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Throughout the metal genre's constant evolution, there are three bands that epitomize heavy metal to my ears. Not thrash, not death, not power, but unadulterated pure heavy metal. Those three bands are Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and last but certainly not least, Motörhead. While Sabbath invented doom metal, and Priest combined Sabbath's developments of doom with raw speed and aggression, Motörhead brought punk into the newly formed sound of metal which would strongly influence the early thrash metal acts.
After getting fired from heavy space rock pioneers Hawkwind in 1975 for "doing the wrong drugs" in Lemmy's words, Lemmy was on his own and formed his own band. Named after the last song Lemmy wrote for Hawkwind, Motörhead stormed onto the scene with their self-titled debut in 1977 (Although the release On Parole was recorded two years earlier, it wasn't released until 1979.). With the help of "Fast" Eddie Clark and Philthy "Animal" Taylor, Lemmy had already gotten together a now-classic metal lineup.
Motörhead, despite being a debut, is not much different from classics like Overkill and Ace of Spades. The only main difference is that you can still hear the remnants of the punk-y space metal of Lemmy's time in Hawkwind. That is most evident in the Hawkwind songs that were re-recorded for this debut. Along with the classic title track, "Lost Johnny" and "The Watcher" are both previous Hawkwind tracks written by Lemmy. The former originally appeared on 1974's Hall of the Mountain Grill, while the latter was found on 1972's Doremi Fasol Latido. Each of these songs all more-or-less retain the spacey punk metal of the original recordings, albeit with a bit more bite. This is Motörhead we're talking about after all.
Out of the new songs "Iron Horse/Born to Lose" is a classic, and "Keep Us on the Road" has a nice mix of the space rock of Hawkwind and the already developed sound of Motörhead. The cover of the blues classic "Train Kept a Rollin'" kicks the ass of Aerosmith's cover with Motörhead delivering what I like to call Punk Blues. The remaining songs, "Vibrator" and "White Line Fever" are great too, but aren't quite as memorable as the rest of the tracks.
Just like the debuts of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, whom I mentioned before, Motörhead's debut album is a classic as well. It's not only a classic for paving the way for the band's sound, but it's simply a damn great album that appeals to both metalheads and punks. Do you want speed, but aren't quite in the mood for Slayer? You can't do much better than Motörhead.
Before this band went on to mix their dirty, fast punk with metal elements that gave rise (eventually) to every extreme metal and punk band ever, we have this scrappy little album. Consider this a rough template for the classic Motörhead sound, a booze-fueled mixture of aggressive, hard edged hard rock and dirtied punk rock. While not quite as savage, intense, heavy or fast as what would follow the undeniable vigour and attitude that this band had right up until the end is clear as day, behind the gritty production. The songs are short, sweet and to the point. We don't have any too structurally elaborate or complex (despite the numerous Hawkwind covers) but that's OK - simply rocking out is what Motörhead does best.
The riffs are dirty hard rock riffs that were pretty standard issue for the time, but are aggressive enough to drive the songs well. The distinctive grumbling, rhythm-guitar like bass lines of Lemmy are perpetually in the background, giving rise to the punk bounce and added aggression behind the riffs, and also making the album sound quite rough, combined with the production. The vocals are like an early take on the characteristic and terrible-yet-awesome 'I've just had 3 bottles of Jack Daniels' singing voice, they're not quite as rough or powerful as they would be on subsequent recordings. In fact they sound quite clean when held up against the rough'n'ready nature of the production or the guitars, and are the only thing that really makes it sound like a Motörhead album.
The main issue though is that outside of a few songs (like the first couple) nothing really sticks. The album lacks the identity and memorability of say, their next album, and is held back a bit by a few weaker songs. It is still caught up in the trappings of late '70s punk rock, and the fact that occasionally the band's trademark sound shines through makes me think of this as a transitional piece. When viewed in context (as the album that follows On Parole ) it is a movement to their signature sound, but they're not quite there yet. It's still a very good booze and attitude driven bit of scrappy punk rock, but at every turn you realise that it could be so much more, and that the band hasn't existed long enough to find their sound yet. Should you get it though? Of course - not a lot of albums are more historically important than the debut of extreme metal and punk's godfathers.
Motörhead's first offering (technically their second recording, but whatever) - their self-titled album - was released in 1977. It opens with "Motorhead", which was the final song Lemmy would write for Hawkwind. So, technically being a cover, Motörhead's rendition of the song stays fairly true to the Hawkwind version(s), but is faster and grittier, less psychedelic, more straight-to-the-point, and Lemmy's vocals are gruffier than in his Hawkwind days. Despite all that, the nature of the music is still very rock 'n' roll; only done in a new way. This is essentially what Motörhead is all about.
The album continues in a similar vein. With a couple of more Hawkwind covers, as well as a Tiny Bradshaw cover. They're all good; especially "The Watcher", which has "Fast" Eddie Clarke ripping out some wicked leads all over the damn joint. Songs penned by Lemmy and his comrades in Motörhead, not Hawkwind, are the more interesting ones. "Iron Horse / Born to Lose" is a Motörhead classic by now; a sleazy, laid-back rocker with an awesome guitar solo by Clarke. The song retains the strong blues elements that, after all, is the main culprit by the birth of hard rock and heavy metal. "White Line Fever" is also very bluesy in nature, but doesn't sit as well as "Iron Horse / Born to Lose" does. However, "Keep Us on the Road" stands as the album's best tune. A classic heavy metal-sounding tune with a somewhat laid-back, mid-paced tempo, catchy guitars and strong vocal lines. Maybe not a Motörhead classic a la "Ace of Spades", "Overkill" and "Bomber", but definitely knocks this album up a few levels.
This album suffers a little bit from mediocre filler tunes, but at the same time, has some great tunes as well, with "Motorhead", "Iron Horse / Born to Lose" and "Keep Us on the Road" standing as absolute highlights, so there is no excuse to not listen to the band's first release. It shows what Lemmy's intentions were with Motörhead. A raw, testosterone-filled rock band that combines elements of rock 'n' roll and bluesy heavy metal that would pave the way for punk and speed metal. The best thing is, that it only got better from here for the band, as their next few releases would be based on the very same ideas as the ones present on this album, but with improved song-writing and better overall execution.
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.
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.