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Back in the primordial swamps of late 70s punk rock, mid 70s hard rock, and the distant though now somewhat emergent beginnings of heavy metal lay “What’s Words Worth”, the earliest of Motorhead’s live offerings, built solely off the collection of songs that the band had built up between their debut, self-titled album and a few b-sides from the accompanying singles from the 1977-78 era. Although it was released in 1983 as a bone thrown to the impressive fan base that the band had built over the 79-83 time span where all of their legendary material is present, it definitely hearkens back to a different time, a time where rock and metal were only differentiated by how muddy the guitar tone was.
Much like Accept in their earliest days, Motorhead sounds like a completely different band at this point in their history, lacking the flashing speed and riffing majesty that would be ushered in with their 1978 beast of an offering to the pioneering world of speed metal in “Overkill”, and showcasing Lemmy in a much more restrained capacity vocally. All who know the famed bearded front man and most who barely know him can pick out that gravely, shouting tone that has been the band’s staple from the beginning, but here we are only treated to trace doses of it on certain songs. Most of the time, Lemmy seems like he’s content to explore the world of Joey Ramone, where occasional barks are the norm and your vocal range can consist of only 4 or 5 notes. By stark contrast, Kilmeister’s bass playing is obnoxious raunchy, to the point of resembling Steve Harris circa “Fear Of The Dark” with power chords banging out even louder than the guitar player.
As far as the songs go, for those not familiar with the band’s debut, they’re a fun collection of just a little too fast punk rock with a good smattering of earlier rock influences. There are usually 2 or 3 riffs per song, a few trace guitar solos that draw heavily from Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix, and a constant upper tempo feel that falls just a tad bit short of where the band would end up a few years later. “City Kids” and “Leaving Here” are the hardest and fastest rockers to be found on here, and even at this end of the late 70s spectrum we have yet to hit the territory that would be explored on “Exciter”, “Kill The King”, “Warrior”, and this band’s own offering to the too fast for rock category “Overkill”. Nevertheless, considering the time period, this is pretty hard hitting, if not quite as ahead of its time as the aforementioned speed metal offerings of this band and others would be.
This doesn’t quite qualify as essential listening for most of Motorhead’s principle fan base, but it is a curious offering, particularly those who might be interested in the roots of the metal genre as a whole, and specifically where the groundwork would be laid for all the faster players from Accept to Metallica. It’s more sloppy and gritty than it is heavy; at times Lemmy sounds light and a tiny bit timid compared to what he’d sound like soon after, but “What’s Words Worth” rocks pretty hard and will probably sit well with most rock and early metal fans. It doesn’t quite have the metal sound, but it is definitely on to something insofar as attitude goes, and that is essentially half the battle.