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While Motörhead previously recorded On Parole, which was shelved by the record company and later rerecorded, this is not only the first album to be released to the public but also the first to feature the classic lineup. After been given the boot from Hawkwind for being busted for drugs at the Canadian border, Lemmy decided he was going to create the world’s dirtiest rock 'n’ roll band, which he aptly called Bastard. After being convinced that Bastard was not commercially viable, the name was switched to the last Hawkwind song Lemmy wrote, “Motorhead”. Coming off like classic rock 'n’ roll reimagined for the greasiest, most hedonistic biker bar imaginable, Lemmy did succeed in creating some of the dingiest rock of the ‘70s (and he must have done something right, as Motörhead was one of the biggest influences for the earliest examples of extreme metal).
That said, I honestly don’t give this album the time of day very often. While some songs are much more memorable than others, it’s definitely an enjoyable album. The main problem here is no fault of the album – it’s that they’ve created other albums in the same style that are much better. However, Lemmy and company laid down one hell of a template here. This mixes old rock 'n’ roll, punk and early metal with a methamphetamine-laced outskirts of society vibe and the result is a hell of a lot of fun. Lemmy had a habit of correcting people who called Motörhead a metal band, saying they were either a punk or rock 'n’ roll band. While metal is clearly the genre Motörhead sonically best falls into, Lemmy was always more inspired by the likes of Little Richard than Black Sabbath (even if some of Iommi’s playing seeps into a few of the solos). This does have a decidedly rock n’ roll backbone, which they use as a springboard to explore the murky depths of the darker side of society. The one factor giving the band its most potent edge is Lemmy's vocals. The gruff just-chasing-my-whiskey-with-some-razorblades vocals are the one real showstopper here. For all their rough around the edges appeal, if you peel back the jack and coke drenched exterior, there's often quite a bit of catchy melody.
Half of this album is comprised of covers, probably a product of having to start from scratch after the original debut was rejected. Three out four of the cover songs are of songs that Lemmy sang on during his tenure in Hawkwind. While I do prefer the more expansive feel of the Hawkwind songs, reimagining these songs with a dirtier sound was not a bad idea. The song from which the band derives its name is the obvious victor of the three, with its testosterone-drenched attitude practically screaming for this heavier makeover.” Lost Johnny” is pretty cool, and the only one that doesn’t really make sense is “The Watcher”. Hawkwind’s original was a wonderful sun-soaked acoustic tune and the cover version just sounds like it could be any other song on the album, although it’s one of the weaker tracks as the songwriting doesn’t carry over particularly well. The final cover is of the classic 50’s rock n’ roll song “Train Kept-a-Rollin”, which the band updates wonderfully. As for the rest of the songs there are two that really stand out: the impossibly fun early punk ruckus of “Vibrator”, and easily the most metal of the bunch, “Iron Horse/Born To Lose”, with its grime-laden biker punch.
While the self-titled debut definitely sounds like the Motörhead we all know and love, this is a quite primitive form of the band. Featuring dirty barebones production and simplistic song structures, this largely relies on memorable songwriting and grit. The only thing not dead simple about this is the lead guitar, which is mostly a haze of bluesy rock n’ roll but also contain hints of the more melodic style that would punctuate 80’s metal. While this is far from being Lemmy’s crowning moment, it’s pretty interesting to hear the origins of this legendary band. And, hell, this is a pretty good album for what it is.
So this is what the 70s sounded like, at least in the rock'n'roll scene. My first encounter with Motörhead was their later and more well known work, such as Bastards or Ace of Spades a few years ago. Motörhead is apparently a band that needs no introduction, since they have been around longer than most of the people in the heavy metal scene today. Heck, they even could be the grandparents of most of them. On this record, Lemmy was 32 years old, which is a hard thing to imagine anyway. Listening to this album is pretty much like digging up an old time capsule. The content surprises you as much as it baffles you.
Back in the old days, Motörhead played fusion of fast paced punk music and dirty bar rock'n'roll. I'm still trying to imagine sitting in a bar, with a whiskey in my hand, talking to the barkeeper, talking with a pretty girl. But this illusion fades pretty fast, since this album is not really that groundbreaking as one would hope it to be. This is by far never Motörhead's legacy. This is flawed.
Now, I may not know how this sounded back in the days, since I only dug up the remastered version with the mediocre bonus tracks. But the "enhanced" version doesn't improve anything on this album - in fact, it even destroys what the late seventies were supposed to be: dirty. The sound on this record is, for that matter, not dirty, it's far more thin. The way Lemmy plays his guitars really is a trademark itself, but they don't save any single aspect on this album. In fact, this sounds like Elvis on really bad drugs (which can be a cool thing to imagine), but not really breathtaking. You see, the problem is not in the age of the record, but in its execution, which makes this album a sore to listen to. Needless effects in both guitar and voice shriek out of the speakers without capturing one's attention very well. The song structure is boring, but has good moments here and there, but without climaxing in any way. One can see a few parallels between Black Sabbath's debut and Motörhead's first album in form on vocals on occasion, which are neither sung at an impressively trained level nor distorted enough to make you want to spit on everything that's a thorn in your life, due to the high level of self-expression. Take Lemmy's vocals on later albums, for example. If that guy doesn't want to make you drive down a highway with a toothpick in your mouth and a pair of nicely polished sunglasses, then I give up. At least Lemmy's vocals are much better and tolerable than Ozzy's back in the days, no doubt.
The cool material made on this album exists in the form of the snappy bass and grooving drums. You really get a nice 70s groove feel out of that (and not to mention from the soli, that are amazing on occasion). Songs "Keep us on the road" or "Iron Horse/Born to Lose" are some of the better ones on the album, succeeding where other songs on the album fail. For instance the mood is a little bit more doomy than on the others and has a melancholic feel to it. Fits the term "biker rock" well. The atmosphere you get from the jumpy drum patterns and mid paced, cheeky guitar riffs can get you going, if you are in the mood for it. Taking a closer look, one realizes that this album has its own good metal/rock'n'roll parts, as well as a lot of noisy punk garbage that is even obsolete for that particullar period of time.
Conclusion: For die hard fans of Motörhead, surely a nice cd/tape to have in your collection, but will not get as many spins as other Motörhead stuff.
This seems to be the forgotten Motorhead album. Like the other reviewer, I can't understand why that is. However, this is a bit of a gem if you want some scuzzy biker-punk-metal-rock, so if you're a Motorhead fan and don't have it you're only cheating yourself!
Motorhead came into existence just prior to the UK punk explosion of 1976/1977. With the evidence offered on this album, the band could have quite easily cut their hair and masqueraded as Punks. Motorhead, City Kids, Vibrator, each of those tracks could have been classed as 'Punk'. City Kids wouldn't have sounded out of place on the first Clash album, Vibrator could have been The Buzzcocks.
But Motorhead (thankfully!) weren't about bandwagon jumping. So what you get with this album is a strange crossover of styles of the era, quite simply a mixture of classic Punk and early 70's proto-Metal/Biker Rock.
The CD reissue includes a number of bonus tracks, a couple of which are essential (City Kids, On Parole) and a couple of covers (Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers, I'm Your Witchdoctor) which sound completely out of place and rather weak in comparison to the rest of the album. Apparently these covers were recorded at the same sessions as the rest of the material, but they have a totally different vibe and lightweight sound.
Here's a brief track by track rundown:
1. Motorhead - A heavily distorted speedfreak anthem. Manages to out-Punk much of what passed for Punk in 1977. Let down by strangely bad drumming.
2. Vibrator - Another track that would have given any Punk band of '77 a run for their money.
3. Lost Johnny - I'm not a huge fan of this one. Apparently it's an old Hawkind number. Very much a typical early 70's Rock style track, but just ploughs on verse after verse after verse with nothing much happening, until the very end when there's a fantastic little guitar coda, which would have worked well had it also appeared earlier in the song to act as a hook, something this song sorely lacks.
4. Iron Horse/Born To Lose - The Biker Rock anthem. Vaguely Sabbathy at times. It's a bit mid-paced, carried by a sub-Zeppelin riff.
5. White Line Fever - I'm not sure how to try and describe this. There's a Punk/Metal riff going on in there somewhere, but it's just swamped by noise and reverb, and there's no lyrical melody, it's just a shouty noisy mess of a song. If it had been slowed down a little and recorded as well as the next track, it could have been a classic....
6. Keep Us On The Road - THE forgotten Motorhead classic. This could have been recorded for the Overkill, Bomber or Ace Of Spades and not sounded out of place. It's pretty mid-tempo, but it powers and grooves along incessantly on a catchily punchy and simple riff. Also features a bass solo.
7. The Watcher - More 70's riff-Rock. The spooky vocal line gives me the halloween creeps, but there's some great guitar work going on here, from the main riff to the frenzied phased soloing at the end.
8. Train Kept A Rollin'- A pretty tame cover version. I would have expected Motorhead to grab this one round the throat and shake it to pieces, but instead they offered it a comfy seat, a cup of tea and a pat on the head.
9. City Kids - And we're back to a classic Punk sound. Originally a Pink Fairies track, Motorhead take this and turn into something that rivals any Punk track from the mid 70's. This is the first of the bonus tracks, originally being the B-side to the Motorhead single.
10. Beer Drinkers And Hell Raisers - The first of the covers I previously mentioned. Not a very good song anyway, doesn't fit with the other material and sounds very thin. That was probably why it was left off the album in the first place.
11. On Parole - Midpaced tempo, with a similar type of guitar groove to the later Going To Brazil or Born To Raise Hell, that kind of bar-room boogie type riff, with a nice shouty chorus. I can't understand why this and City Kids were left off the original album.
12. Instro - A very short riff driven instrumental. The band play competently enough, it's rather noisy, but there's really nothing special about this track. It's obviously just here as a bonus track, a piece of filler.
13. I'm Your Witch Doctor - The second of the bonus covers, see my Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers comment.
Just to finish off, I have to add that this album was the SECOND recording of many of these tracks. When Motorhead first formed in 1975 they recorded an album for United Artists (called On Parole) featuring many of the tracks shown above. That album was rejected by the record company and shelved until 1979 when Motorhead started to hit big with Overkill. These two albums may contain many of the same songs, but they are played by different line-ups under different circumstances, so they sound VERY different. On Parole has great production and a much cleaner and melodic guitar sound. The version of the album I've reviewed here (titled Motorhead) has very dirty production and a much rougher all round feel to it. Motorhead is the the one your neighbours will HATE!
For some reason, Motorhead's '79-'81 output gets all the praise, yet this album seems to go unmentioned. Exactly why is anyone's guess - the songwriting here stands very nicely on its own. This album may not be a constant stream of well-known tracks, or a steady succession of signature NWOBHM/speed metal moments, like 'Ace of Spades' for instance; in actuality it has more in common, perhaps, with the primal form of traditional heavy metal, as some of these songs would have been quite at home on one of Black Sabbath's (or even Judas Priest's) '70s efforts. Lemmy may not consider Motorhead to be part of the "metal movement", but the fact remains that Motorhead and heavy metal in general were products of the same process with the same source materials: the proggy, quasi-epic remnants of acid rock, streamlined and solidified into a loud, lumbering and archetypal style of expression.
It is a bit unfortunate that the album-opening title track does not quite live up to its promise here - the mix isn't the best, the vocals sound strained and the drums are somewhat ham-handed. Nevertheless, 'Motorhead' is a fitting introduction to the band, with its vigorous speed, its opening distorted bassline, and the lyrical subject matter which quite literally gave birth to the definition "speed metal", although the ill-fated 'On Parole' album features a more interesting version (and, of course, there's always the definitive live one, off 'No Sleep Til Hammersmith').
'Lost Johnny' (which like 'Motorhead' used to be a Hawkwind song) has metamorphosed here into a red-blooded traditional metal tune - perhaps more melodic than the usual Motorhead fare - which could have appeared on any of the seminal albums by other '70s metal pioneers, and brings to mind a few successors as well, what with the same characteristic rhythm pattern which later propelled such songs as Maiden's 'Wrathchild' and Venom's 'In League With Satan'. The heavy, almost Sabbath-like 'Iron Horse/Born To Lose' and the frenetic, agitated 'White Line Fever' are other highpoints, as is the midpaced, quasi-epic amphetamine hymn 'Keep Us On The Road', featuring an excellent little bass solo. 'The Watcher' - yet another redone Hawkwind song - has also gone far since the original acoustic version, presented here as a somewhat understated but creepy tune that sounds straight out of something like 'Sin After Sin' with its vague psychedelic overtones and reverberating guitar.
The Yardbirds cover 'The Train Kept A Rollin' and the closing track 'City Kids' could have been dispensed with; the CD version also adds the contents of the 'Beer Drinkers' EP - recorded at the same sessions - which is mostly disposable material as well; a ZZ Top cover, a plaintive and uninteresting rock'n'roll song, an instrumental, and another vapid cover (of the Bluesbreakers this time). Nevertheless, the main segment of the album stands very nicely on its own alongside the next three albums and solidifies Motorhead's position in the '70s metal/NWOBHM hierarchy; and considering that most of the material here was recorded in two days, that is no small feat.