Motörhead: Louder Than Everybody Else
Trivia for Motörheadbangers, Difficulty: Tough
Artist Biography by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Motörhead‘s overwhelmingly loud and fast style of heavy metal was one of the most groundbreaking sounds the genre had to offer in the late ’70s. Though the group’s leader, Lemmy Kilmister, had his roots in the hard-rocking space rock band Hawkwind, Motörhead didn’t bother with his old group’s progressive tendencies, choosing to amplify the heavy biker-rock elements of Hawkwind with the speed of punk rock. Motörhead wasn’t punk rock (they formed before the Sex Pistols and they loved the hell-for-leather imagery of bikers too much to conform with the safety-pinned, ripped T-shirts of punk), but they were the first metal band to harness that energy and, in the process, they created speed metal and thrash metal. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Motörhead continued performing into the next century. Although they changed their lineup many, many times — Lemmy, who passed away in 2015, was their only consistent member — they never changed their raging sound.
The son of a vicar, Lemmy (born Ian Fraiser Kilmister, December 24, 1945) first began playing rock & roll in 1964, when he joined two local Blackpool, England R&B bands, the Rainmakers and the Motown Sect. Over the course of the ’60s, he played with a number of bands — including the Rockin’ Vickers, Gopal’s Dream, and Opal Butterfly — as well as briefly working as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix. In 1971, he joined the heavy prog rock band Hawkwind as bassist. Lemmy was originally slated to stay with the band only six months, but he stayed with the group for four years. During that time, he wrote and sang several songs with the band, including their signature track, the number three U.K. hit “Silver Machine” (1972).
Lemmy was kicked out of Hawkwind in the spring of 1975 after he spent five days in a Canadian prison for drug possession. Once he returned to England, Kilmister set about forming a new band. Originally, it was to have been called Bastard, but he soon decided to call the band Motörhead, named after the last song he wrote for Hawkwind. Lemmy drafted in Pink Fairies guitarist Larry Wallis and drummer Lucas Fox to round out the lineup. Motörhead made their debut supporting Greenslade in July. Two months later, the group headed into the studio to make their debut album for United Artists with producer Dave Edmunds. Motörhead and Edmunds clashed over the direction of the recording, resulting in the group firing the producer and replacing him with Fritz Fryer. At the end of the year, Fox left the band and Lemmy replaced him with his friend Philthy Animal (born Philip Taylor), an amateur musician.
Motörhead delivered its debut album to UA early in 1976, but the label rejected it. Shortly afterward, former Blue Goose and Continuous Performance guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke joined the band. Following one rehearsal as a four-piece, Wallis left the band, leaving Motörhead a trio; this is the lineup that would later be recalled as the group’s classic period. The band spent most of 1976 struggling, however, performing without a contract or manager and generating little money. At the end of the year, they cut a single, “White Line Fever”/”Leavin’ Here,” for Stiff Records that wasn’t released until two years later. By the summer of 1977, they had signed a one-record contract with Chiswick Records, releasing their eponymous debut in June; it peaked at number 43 on the U.K. charts. A year later, the band signed with Bronze Records.
Overkill, Motörhead‘s first album for Bronze, was released in the spring of 1979. The album peaked at number 24, while its title track became the band’s first Top 40 hit. Motörhead continued to gain momentum, as their concerts were selling well and Bomber, the follow-up to Overkill, reached number 12 upon its fall release. The band was doing so well that UA released the rejected album at the end of the year as On Parole. Ace of Spades, released in the fall of 1980, became a number four hit, while the single of the same name reached number 15.