Out today (March 30th) on Santuary / PIAS comes the first installment a mammoth nine album Motörhead vinyl reissue series. It starts with the bands second, third and fourth albums – Overkill, Bomber and Ace of Spades. They were the three albums that propelled the group into the peoples consciousness (and, lets not forgt, the charts) and featured the ‘classic’ Motörhead trio of Lemmy Kilmister, Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor and ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke. Following on on April 13th is ‘No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith’, Iron Fist and Another Perfect Day, before another three – No Remorse, Orgasmatron and Rock ‘N’ Roll arrive on April 27th.
Overkill was the bands second album, their first for Bronze Records and is generally regarded as a rock classic, featuring at number 46 in Kerrang’s 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Albums of All Time. The title track (and opening number on the album) was also a top forty hit for the band, and its not an easy task trying not to get carried away with its punk attitude, heralded by this insistent bass drum that drives things on at 100 mph. Sometimes criticised as being slightly one-dimensional, it feels more like a band still trying to find their feet, and its full of strong songwriting.
Stay Clean has this winding guitar riff that wraps its way around you, as Lemmy pulls you in with his vocal delivery and a chorus to die for. There’s this mix of punk and rock that grabs you with its attitude and knocks you out with its power, with (I won’t) Pay Your Price, follow on I’ll Be Your Sister, and Tear Ya Down (taking away the incredible guitar solo) all have this punk aesthetic about them. Highlights come thick and fast, but the title track which closed the record takes some beating. Its a pulsating rock and roll number, apparently inspired by the Len Deighton novel of the same name.
Elsewhere though there’s other elements at play with the more straight up rock of Damage Case – where Lemmy brings the blues to the party, and the second single from the album ‘No Class’, this almost Lizzy like slice of classic rock, that has you reaching for your denim jackets and boots. The two side closers – Capricorn on side one, and Limb from Limb, inject a little psych into things, just a little, and Lemmy makes sure he keeps control of it all.
It didn’t take the band long to record a follow up. Overkill had only dropped in the March of 1979, but by the October Bomber was out. Crashing into the album charts at number 12, the record sees Lemmy tackle a variety of subjects – heroin in Dead Men Tell No Tales (despite the increasing addiction of producer Jimmy Miller to the substance), as well as Television (Talking Head), his fathers desertion (Poison) and the Police (Lawman) amongst others, all with his usual anger and vitriol.
Its a record that is packed with great tunes, and the sound of a band more at ease with who they are, and more focused on what they’re doing. Right from the off (Dead Men Tell No Tales) its clear that the band are able to write what are, when stripped away, brilliant pop songs, and just wrap them up in aggression, noise and guitar solos. Follow on Lawman threatens just to chug away until Lemmy intervenes, and riffs get thrown in at various unexpected points.
Elsewhere, All the Aces propels along, Lemmy at his best (rhyming vomit with far from it for one) before being showered in this blistering guitar solo from Clarke, who also shines in the follow on, the bluesy Step Down, which also features Clarke on the vocals. Poison, with Lemmy threatening to poison his wife, is frankly brilliant rock music, and Sharpshooter also deals a strong hand in riffs that most bands wouldn’t get near. Its the sound of a band at its best.
Yes, its got Ace of Spades on it, yes it went gold and made number four in the album charts (the preceding single had made it into the top twenty), but there’s more to the bands 1980 album than just its (and their) most famous song. Ace of Spades itself is a classic, one of the great heavy metal singles, but follow on ‘Love me Like a Reptile’ is a terrific record, a perfect mix of aggression and sees Lemmy’s vocal move on from the previous albums. This was in part down to producer Vic Maile, who took sole charge of the sessions and, according to Lemmy “got me singing instead of just shouting all the time”.
Its a record that sees a band that have moved on in just a year. Wheras Overkill was still quite punky, messy and rough around the edges, Ace of Spades is cleaner and more focused. The thing that remains the same though is the songs. Jailbait (whilst not being a PC subject) still has that punk attitude running through it, whilst Shoot You In the Back and Fast and Loose are classic rock tracks, these driving but unforgettable riffs sparkling. Elsewhere We are the Roadcrew, a tale of touring and all its ups and down, has this swagger about it, and album closer The Hammer is an adrenelin rush.
Three great albums, not just for Motörhead fans, but for those discovering them for the first time. There’s much to discover on all three and even more to admire, but there’s just something about Overkill – maybe because of its messiness and unsettled nature, a band still growing, that to me makes it essential. If you have any sense though, you’ll get all three.