at how good these musical efforts even if they are not always the most precise. For example, 2010’s The Wörld Is Yours is the weakest release of the band’s output in this millennium, but I still think it’s fairly solid and well done –even when doing poorly, Motörhead are still pretty damn good.
This album has what defines this band aplenty: swagger, aggressiveness, skill and a lot of Rock ‘N’ Roll. It was also an important release because it was done with their own independent label, Motörhead Music. “Well, we just finished with our label, and it’s the same people controlling it because it was an American label and German run except they went bankrupt in the end,” Lemmy said in 2010. “They always treated us real good. So we kept the team on and we did our own little imprint for that album.”
But it seems that within their own routine Motörhead develop the habit of releasing a slightly less good album and follow it with a very strong release, which is the case of The Wörld is Yours being followed by the masterful Aftershock in 2013. The fact that Lemmy’s health was deteriorating every year after decades of excesses was a worrying sign, but once the album came out, we couldn’t be happier: tracks Heartbreaker (a modern classic in my view), Going to Mexico (a tribute to 1916’s Going to Brazil), the phenomenal piece of musicianship that is Lost Woman Blues and that bullet train that is Queen of the Damned are all examples that Lemmy, Phil and Mikkey could rock harder than the vast majority of Rock musicians in the history of the genre while being in their 60s.
2014 was a very complicated year for Motörhead as Lemmy’s health got a lot worse and they had to suspend a lot of concerts and tours in order for him to stabilize. And despite going through multiple health problems that looking back now can only be described as a perennial hell, Lemmy and the boys kept going, did a few shows after he recovered and in 2015 they released what would later become their last album, Bad Magic.
Opinions on this album have been somewhat divisive and I can understand people saying that Bad Magic sounds a little off here and there plus being somewhat inconsistent in terms of quality, but I’ll admit that my opinion is more biased due to the fact that the context in which it was made and the circumstances in which it was released makes it harder for me to give it a more objective opinion. The album has a certain ominous feel to it and I find it fitting considering that this was Motörhead’s last album.
When the Sky Comes Looking for You is definitely the greatest winner of the whole album and it seems a worthy ending to a career filled with challenges, struggles, victories, defiance, attitude and a lot of sincerity towards what they wanted. A song that is worthy goodbye to one of the biggest legends that Rock music has ever produced and a man that had more integrity than most bands combined.
Motörhead is a band that wasn’t supposed to make it. They weren’t supposed to become legends of the genre, influence millions and Lemmy becoming an icon of Rock music. But they did. They rejected the fate that was bestowed upon them by an industry that never believed them and they focused on working, trying harder and creating some of the best Hard music that we have ever listen. They didn’t play victim and they didn’t compromise; they did it their own way and that is the most Rock ‘N’ Roll someone can do: to stand your ground and principles in the face of adversity.
I don’t see Lemmy as a mere man or musician. I see him as the ultimate personification of what Rock music is and what you can accomplish when you don’t listen to any bastard that tries to grind you down.
And for that reason alone, I celebrate Lemmy, I celebrate Motörhead and I celebrate Rock music.
“I’ve had a good life. A good run.”