The A-Z Guide To Motorhead
Motorhead's incredible 40 year career arranged into alphabetical order
Formed in 1975, and taking their name from the American slang for speedfreak, Motörhead, put simply, played rock 'n' roll. But they were more than that, so much more; they were an inspiration, a lifestyle, the very embodiment of rock 'n' roll, and since frontman/bassist Lemmy Kilmister's death on December 28, 2015, there has not been a single day when they've not been sorely missed. It seems almost unfathomable that there is no more Motörhead, and never again will we wake up to ringing ears from their always deafeningly brilliant shows. Never again will we hear a new album. Instead, six months on from losing one of the greatest and most influential bands of all time, we celebrate and remember them with the A to Z of Motörhead. It goes without saying that this should be read with a Jack and Coke in hand, and Motörhead cranked up loud.
A is for Ace Of Spades
Contrary to popular belief, Lemmy never got sick of playing this, the title track of Motörhead's fourth studio album, and by far their most famous song. Indeed, when asked in one of his final interviews to pick his favourite Motörhead tune, he chose Ace Of Spades because it was the song that “did it for them.” That said, he did get sick of people only knowing the band for that track, and he sang “eight of spades” for two years without anyone noticing. “It could have been a lot worse,” he laughed. “We could have got famous for an absolute turkey and then you're singing that 'til the day you die.” Thankfully, Ace Of Spades remains an absolute classic.
B is for Bomber
Released just seven months after Overkill, Motörhead's third studio album, Bomber, reached an impressive number 12 in the UK album charts, and saw the arrival of their most enduring stage prop – a giant, aluminium lighting rig in the shape of a bomber, with revolving lights for propellers. Not that the bomber rig didn't come without risks, nearly crushing drummer Mikkey Dee on a couple of occasions when it 'flew' too low, and leaving him dangling twenty feet in the air at Wembley Arena when he clung onto it for what was supposed to be a ride of some three or four feet. When not in use, the bomber lived in a barn in Norwich and was frequently covered in pigeon shit.
C is for Covers
Pretty much every rock band of any worth has covered a Motörhead tune or two in their time, and Metallica famously dressed up as Lemmy, playing as set of Motörhead covers for Lemmy's 50th birthday party at the Whisky A Go-Go. But Motörhead themselves were equally known for their cover versions, with renditions of everything from the Sex Pistols' God Save The Queen to the Rolling Stones' Sympathy For The Devil. In fact, their first ever chart 'hit' was a cover of the Richard Berry standard, Louie Louie, and, technically, their eponymous anthem Motörhead is a cover, because Lemmy originally wrote it for his previous band Hawkwind.
D is for Dee, Mikkey
Born in Sweden in 1963 and recruited to Motörhead in 1992 having previously gained recognition with King Diamond and Don Dokken, Mikkey Dee was Motörhead's longest serving drummer, playing on 13 Motörhead albums in all – although he only played on one track, Hellraiser, on 1992's March Or Die. Regularly introduced by Lemmy as “the best drummer in the world”, Dee is known for his power and precision, and, rather ironically, couldn't play the song Motörhead because he couldn't replicate the sloppy style of former sticksman Philthy Animal Taylor. Following Lemmy's death it was announced that Dee would be joining Thin Lizzy for their 40th anniversary shows, but he has since taken on drumming duties for the Scorpions.
E is for Eat The Rich
Perhaps not without good reason, the Comic Strip film Eat The Rich received a lukewarm reaction when it was released in 1987. Despite an all star cast, including Comic Strip regulars Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson, and cameos from the likes of Paul McCartney, Bill Wyman and Jools Holland, it was hit and miss to say the least. But that's not to say that it didn't have it's moments, those moments largely involving Motörhead. Aside from Lemmy playing the role of anarchist sympathiser Spider, the film featured no less than six Motörhead tunes, including a performance of Doctor Rock, and the title track, Eat The Rich – written for the movie – contains the classic line, “Sitting here in a hired tuxedo/You wanna see my bacon torpedo!” Which, frankly, is a lot funnier than most of the script.
F is for Fast Eddie Clarke
When people talk about the 'classic' Motörhead line up, they are usually referring to the Kilmister/Clarke/Taylor era between the years of 1976 and 1982, which produced such monsters as Overkill, Bomber, and Ace Of Spades. Given that guitarist Fast Eddie Clarke was only in the band for six of their forty years, it's safe to say he left an indelible mark. Unfortunately, Clarke was disappointed with the way 1982's Iron Fist album turned out, and then further disgruntled when Lemmy did a cover of Stand By Your Man with Plasmatics singer Wendy O Williams – which Clarke produced – and this was cited as his reason for leaving the band. Although Clarke went on to form Fastway, he made no secret of the fact that he later regretted his decision to quit Motörhead. Well, you would, wouldn't you?
G is for Girlschool
Aside from Lemmy being 'romantically linked' with their late guitarist Kelly Johnson, Girlschool regularly toured with Motörhead, and in 1981 they joined forces as Headgirl to release the St Valentine's Day Massacre EP. It featured a cover of Johnny Kidd And The Pirates' Please Don't Touch on the A side, while the B side saw both bands cover each other's tunes, Girlschool playing Bomber, and Motörhead playing Emergency. Philthy Animal Taylor was recovering from a broken neck at the time, so drums on all three tracks were provided by Girlschool's Denise Dufort, with Philthy credited for 'insults and inspiration'. Rather splendidly, the EP reached number five in the UK charts, leading to a memorable appearance on Tops Of The Pops.
H is for Hawkwind
If not for the vigilance of Canadian customs officials there might never have been a Motörhead, but in May 1975 Lemmy was caught in possession of amphetamines at the border with the US, forcing his former band Hawkwind to cancel some shows while he was in jail. Thankfully, the customs officials weren't quite so smart when it came to identifying suspicious powders, mistakenly charging Lemmy with possession of cocaine, so the charges had to be dropped. But Hawkwind sacked him anyway for “doing the wrong drugs”. And, for that, we should be eternally grateful, because if Lemmy had never been fired he wouldn't have formed Motörhead. And a world in which Motörhead never existed would be shit.
I is for Iron Fist
It was never going to be an easy task following the classic live album No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith, especially since it debuted in the UK charts at number one, and sadly for Motörhead it proved all but impossible. Granted, there are some great songs on Iron Fist, not least the title track, which remained a live favourite for many years, but, by the band's own admission, getting guitarist Eddie Clarke to produce the album was a mistake. “It became obvious after it was released,” said Lemmy. “I sort of sobered up and realised it was garbage, most of it.” Despite reaching number six in the UK charts, Iron Fist failed to propel Motörhead to further heights, and was the last record of the Kilmister/Clarke/Taylor era. It probably didn't help the the Iron Fist stage prop malfunctioned, giving the audience a “rude gesture”.
J is for Jack Daniel's
Such was Lemmy's fondness for this Tennessee whiskey that a Jack and Coke was officially renamed in his honour after his death, Food And Beverage magazine announcing that the cocktail would now be known as a 'Lemmy'. Quite why they thought it necessary to add a twist of lemon is anyone's guess, since Lemmy's own recipe involved a half pint of Jack, the merest splash of Coke, and some ice if there was room in the glass (stir with finger). But it was fitting nonetheless since he drank a bottle of the stuff every day for 30 years, switching to vodka in later years “for health reasons”. Jack Daniel's themselves also honoured Lemmy with a limited edition signature whiskey, which immediately sold out.
K is for Killed By Death
Also released as a single, Killed By Death was one of four new songs featured on the 1984 double album compilation, No Remorse, and the first to showcase the then new line-up including guitarists Wurzel and Phil Campbell, and former Saxon drummer Pete Gill. Directed by Plasmatics manager Rod Swenson, the video for Killed By Death was, rather absurdly, banned by MTV for “excessive and senseless violence”, presumably because it shows Lemmy getting shot by police officers and then executed in an electric chair, only to return from the grave on the back of a Harley Davidson. Although it failed to dent the Top 40, Killed By Death remained on Motörhead's setlist for 30 years.
L is for Lemmy
Seriously, what the fuck else would L stand for but Lemmy? Let's just take a moment to remember that rock 'n' roll legend. Born Ian Fraser Kilmister, on December 24, 1945, Lemmy is said to have acquired his nickname from his habit of borrowing money from people to feed his gambling habit, but claimed that he had no idea where the name came from. Whatever the case, he was a true rock icon, and the world is a much crappier place for his passing, on December 28, 2015, just days after his 70th birthday. A quarter of a million people from all around the world tuned in to watch the live stream of his memorial, where Dave Grohl, Rob Halford and Lars Ulrich were among the speakers, and a statue of him is to be erected in his favourite drinkery, the Rainbow Bar and Grill on Sunset Strip.
M is for Motörhead
Again, what else would M stand for but Motörhead? It's the name of the fucking band, after all! The song, Motörhead, however, was, as previously mentioned, originally written for Hawkwind – the last tune Lemmy wrote for them before he was fired – penned, rather aptly, at 4am on the balcony of the Hyatt Hotel on Sunset Boulevard, and perhaps the ultimate ode to amphetamines. Early recordings of the song – both the Hawkwind version and the Motörhead version – maintained a reasonably sedate pace, but by the time it was put out as a live single in 1981, as befits a song about speed, it clattered along like a runaway train, having gathered considerable velocity. It remains the only top ten hit – and maybe the only song ever – to contain the word 'parallelogram'.
N is for No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith
It's very rare that a live album captures the true essence of a band, and it's easily possible to count the number of truly classic live albums on one hand. Hell, you could lose a couple of digits and still count them! Basically, there's AC/DC's If You Want Blood You've Got It, the Ramones' It's Alive, and Motörhead's No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith. Recorded at the Leeds and Newcastle dates of 1981s Short, Sharp, Pain In The Neck Tour (named after Philthy broke his neck, and on which, ironically, they didn't play Hammersmith), No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith is an absolute masterpiece, encapsulating the band at a time when they were simply untouchable, and giving them their first and only number one hit in the UK. And if you don't already, you should own a copy too!
O is for Overkill
The fact that at least half of the tracks from this, Motörhead's second studio album, remained on their setlist right up until their final shows tells you much of what you need to know about this brilliant, brilliant record. While the self-titled debut was raw, perhaps even a little clumsy in places, Overkill is where Motörhead truly hit their stride, the opening double bass drums beats of the show-stopping title track going on to be instantly recognisable and endlessly copied. Overkill by name and overkill by nature. That said, O should also be for Orgasmatron, an often overlooked gem from 1986, well worth a listen for tunes like Doctor Rock, Nothing Up My Sleeve, Ain't My Crime, and the mighty Mean Machine. Lemmy thought so, too, rerecording the title track during the Bad Magic sessions in 2015.
P is for Philthy Animal Taylor
Originally recruited to Motörhead in 1975 because he had a car and could drive the band to the studio, Phil Taylor, affectionately known as Philthy Animal, became one of the most influential rock drummers of all time. Admittedly, he wasn't the best drummer, his hooligan approach often sounding like a drum kit being thrown down a flight of stairs, but he oozed charisma and had a reckless style all of his own. Although Discharge are often credited for inventing D-beat, it was Taylor who inspired them. Aside from breaking his neck after being dropped on his head by a roadie in a drunken game, Taylor also played an entire tour with his drumstick gaffa taped to his hand after he broke that too, punching someone in the face. Sadly, Philthy died from liver failure in November 2015, just seven weeks before Lemmy passed.
Q is for Queen, God Save The
Lemmy once spent a fruitless two weeks trying to teach Sid Vicious to play bass, and always said that he had more of an affinity to punk than to metal, so it's no surprise that Motörhead covered this Sex Pistols classic back in 2000, the video for which was filmed on a double-decker bus in London. Lemmy also recorded a few tunes with The Damned for his still unreleased solo album, and, in fact, came close to joining the band, playing a one-off gig with them as The Doomed in 1978, at London's Electric Ballroom, and providing bass on a cover of the Sweet's Ballroom Blitz in 1979. In another nod to the punks, Lemmy wrote the track R.A.M.O.N.E.S., which the Ramones promptly adopted as their own.
R is for Robertson, Brian
Joining Motörhead in 1982, after Fast Eddie Clarke quit, ex-Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian 'Robbo' Robertson had some pretty big shoes to fill. Unfortunately, he filled them with ballet shoes and satin shorts, and refused to play many of the classics, which did not sit at all well with the fans. “Let's face it,” said Lemmy, “ballet shoes and Motörhead do not mix!” To make matters worse, Another Perfect Day, Robbo's one album with Motörhead, was “fucking hated”, showing a marked departure from their previous sound. Ironically, it has gone on to be ranked as one of the greats, a brilliant anomaly, with songs like Shine and I Got Mine finding their way back onto the setlist, but it certainly didn't do Motörhead any favours at the time. When asked if he'd seen any change in their audience over the years, Lemmy once responded, “Yeah, when Brian was in the band, it got a lot smaller!”
S is for Snaggletooth
Also known as The Iron Boar or The War Pig, Motörhead's iconic Snaggletooth logo was designed in 1975 by American artist Joe Petagno, and, in various forms, has graced the cover of nearly all Motörhead's 22 studio albums, becoming almost as synonymous with the band as Lemmy himself. No stranger to controversy over the years, Snaggletooth once featured a swastika – which was removed for obvious reasons – and on the brilliant Sacrifice album of 1995, had a penis for a tongue. “It's amazing how genitals can piss people off,” Petagno noted. “This is Lemmy's and my little joke.” The chipped and jagged teeth on the logo, incidentally, are based on Lemmy's own rotten chompers, before he got them fixed.
T is for Tramp
Often dedicated to the Hells Angels, the epic biker anthem Iron Horse/Born To Lose from Motörhead's debut album was co-written by Guy 'Tramp' Lawrence, then president of the London Hells Angels, with whom Lemmy lived in various squats. When Lemmy died, Tramp paid tribute to him, sharing his memories with Metal Hammer. “I remember one time walking into Lemmy's room,” he said. “He was playing Monty Python and getting a blow job! I'm not sure how that combination worked, but he seemed to be having a good time with it!” Not surprisingly, Tramp never walked into Lemmy's room again when Monty Python was playing.
U is for Umlaut
The umlaut – those two dots above the second O on Motörhead's name – has become a trademark for the band, as iconic as the Snaggletooth logo itself, and synonymous with metal. But, remarkably, according to designer Phil Smee, it came about by accident. Long before the days of Photoshop, he was working with dye-transfer lettering made by Letraset, the letters of which all had accents in case you were using another language. “Because it was sticky paper,” said Smee, “as I did the second O, the two dots that were over it came off as well.” The mistake, for which he was paid a handsome £30 in record store credit, looked “Germanic”, so he left it there. The rest, as they say, is history.
V is for Vibrator
Vibrator is the second track on the Motörhead album of 1977, and is credited to the band's original guitarist and ex-Pink Fairie Larry Wallis, and a chap called Des Brown, whose name pulls up nothing on Google. Suffice to say, it won't go down in the annals. But, speaking of annals – or at least something similar – Motörhead officially endorsed a line of sex toys last year, from a company called Lovehoney, who, as befits Motörhead, promised “the loudest buzz in the world”. The products are available with Ace Of Spades and Overkill logos, and probably best used when the neighbours are not home. Perhaps whilst listening to Orgasmatron.
W is for Wurzel
Born in October 1949, Michael Burston – better known as Wurzel – was one of Motörhead's most beloved guitarists, playing with them for 11 years, from 1984 to 1995. Acquiring his nickname from the TV scarecrow Worzel Gummidge, played by former Dr Who, Jon Pertwee, Wurzel was a former army corporal before joining Motörhead, and had played in the bands Bastard and Warfare. After leaving Motörhead, Wurzel played with crust punks Disgust and was briefly rumoured to be joining Poison Idea of whom he was a big fan. Before his death on July 9, 2011, he had been working on a new band Leader Of Down, although he'd made a few guest appearances with Motörhead. Devastated by his passing, Lemmy dedicated Motörhead's entire set at Sonisphere festival to his memory.
X is for XXXX
Nothing to do with the Australian beer, the four Xs on Motörhead's magnificent final album Bad Magic, represent the number forty in Roman numerals, marking the 40th anniversary of the band. The band were also keen on Latin phrases throughout their career, their last backdrop bearing the words 'victoria aut morte' apparently meaning 'by victory or death', while a dig through the t-shirt drawer finds a 1989 tour shirt with the words 'quid me anxius sum?', which means 'what, me worry?' Sadly, while it was probably foolish to wish for XXXXX, we must now add the phrase 'requiescat in pace'.
Y is for Young Ones, The
Despite numerous appearances on Top Of The Pops, many fans (including Slipknot's Corey Taylor and Orange Goblin's Ben Ward) were introduced to Motörhead by their performance on the now legendary Bambi episode of The Young Ones in 1984, in which they played Ace Of Spades while the show's protagonists leg it to the train station. Notable for being the first TV show to feature the then new line-up – guitarists Phil Campbell and Wurzel and a returned Philthy Animal Taylor – it is now considered television gold, and known word for word by any self-respecting Motörhead fan. “To The station!” “Music!”
Z is for Zoom
A member of Motörhead for an incredible 31 years, and their longest standing member other than Lemmy himself, Phil Campbell has endured all manner of self-inflicted nicknames over the years, including Zoom, Wizzo, Lord Axsmith, and latterly the more self-effacing Welsh Wanker. Ranking 20th in a poll of the top 100 Welsh heroes, Campbell first became known to Lemmy when his former band Persian Risk opened for Motörhead in the '80s, although he got Lem's autograph at a Hawkwind gig when he was just twelve years old. Too ill to travel to LA for Lemmy's funeral, he instead sent a wreath made to look like a line of speed, but has since recovered and begun work on a solo album.
A tribute to Lemmy is scheduled to take place at this year's Download festival on June 10, while A Salute To Lemmy with Phil Campbell, Mikkey Dee and Saxon is headlining this year's Golden God awards on June 13.