- Feb 22 2023Lemmy, 1979 (Photo by St
Motorhead 1979 - 40 Years Of Rock And Roll
Motorhead 1979 - 40 Years Of Rock And Roll
Lemmy's band went from wanting to be the band that, "if we moved in next door, your lawn would die", to being one of the most iconic of all heavy rock bands; one whose impact has been felt deeply right across the rock spectrum over the past few decades. And 1979 was their breakthrough year, thanks to the release of two albums Overkill and Bomber. Coinciding with the release of the new Motorhead box set; 1979, we look at the beginnings of a band whose very name evokes a particular kind of music and way of life.
"We are Motörhead, and we play rock'n'roll."
– Lemmy, every night on stage.
1979 was a massive year for Motorhead. The band went from wanting to be England's answer to Detroit's late 60s firebrand the MC5 – and also the group that, "if we moved in next door, your lawn would die" – to being a genuine success on the back of the two studio albums it released that year, Overkill and Bomber. These two albums released respectively in March and October of that year defined the sound, look and attitude that would make Motorhead one of the most iconic of all heavy rock bands. They would position the band to become one whose impact has been felt deeply right across the hard rock spectrum over the past few decades, from punk to metal. Indeed, it was Motorhead who first created the fusion of punk and metal that shaped the subsequent extreme forms of hard rock.
Says Lars Ulrich of Metallica: "I got introduced to Motörhead's music in 1979, when Overkill came out. I'd never heard anything like that in my life. The subsequent ride that this music took me on was to a place I'd never been. So when I say that Lemmy is the primary reason I'm in a band, and that Metallica exists because of him, it's no cheap exaggeration."
Of course, Motorhead's influence goes beyond what was once known as thrash metal; like AC/DC and the Ramones, they created a unique and singular style. Lemmy wasn't even particularly a fan of metal or punk in the classic sense of the words, although he was a friend and fan of everyone from Ozzy Osbourne to the Damned. Lemmy's deepest love was for the 50s rock'n'roll that he grew up with, and you can hear echoes of Little Richard and 1956 Elvis rockers like "A Big Hunk A' Love" in Motorhead's piledriving sound. But Lemmy loved extremities – one of Motorhead's motto's was the brilliant "Everything louder than everything else" – and he wasn't interested in doing something that someone else had already done. He created his own thing, and that thing became monolithic.
While Lemmy's days in bands going back to a barely-remembered mid-60s outfit the Rockin' Vickers, but he first came to prominence in early 70s space rockers Hawkwind. Lemmy famously sang Hawkwind's big 1972 hit "Silver Machine", and wrote several early Motorhead tunes, including "Motorhead", when he was still with them. Hawkwind were part of a scene in London's Ladbroke Grove area (part of Notting Hill, but some years before Hugh Grant!): squats, alcohol and drugs, radical politics and loud music abounded. The original Ladbroke Grove band were the Deviants in the late 60s; they were basically hippy punks, and they were fronted by writer Mick Farren, who was also part of the Oz magazine scene and mates with Richard Neville and Germaine Greer. Science Fiction writer Michael Moorcock was also around, and he worked with Hawkwind on some of their more out their material.
Lemmy one said that at the core of Hawkwind, beneath the spacey electronics and squawking sax, was a hard-driving 3-piece rock'n'roll band, and after he was booted out by Hawkwind following a drug bust at the US-Canada border, it was a hard-driving 3-piece rock'n'roll band that he set about forming. Coming together in June 1975 and originally featuring the late Larry Wallis of fellow Ladbroke Grove travelers the Pink Fairies on guitar, the early band signed to Hawkwind's old label in 1976. They recorded an album – with Dave Edmunds producing – that was deemed unfit for release by the label. (Of course, the label put it out later when there was a ready-made audience.) With new guitarist "Fast" Eddie Clarke and new drummer Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor, the band signed up to fledgling Stiff Records (where their label mates were Elvis Costello, The Damned, Ian Dury, Wreckless Eric and old mate Larry Wallis) who released the band's first single. United Artists reckoned the group was still theirs's though, and things stalled. Things soon started falling apart, and, with some money from another fledgling indie, Chiswick Records, to record a farewell single, Motorhead recorded their whole set and had a farewell album instead.
Motorhead remains one of the great out of control hard rock'n'roll records. Indeed it out punks most punk records and is heavier than most metal records. It created a minor sensation – it couldn't not – and gave the band cause to continue, and a larger label, Bronze Records, home of Uriah Heep, a desire to sign them.
It was with Bronze that Motorhead became chart-topping sensations in the UK, and a hard-rocking cult world-wide. The genius move may have been in the choice of producer for the first Bronze Motorhead album. Jimmy Miller was neither a metal or punk guy – he was best known for his work on the classic Rolling Stones albums Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main St. and Goats Head Soup. And he gave that first Motorhead Bronze album a classic rock'n'roll sound; earthy tones similar to those of Exile on Main St. gave Motorhead's full-throated roar and distinct sound and broadened its appeal.
Featuring future Motorhead classics including the title track, "Stay Clean", "No class" and "Damage Case", Overkill cracked the UK Top 40 and its noise echoed around the world.
Bomber followed six months later, again produced by Miller, and again featuring a classic title track and others, like "Stone Dead Forever" and "Dead Men Tell No Tales" that would remain iconic in the Motorhead canon. This time they reached #12 on the album charts, setting the scene for 1980s #4 peaking Ace of Spades, and 1981's #1 live album No Sleep til Hammersmith.
The limited-edition 1979 Box set features newly remastered editions of both Overkill and Bomber, along with sundry non-album tracks and live recordings. The vinyl set includes two previously unreleased double-live albums from the time, as well as a The Rest Of '79 LP of B-sides, outtakes and rare tracks from 1979, plus a book, tour program reproduction and much more. Double CD and triple LP individual packages (that include one of the aforementioned live recordings) are also available.
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