- 16 Dec 20
The Most Rock N’ Roll Rock N’ Roll Album Of All Time
Did I ever tell you about the time myself and The Coff, catastrophically ill, with only a copy of Bomber for company, made it from Galway to Dublin in an hour and a half, because we were late for some unimportant yoke we were supposed to be at? Hung over and speeding, it could be the title of a Motörhead documentary...
After some false starts and disappointments, Motörhead met with unexpected success when they released their second album, Overkill, in March of 1979. This despite the fact that a record company boss thought the preceding single, a version of the hoary old classic ‘Louie Louie’ was the worst record he’d ever heard. Overkill was produced by the great Jimmy Miller, the man who helped make the best Rolling Stones records, before being let go for, amongst other things, carving swastikas into the studio desk. Lemmy was a lifelong collector of Nazi memorabilia, but this is probably not the reason he agreed to work with him.
Kicking off – literally - with the furious double bass drum attack of the title track and featuring Lemmy howling that he’ll be your sister, ‘No Class’ and ‘Metropolis’, which the main man claimed to have written in about five minutes, it’s the first classic from the definitive Motörhead line-up – Lemmy on bass and shouting and roaring, Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor beating the living shite out of the drum kit, and ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke playing the guitar, fast.
The aforementioned Bomber came out in October of the same year – bands got the job done back in the day – and Miller was again in the production seat, or passed out in it as the case probably was. He was back on the hard stuff, which may have inspired the opening anti-heroin tirade of ‘Dead Man Tell No Tales’. Some critics have grumbled that the album was a slight step down after Overkill but you can’t argue with ‘Stone Dead Forever’, ‘ All The Aces’ or the title track. Well, you could argue, I suppose, but you’d most likely end up on the floor, bleeding. It’s a good driving album too, allegedly.
The next record is where it all came together. Miller was out; Vic Maile – who had worked from everybody from Hendrix to The Small Faces, and Hawkwind, the band who fired Lemmy for using the wrong drugs - was in. Maile forced the band, in his gentle way, to pick up their game, encouraging Lemmy to try singing rather than just shouting, although this shouldn’t imply that there are any girly ballads on the mighty Ace Of Spades (1980) because there most assuredly are not. If you were in any doubt where to file this record, one look at either the cover – the lads in dirt bag/cowboy/mugger chic – or the song titles would be all that was required.
The opening title track is, to put it mildly, one of the greatest things to have happened in the whole of human history, and we’re fairly sure that the dinosaurs didn’t make records so its unassailable first placeness stretches back even before we crawled from the slime and started banging sticks against rocks. The bass riff – igniting the song like a lit zippo flung into an oil spill - is so filthy that all the bleach in the world would be useless against it. To appreciate it fully, I suggest you turn the hi-fi up until your speakers start to smoke, then break in next door, steal the neighbour’s speakers, and repeat the dose. Fast Eddie and Philthy Animal – proper rock n' roll names – join in like thugs in a ruck, and Lemmy hocks the lyrics – the rock version of Yeats’ ‘The Second Coming’ – in the world’s face. “If you like to gamble, I tell you I’m your man, you win some, you lose some, it’s all the same to me”. Fast Eddie fires off the riff that ate the planet. “Dancing with the devil, going with the flow, it’s all the same to me.” It stops. “You know I’m born to lose, and gambling’s for fools, but that’s the way I like it baby, I don’t want to live forever. And don’t forget the joker.” These words constitute the holy commandments of rock, brought down, after a near suicidal bender, from the Mount Sinai of noise by St. Lemmy himself. The guitar solo hammers home the point, repeatedly, like a fist into a jaw. Read ‘em and weep. The dead man’s hand again. Take one look and die. The closing riff is the sound of an eighteen-wheeler driving over your skull, and then reversing back to finish the job. It is accomplished. In less than three minutes. Rock N’ Roll.
Even if you took the album home from the shops, put it on, and found that ‘Ace Of Spades’ was the only song on it and the rest of the vinyl contained one of those “etchings” record companies put on side four to justify the extra expense, you would still not feel short-changed, for it is as awesome as a forest fire. But there is more. What about ‘Love Me Like A Reptile’ and the bit where Lemmy implores yer one to shock him like an electric eel before Fast Eddie nicks a riff from ‘Born To Be Wild’ to get out of there? The roar of “Western movie!” as ‘Shoot You In Back’ crashes around the corner? The machine gun rat-tat-tat tattoo from Philthy in ‘Live To Win’? The whole, nail-spitting three minutes of ‘(We Are) The Road Crew’ – “another hotel I can’t find, another word I learned to say, another tube of superglue, THAT’S RIGHT!” – and the snare crack that sounds like a plane hitting a mountain? The lyrics of ‘The Chase Is Better Than The Catch’ – “Come on honey, touch me right there, come on honey, don’t you get scared, come on honey, let me get you in the sack, You know the chase is better than the catch”? That the album ends with a song called ‘The Hammer’ should really be all you need to know.
If ever there was a record to make all other “rock” “bands” sound like a bunch of management consultants acting tough on the rugby pitch on a Sunday morning, it is Ace Of Spades. It should, by right, be proscribed to every docile zombie chained to their phone so we might watch, gleefully, as they hack their devices, turn them on their corporate overlords, and bring the whole system crashing down. It is, quite possibly, the most rock n’ roll rock n’ roll album of all time. Lemmy never liked to hear his band classed as heavy metal, he always insisted – and quite rightly too – that The Head were rock n’ roll, which is a bit like insisting that rain is wet, doubters only need stand under it to be convinced. In fact, if rock n’ roll had closed up the shop the day after this was released, saying it was all over, historians would look back – as they are wont to do - and agree that was the way to finish up the whole glorious caper.
Is it possible to improve on perfection? Probably not, but the addition of the double vinyl – on the 40th Anniversary deluxe edition I was sent – of the classic Motörhead line-up playing Belfast – “Well, here we are again, Belfast. Good evening, you mother fuckers” - two days before Christmas in 1981 is certainly a fair attempt. The band blast through songs from the three albums mentioned above, as well as a version of ‘Too Late, Too Late’ – the B-side of the ‘Overkill’ single – that sounds like it’s hopped up on cheap amphetamine and coming at you with a rusty shiv. How do you add to ‘(We Are) The Road Crew’? You bring all the amp-lifting walking wounded on stage and then change the ‘we’ in the lyric to ‘they’. Class. Were this recording to be piped directly into all the rock dive bars around the world at the same time, it would be responsible for an avalanche of head-banging dandruff that would suffocate us all. It is music for cleaning your gaff to, if you want to clean it by picking up all your shit and throwing it through the window, or the wall.
There’s even more on a super deluxe edition – another gig, instrumentals, demos, ‘Dirty Love’ – the essential B-side to the ‘Ace Of Spades’ single – and the shite/genius St. Valentine’s Day Massacre EP that the band recorded with their label mates, Girlschool. Frankly, it doesn’t matter which format you get, just get it, because you need it. Many, many years from now, when alien explorers land on the desolate planet XG-27 – or Earth, as it was known to its former inhabitants – and dig through the sludge and slurry of social media, “tech”, fake news, plastic, feelings, viruses, weapons, anaemic music “journalism”, the manifestos of right-wing idiots, self-help books, the musings of the undeservedly famous, soulless corporate muzak, the mewling of the criminally stupid, and all the other bullshit that finally buried us, perhaps they will, if they’re lucky, find a copy of Motörhead’s Ace Of Spades, stick it in the cassette deck on the saucer, and know that, for a short while at least, we really had something going.