And then there was Motörhead…complete with leather jackets, umlaut and a fantastic logo/emblem. It was 1977 and Punk Rock had hit (Sex Pistols, Anarchy In The UK was released in 1976). The opening track on the album was Motörhead, a rerecorded version of the B-side of Kings Of Speed, the last Hawkwind recording that Lemmy was involved with. At the same time the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal was taking off (affectionately know as NWOBHM – always made me laugh, as if the acronym was less of a mouthful). But fortune had smiled down on Lemmy and his band because as a pure Rock and Roll band they slotted perfectly in between NWOBM and Punk without being either. Not only were they simple, they could play their instruments well and with the dominating personality of Lemmy and his unique mic stand set up – they were original. Not just because they had the elements of both scenes, solos from NWOBHM and the brashness of Punk but Lemmy’s unique singing style too – some kind of prehistoric roar from a swamp by an benign giant, a leather clad, brusque, studded, unwashed, down to earth and sincere, real road warrior – a drug taking, women conquering hero that you could love…Ha Ha! Not a sexist, not a homophobe, not a racist, a good man wrapped in a scary body with veins of truth.
It’s all a bit of a complicated story that you can read about on the net, but the band at one point were voted “The best worst band in Britain” by the NME, They made a debut album in 1975/76 (produced by Fritz Fryer from Four Pennies fame and Dave Edmunds) that lay unreleased till the record label United Artists saw an opportunity to exploit tape ownership as the band became successful with their third album Bomber (1979) reaching No.12 on the UK charts, releasing their real first album as On Parole. It had been a steady climb, the previous album Overkill also released in 1979 and now signed to Bronze had reached No.24. United Artists jumped in after initially missing the boat – Lemmy was furious.
Having changed their line up from that first recording almost immediately, from Lucas Fox On drums and Larry Wallis on guitar, to drummer Philthy Animal Taylor and guitarist Fast Eddie Clark, on the edge of breaking up before they really got started, another opportunity had raised its head and they rerecorded most of the unreleased album in a couple of days. The official first album was finally released by Chiswick in 1977. Opening for Greenslade??? Blue Öyster Cult (must have been the umlaut) touring with Hawkwind (nice).
This album was raw and real, satisfying Rock and Roll that showed that if you mean it, nothing else matters. It features all of Lemmy’s songs from the Hawkwind days, Motörhead, Lost Johnny and The Watcher and a cover of the classic Train Kept A Rollin’, bluesman Tiny Bradshaw’s 1951 classic. The song was also famously recorded by Johnny Burnette, The Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith. Other songs really sounded rough (perfect), it was a brilliant shambles, and after the opener, the second track, Vibrator could have been The Undertones or Sham 69 with a couple of added riffs and a guitar solo – a perfect blend of styles for the times, the band immediately found a following.
The recording of Lost Johnny makes much more sense as a Motörhead song with its Stranglers bass sound and rough edges. Iron Horse/Born To Lose was getting more into the seventies Rock territory and seems like a precursor to a hybrid metal that would appear later in the eighties.
In the first few bars, White Line Fever sounded like it might be Thin Lizzy but the duelling guitars didn’t appear, only Lemmy sounding like he’s trapped in a cellar. Keep Us On The Road boasted more of the pure Rock and Roll band sound that Lemmy claimed they were, eschewing all comparisons to Metal – the guitar soloing the only half-link, the bass solo actually rather exciting. But you get the feeling that Judas Priest must have sucked up some of this energy into their records at the time as they went onto become a stadium Metal band. The reason I mention this is because I saw them live in the mid-seventies promoting their first album Rocka Rolla at St.Georges Hall in Liverpool – supporting Budgie. At this point all bands like this had long hair – not their vocalist Rob Halford. Unlike Motörhead they seemed to be a Rock and Roll band actively looking for an image – oh how they found one.
The Motörhead version of The Watcher sped up and turned into a three piece rocker works surprisingly well with a strange double vocal, but I love that softer acoustic Hawkwind version.
Ending with Train Kept A Rollin’ might suggest the band was running out of material for this first album but some of the songs that were released on the United Artsist On Parole release didn’t make it to Chiswick version of the album. Who knows why? Lots of live gigs, set lists move on and this is where they were at. Within four years they would release Ace Of Spades (No.4 in the UK) and have a No.1 UK album with the live classic, No Sleep ’til Hammersmith.
In a forty year period abruptly ended, Motörhead released twenty-three studio albums and four EPs. They also made nine live recordings and unbelievably, eleven compilation albums. They also made ten video albums. The band can no longer exist with him gone but as a band had dedicated and loyal fans that will never forget them. Lemmy’s charisma intoxicated the audience and despite struggles with health and difficulty performing they were there with him to the very end.
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