Ace of Spades
02. Love Me Like A Reptile
03. Shoot You In The Back
04. Live To Win
05. Fast And Loose
06. (We Are) The Road Crew
07. Fire, Fire
10. Bite The Bullet
11. The Chase Is Better Than The Catch
12. The Hammer
Bass,Vocals – Lemmy
Drums – Philthy Animal Taylor
Guitar – Eddie Clarke
Produced at Jackson's, Rickmansworth Aug 4th-Sept 15th 1980.
"(We Are) The Road Crew" dedicated to Graham (Renaldo) Reynolds, Paul Cummings, Ian (The Eagle) Dobbie, Steve (Plod) Flood, Dave Chamberlain, Phil Ariado, Lawrence, Pete, Steve the driver and anyone else who helped, got drunk, humped gear, girls etc. Have a long squawk + Audio lease + Chameleon.
"..I like Iron Maiden and Saxon out of the new mob, and that's about it, really...We were too late for the first metal movement and early for the next one...Motörhead don't fit into any category, really. We're not straight heavy metal, because we're a rock 'n' roll band, which no-one knows how to market anymore.."
Regardless, the association with NWOBHM would be another positive element in the gathering momentum that would lead to the band's most successful commercial period at the dawn of the new decade. In fact, United Artists decided to finally release the band's "lost" first album at this time under the title On Parole, which had originally been recorded in 1976 but shelved because it was deemed commercially unviable. Next, the Big Beat label, which had taken over Chiswick's catalogue, released Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers (EP), packaging four extra tracks that the band had laid down for their debut album. Further evidence of Motörhead's nascent mainstream success was the release of the EP The Golden Years in May 1980 on Bronze Records, which became their highest charting release to date, peaking at #8.
Motörhead recorded Ace of Spades with Vic Maile at Jackson's Studios in Rickmansworth in August and September 1980. Maile, who had worked with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and the Who, had crossed paths with Lemmy when he was a member of Hawkwind. The bassist recalls in his 2002 memoir White Line Fever:
"..He used to own a mobile studio — Hawkwind hired it out to do Space Ritual and he came with it...Vic was a great man and a great producer, really brilliant...Those were good times; we were winning, we were younger, and we believed it.."
As Steffan Chirazi observes in the liner notes to the 1996 reissue of Ace of Spades:
"..Vic Maille at the production helm used an expert ear to translate the monstrous live sound and feel of the band to vinyl.."
The LP includes some of the band's most popular songs, including "The Chase Is Better Than the Catch," "(We Are) The Road Crew," and the hit single "Ace of Spades," which rose to #15 on the UK Singles Chart. In his autobiography, White Line Fever, Lemmy speaks at length about the tune:
"..I used gambling metaphors, mostly cards and dice — when it comes to that sort of thing, I'm more into the slot machines actually, but you can't really sing about spinning fruit, and the wheels coming down. Most of the song's just poker, really - 'I know you've got to see me, read 'em and weep, Dead man's hand again, aces and eights' - that was Wild Bill Hickock's hand when he got shot. To be honest, although "Ace of Spades" is a good song, I'm sick to death of it now. Two decades on, when people think of Motörhead, they think "Ace of Spades." We didn't become fossilised after that record, you know. We've had quite a few good releases since then. But the fans want to hear it so we still play it every night. For myself, I've had enough of that song.."
In 2011, Lemmy admitted to James McNair of Mojo:
"..I'm glad we got famous for that rather than for some turkey, but I sang 'The eight of spades' for two years and nobody noticed.."
The song "(We Are) The Road Crew" was written as a tribute to the band's roadies. In the 2004 Classic Albums documentary on the making of the album, guitarist "Fast" Eddie Clarke declares:
"..They were a good crew, and they were proud of how good they were. I would put them up against any crew in the world."
In the same film, Lemmy, who worked as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix and the Nice, recalls that he wrote the song "in ten minutes" and that when roadie Ian "Eagle" Dobbie heard the song "he had a tear in his eye". Many of the songs, such as "Love Me Like a Reptile." "The Chase Is Better Than the Catch," and "Jailbait." blatantly reference sex, which drew the ire of some critics and feminists. Clarke explained to Classic Albums in 2005:
"..We only thought of ourselves as a good time rock 'n' roll band, really... But we weren't trying to get a message across, apart from have a good time, you know: get pissed, get stoned, and fuck a chick. And that'll do.."
Maille, who was affectionately nicknamed "Turtle" by the band (for his resemblance to the reptile), was critical in giving Motörhead a sleeker sound on record without sacrificing its raw power. Diminutive and soft-spoken, Maille was well equipped to deal with the trio, who were notorious for in-fighting and general unmanageability. In the documentary The Guts and the Glory, drummer Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor remembers:
"..Even if he was angry, he was angry like this: (assumes soft-spoken tone) 'You're not supposed to do it like that,' or 'Stop that boys .'" Lemmy Concurs, "Vic was great. He was the first one who told us we were all cunts and work harder. He had a very dry personae: 'Is that really the best shot you've got?'.."
In 2015, Clarke recalled to John Robinson of Uncut:
"..He didn't drink, he didn't smoke, and he was very delicate because he was diabetic. He had to have his Ryvita at six o'clock. We couldn't get heavy with him, couldn't fucking shake him, you know what I mean? He might die! So we had to listen to him.."
Whereas the band had previously had an input at the mixing stage, Maile took sole responsibility here, Clarke explaining that the result was "..you can finally hear everything that's going on.." Of the performances, Lemmy stated "..Vic got me singing instead of just shouting all the time.." while Taylor added "..and he got me playing more solid.."
Motörhead appeared on Top of the Pops twice in October to promote the single "Ace of Spades", and were guests on the ITV children's morning show Tiswas on 8 November. The band undertook a UK tour from 22 October through to 2 December under the banner Ace Up Your Sleeve, with support from Girlschool and Vardis. After the Belfast show on 2 December, hijinks resulted in Taylor breaking his neck forcing him to wear a neck-brace and curtailing any further band activity. The other members of the band took the opportunity to collaborate with Girlschool for the St. Valentine's Day Massacre EP.
The album has been described as "one of the best metal albums by any band, ever" and has become a significantly influential 'hard rock classic.' AllMusic calls it:
"..rock-solid, boasting several superlative standouts" and insists it "rightly deserves its legacy as a classic. There's no debating that.."
Sid Smith of BBC Music enthused in 2007:
"..When Lemmy sings the lyrics to '(We Are) The Road Crew' it’s the sound of a grizzled veteran who has been there, done that and gone back for second helpings...If ever a piece of music was a manifesto for the mad, bad and dangerous to know party then the title track is it. Unrepentant and full of hell, there’s not one note out of place.."
Despite the band always referring to their music as Rock 'n' Roll, the album, and particularly its title track have been considered amongst the most influential in the development of thrash metal. The title track is, for many, the definitive Motörhead anthem. The album is listed in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
From the moment frontman Lemmy Kilmister's now legendary bass riff kicks in on the title track, Motorhead's Ace of Spades has the feel of a definitive statement. Beneath the speed and aggression sits a near-perfect blues song at its core. They just fed that blues a handful of amphetamines.
The result is about as perfect a rock and roll statement as Lemmy (or anyone, for that matter) has ever made. It's also a most-appropriate introduction to an album, released on Nov. 8, 1980, that confirms everything Motorhead was meant to be.
"We are Motorhead," Lemmy has said when introducing countless concerts over the years, "and we play rock and roll!" And so it remained, despite many wanting to assign them the label of heavy metal – and even punk - over the years. Motorhead stayed true, then as now, to a singular vision of playing loud, hard, heart-pounding, adrenaline-surging rock and roll.
To this point, they had had released three albums, hitting upon a signature blend of speed, aggression and riffs following Lemmy's dismissal from Hawkwind. All that was left, after scoring a Top 20 U.K. hit with 1979's Bomber, was conquering the world. Ace of Spades, a thrill ride from start to finish, would be the first Motorhead studio effort to receive distribution in the U.S.
Hardly a one-man show, guitarist "Fast" Eddie Clarke and drummer Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor made up the Motorhead lineup which gave the world these initial albums. The way that trio played together was truly incredible, and though Lemmy and Motorhead have long since carried on, this lineup still holds a special place in the band's history.
Ace of Spades is a big reason why. Clarke's playing is dynamic and stylish. It's not easy to arrive at a signature approach, but he was able to do so here – as was Taylor, whose own style would go on to influence countless drummers over the years. They come barreling out on initial songs like "Love Me Like A Reptile" and "Shoot You in the Back," and it's clear these boys mean business.
"Dance" is a full-on raver that cooks like a lost Yardbirds gem, while "Bite the Bullet" and "The Hammer" are speed-fueled affirmations of life. Even when they slow things down, Motorhead seems to get just that much heavier on "The Chase is Better Than the Catch." "Live to Win," "Fast and Loose," and "(We Are) the Road Crew)." There isn't one duff track in the batch.
Producer Vic Maile completed things on Ace of Spades, later returning to work on the live album No Sleep 'til Hammersmith and the classic single "Killed By Death." One of the great unsung contributors in British rock, Maile as able to get a fresh, biting sound that captured the rock and roll spirit. And fans responded, sending Ace of Spades to No. 4 in the U.K., where the title song also became their first Top 20 hit.
More importantly, Ace of Spades officially exposed the world at large to Motorhead, setting the standard by which all other of their albums would be measured.
The Story Behind The Song: Ace Of Spades by Motorhead
It’s one of the instantly recognisable all-time classic tracks of heavy rock and Motörhead’s signature tune. But how did Motorhead classic Ace Of Spades come about?
Motörhead had speed in their veins and wind in their sails when they entered the studio to record their fourth album, Ace Of Spades, in the summer of 1980. Their previous release, the live Golden Years EP, had turned this gnarliest of bands into unlikely Top 10 stars. But it would be Ace Of Spades – particularly its unforgettable title track – that sealed their immortality.
From its overdriven bass intro to its squealing, hit-the-brakes ending two minutes and 48 seconds later, this gamblers’ psalm would become not just Motörhead’s signature song, but also one of the all-time great rock’n’roll anthems.
Naturally, the band themselves had no such ambitions when they holed up in Rockfield Studios, South Wales in early 1980 to begin rehearsing for the follow-up to the white-hot one-two of Overkill and Bomber, two brilliant albums released within seven months of each other in 1979.
“We went down to Rockfield for a couple of weeks, got in the vodka and everything else,” says guitarist ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke. “Unfortunately, Lemmy wasn’t too up for rehearsing in those days – he had a nice bird up there with him, so he was distracted. But Phil [drummer ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor] and I used to like playing, so after we’d finished fishing and fucking about and God knows what, me and Phil would have a little bash. It gave us an opportunity to work out some riffs.”
Ace Of Spades was one of them. The band recognised its potential, and worked it up into a rough song and recorded an instrumental version at Rockfield. Back in London, they added vocals and overdubs. This early incarnation first appeared on the 1989 odds-and-sods album Dirty Love. While not dissimilar from the finished version, it lacked two key components: that steel-plated central riff, and the breakdown that Lemmy memorably described as “the tap-dancing section”.
Producer Vic Maile, who had previously worked with Lemmy’s former band Hawkwind and who Clarke affectionately describes as “a nice bloke, very soft, big hooter, short hair”, played a big part in fixing both.
“Vic kind of questioned what we were doing with the song,” says Clarke. “He made us look at that riff, so Lemmy and I started fucking around with it a bit. It was one of the only times we’d written in the studio.”
Maile also had what Clarke called “his box of tricks” – a cardboard box full of items used to provide sound effects. Amid the maracas and rattlesnake tails was a set of woodblocks which would provide the clacking sound during the breakdown.
“He said: ‘This is what we’ll do’,” explains Clarke. “We were pissed or speeding and we were totally against it. ‘Well, we’ll do it cos it’s you, Vic, but we ain’t gonna fucking use it.’ He set up a nice Neumann mic, and the three of us stood there with the blocks. Of course, at first we’re all doing it at different fucking times: ‘Come on, Phil, for fuck’s sake!’ ‘No, man, it’s you!’ But when we heard it, we thought: ‘Oh, it’s not bad.’”
With its turbo-charged new riff and memorable breakdown, the track was beginning to sound special. The final piece in the jigsaw was Lemmy’s lyrics – an attempt, he said, to cram as many gambling references in as possible: the high one, snake eyes, dead man’s hand (and don’t forget the joker…). In typical myth-making fashion, he claimed to have written the lyrics in the back of a Transit van while speeding down the motorway at 90mph.
“He might have written it in the fucking shitter for all I know,” Clarke says with a laugh. “He used to do that. We’d say: ‘Man, we need some fucking lyrics for this.’ So he used to go for a shit and write the lyrics. But if he said he wrote it in a Transit van, then you’ve got to believe him.”
Ace Of Spades reached No.15 in the UK when it was released in November 1980. It swiftly became a highlight of their live set.
The last time Clarke saw Lemmy was at the Classic Rock Awards in October 2015, two months before the singer’s death. Motörhead were due to play UK dates the following January, including two dates at Hammersmith Apollo, and the two of them talked about the guitarist joining them on both nights.
“He looked so frail at the Classic Rock Awards,” says Clarke. “I was a bit shocked. I did think that he wouldn’t make the gigs because he was so frail. I never thought he was going to die, though.”
After Lemmy’s death, an online campaign to get Ace Of Spades back in the charts pushed it to No.13, two spots higher than its original peak more than 35 years before. In 2016, Clarke joined old sparring partners Saxon and Girlschool on tour. Each show would culminate with a mass rendition of Ace Of Spades.
“It went down a fucking storm,” he says. “It didn’t bring tears to my eyes, but it was very emotional. What can I say?”
In his later years, Lemmy had mixed feelings about the song he played every night on stage with Motörhead. While he recognised its enduring quality, familiarity definitely bred contempt.
“I’m sick to death of it now,” he wrote in his 2002 autobiography, White Line Fever. “We didn’t become fossilised after that record, you know, we’ve had quite a few good releases since then. But the fans want to hear it so we still play it every night. For myself, I’ve had enough of that song.”
Eddie Clarke has no such issues: “It’s a fantastic track. It’s got a natural speed, a velocity of its own, it’s got a great arrangement and it rocks like a bastard. And Lemmy’s lyrics are fantastic.
I sometimes say to people: ‘I used to be in a band years ago’, and they say: ‘Oh, which one?’ When I say Motörhead, they look bemused. So I say: ‘Ace Of Spades’ and the penny drops. They might not know Motörhead, but they definitely know Ace Of Spades.”