03. Lost Johnny
04. Iron Horse / Born To Lose
05. White Line Fever
06. Keep Us On The Road
07. The Watcher
08. Train Kept A Rollin'
09. City Kids
01. Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers
02. On Parole
04. I'm Your Witch Doctor
Recorded at Escape Studios, Egerton in April/May 1977, at the same sessions that produced the first Motörhead album and single.
Lemmy Kilmister: Bass, Vocals
Fast Eddie Clarke: Guitars
Philthy Animal: Drums
Lucas Fox: Drums (track 3)
In May 1975, bassist Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister was fired from Hawkwind after he was arrested at the Canadian/US border in Windsor, Ontario on drug possession charges. Lemmy later explained to Classic Albums that he had been at odds with the band because:
"..[I] did the wrong drugs, you know, I didn't do the designer drugs...I did the street stuff, so I was massively unpopular for that.."
After he got back to England, he put together a new band, which he wanted to, and temporary did, call Bastard; recruiting guitarist Larry Wallis (former member of the Pink Fairies, Steve Took's Shagrat and UFO) and drummer Lucas Fox to his side. The (at the time) manager Doug Smith stated to the band, that:
"..they wouldn't get on Top of the Pops with a name like Bastard.."
So he suggested Motorhead, as it was the last song Lemmy wrote with Hawkwind, which seemed fitting, so it became the name and history was written. They managed to get signed by United Artists, mainly because it was the label Hawkwind were signed with, and they recorded songs for an album at Rockfield Studios in Wales over the British winter of 1975–76, but United Artists doubted its commercial viability and refused to release it. The Umlaut over the second o was added later by Lemmy after he and Joe Petagno had talked, as the Hawkwind version of the song does not have it on the original release of the track.
On 1 April 1977, disheartened by their experience with United Artists and their lack of commercial success in general, the band – which had consisted of drummer Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor, who joined the band when it was clear Lucas Fox wasn't that committed, as he was also an acquaintance of Lemmy's from the 'bikie' drug scene who said to Lemmy when giving him a lift to the studio one day 'he could play the drums'; plus guitarist "Fast" Eddie Clarke, who Philthy knew from a house boat painting job he had, as Eddie was the foreman on site who had claimed he 'played guitar in some bands' previously; Eddie had originally joined the band as the second guitarist in what was to be a double guitar 4-piece, but Larry Wallis left shortly after for his own reasons – had decided to disband after playing one final show at the Marquee Club in London that year. Ted Carroll had started the Chiswick Records label after Lemmy had been fired from Hawkwind, and as they knew each other well from the rare 45 Record's store that Ted owned in London, Lemmy was a frequent customer, Ted decided to give them the break they needed, almost as a favour, because UA had shelved the album they had made over the British winter of 1975–76 in Wales; what would later be released as On Parole in 1979 by United Artists. As Clarke recalls in the documentary The Guts and the Glory:
"..It was going to be our farewell gig. I said, Let's get a mobile down at least to record the fuckin' year and a half we've been together and put something on the fuckin' tape, you know?.."
The band asked Chiswick label owner Ted Carroll to record the show but, according to Clarke:
"..the problem with the Marquee was they wanted 500 quid for doing a recording at the Marquee. Well, that was out of the question in those days.."
Carroll then offered the band two days at Escape Studios in Kent, England, to record a single with producer John "Speedy" Keen. As Clarke explained to John Robinson of Uncut in 2015, the band finished the gig at the Marquee and drove straight to the studio in Kent:
"..That was Friday night, so we had all Saturday and Sunday. We'd been playing these songs for a year, so we thought fuck it, we can do an album. In a few hours we had all the backing tracks down. Put the vocals down. Bit more speed, put some more guitars on. Few more beers – we were fucking steaming. Come Saturday night, we'd nearly finished it.."
As biographer Joel McIver recalls in his book Overkill: The Untold Story of Motörhead:
"..as the story goes, by the time Carroll came back to the studio to hear the results, the band had recorded no fewer than 11 tracks. Impressed, he paid for more studio time to allow them to complete an album. The album did well enough to ensure the band would remain together, but it would be their next album, 1979's Overkill, that proved to be their true breakthrough.."
For their eponymous album, the band chose to re-record the United Artists album in almost its entirety; only Fools and Leaving Here weren't re-recorded at these sessions. In addition, two new self-penned compositions, White Line Fever and Keep Us on the Road, were added, as well as a cover of John Mayall's Train Kept A-Rollin. Three tracks on the album were written by Lemmy when he was with Hawkwind, "Motorhead", "Lost Johnny," and "The Watcher," the latter a psychedelic acoustic piece. Like the band name itself, the song "Motorhead" (About this sound sample (help·info)) is a reference to speed – Lemmy's drug of choice til the day he died- and was coupled with the non-album track City Kids for release as 7" and 12" singles. In his autobiography White Line Fever, Lemmy recalls that producer Speedy Keen and engineer John Burns:
"..were speeding out of their heads because they couldn't afford to go to sleep – they didn't have time, and they wanted to make an album as much as we did. They mixed twenty-four versions of Motörhead alone!.."
In the Classic Albums documentary on the making of Ace of Spades, Eddie Clarke states that Lemmy's bass style, which featured maximum Mid-Range on his Marshall amps, with the Bass and Treble nearly turned off, was unique and still is to this day:
"..Motörhead wasn't a straight forward outfit to play with because, with Lemmy's bass playing being the way it was, it made it slightly different than all the other bands you'd hear at the time because there was no real bass guitar – it was like a bass rhythm.."
Four remaining tracks from the session were shelved until 1980, when they were released on the Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers EP. In his memoir Lemmy noted:
"..Once again it was cash-in time – for the record labels, at least. I've never recorded more than we need since! But having said that, I don't begrudge Ted Carroll that – he saved my band.."
The B-side and the EP were later added as bonus tracks to the CD release. The band members were less than pleased with the album's muddled sound, however, with Joel McIver quoting Clarke in 2011:
"..That first album was pretty dreadful, the songs were good but the sound was shocking...It wasn't good enough, really. I wouldn't shell out four pounds for it.."
This is Motörhead's first "proper" studio album. They had previously recorded the On Parole album for United Artists Records, which was intended for a 1976 release date, but the record company refused to release it. For this album, the band chose to record On Parole again in almost its entirety, only "Fools" and "Leaving Here" weren't re-recorded at these sessions. In addition two new self-penned compositions were added in "White Line Fever" and "Keep Us on the Road", as well as a cover of "Train Kept a-Rollin'".
While thrash has its roots in punk rock and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, perhaps no band influenced the to the extent that Motörhead did. Ironically, Motörhead founder Lemmy Kilmister didn't listen to much punk and considered his band, which released its self-titled debut on Aug. 21, 1977, a faster, louder offshoot of his favorite artists: Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry.
“It’s all just rock and roll,” Kilmister told me in 2013. “From the start, this is how we’ve always done it. You write some songs, turn your amps up and start playing. And when you’ve reached the end of one song you start the next one.”
From the start, Motörhead were ahead of the curve. Having been a member of the psychedelic freak rock band Hawkwind -- from which he was fired after getting arrested in Windsor, Ontario, on drug possession charges -- Kilmister was used to taking chances and going against the grain. Motörhead were named after a song Kilmister wrote for Hawkwind and the band’s first studio release featured two other Hawkwind songs, “Lost Johnny” and the “The Watcher.” The rest of the album, with the exception of “Keep Us on the Road” and “White Line Fever” featured songs the band wrote for 1976’s On Parole, which the band’s UK label refused to release until 1979.
“We were already a machine when we recorded that [self-titled] album,” Kilmister says. “We had been playing the songs live for a year so we knew what we were doing. It was just a matter of doing them a little louder maybe a little faster.”
One major difference between On Parole and Motörhead is that the latter featured guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke on every song. Clarke would remain with the band until 1982, when he quit after recording Iron Fist (he was upset that the band agreed to record a version of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” with Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics). “Before ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke we had Larry Wallis on guitar,” Kilmister says. “It was strange because he kept going on about how we needed another guitar player so we would sound stronger. So we got Eddie and then Larry left. So obviously, he was trying to leave, but not leave us stuck. It took me a couple years to see that.”
Clarke played blues-based guitar, but he could also fire off metallic solos and coupled with Kilmister’s raspy vocals and distorted, trebly bass and Philthy Animal Taylor’s crashing beats, Motörhead were the sonic equivalent of a fireworks factory explosion. In addition to capturing the band’s galvanic live performance, Motörhead is enhanced with the raw fury of guitars being mangled, the thunderous echo of amps being kicked over and, on “The Watcher,” spacey, processed vocals. The volatility of the entire recording exemplified the chemistry of the musicians that made it.
“We fought all the time,” Kilmister said. “Eddie’s not a man to back down, and him and Phil were not afraid to use their fists, so you’d get them fighting in the back room all the time.”
The band started recording its debut at Escape Studios in Kent, England right after playing a gig in London at the Marquee. The owner of Chaswick Records, Ted Carroll, paid for them to record a couple songs for a single over a weekend with producer Speedy Keen. Since they were amped up and had a surplus of material they finished 11 songs over three days. Impressed, Carroll paid for additional studio time and the band finished the record, as well as five bonus tracks, which Big Beat held onto until the album was reissued in 1988.
Standout cuts on Motörhead include the roaring title track, the trippy head-slammer “Iron Horse/Born to Lose” and “White Line Fever,” which is redolent of Jimi Hendrix, for whom Kilmister used to roadie (“I was in charge of getting Jimi his drugs”). Elsewhere, Kilmister plays a sweet, meandering bass solo in “Keep Us on the Road,” and the band barely keep the wheels on the rail on an amphetamine-fueled cover of Tiny Bradshaw’s “The Train Kept A-Rollin’."
Motörhead was available as an import in the United States from the time it was released and many specialty record stores stocked the album, but it didn’t receive a proper release in the States until 1988 when Roadracer added the title to its catalog. Amazingly, none of the band’s first four albums came out on a U.S. label until after the live album No Sleep ‘til Hammersmith came out in 1981.
“Nobody wanted to know us in America,” Kilmister says. “We fell between the old surge of heavy metal like Deep Purple and just before the new surge of heavy metal, which was Iron Maiden and bands like that. So we were pretty f---ed, really. We couldn’t get signed in America until No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith was No. 1 [in the U.K.] and that [was after] Ace of Spades was No. 4 and Bomber was No. 6.
“I don’t think we were cute enough,” he concluded. “Back then, all the big rock stars always looked like Motley Crue. They’re a great rock band but they were very effeminate in the early days. We never had that dubious advantage. But we certainly always had the rough end of the metal scene who were our fans. There weren’t many Yes fans with us, but we got a lot of listening. We had people who actually listened to us and we were lucky there because a lot of people don’t listen. They listen to the pace or the volume, they don’t listen to the lyrics or the music.”