No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith
02. Stay Clean
04. The Hammer
05. Iron Horse
06. No Class
08. (We Are) The Road Crew
Recorded live in England surrounded by maniacs 1981 except "Iron Horse" 1980.
(Recorded live at: Leeds, Newcastle).
Lemmy: lead vocals, bass
Fast Eddie Clarke: background vocals, guitar
Philthy Animal Taylor: drums
After releasing three albums and touring for five years, Motörhead's 1980 album Ace of Spades (their first LP to be released in the United States) gave the band its first taste of major success, although as drummer Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor wryly notes in the documentary The Guts and the Glory, "The more famous we seemed to get, the more we were working all the time, and we just never seemed to see any money…This is how you know you're being ripped off, when they work you like dogs and hardly give you any time off, 'cause when you got a bit of time off you might start thinking about things .' In February, 1981, the band released the St. Valentine's Day Massacre EP co-recorded with Girlschool, and in March headed out on a British jaunt called the "Short Sharp Pain in the Neck" tour, from which the songs on No Sleep 'til Hammersmith would be culled.
The original No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith LP includes two songs from their debut album, the title track from 1979's Bomber, five songs from 1979's Overkill, and three songs from Ace of Spades. The track "Motorhead" would be released as a single and become the band's biggest hit to date, reaching #6 on the U.K. chart. With the exception of "Iron Horse/Born To Lose," which was from a 1980 show, No Sleep 'til Hammersmith was recorded at the Leeds and Newcastle shows during the Short Sharp Pain In The Neck tour. The name of the tour was a reference to the injury sustained by Taylor when he was dropped on his head during some after-show horseplay.
Despite the title of the album, the London venue the Hammersmith Odeon was not played on the tour, the shows being:
27 March 1981: West Runton Pavilion, Norfolk, England
28 March 1981: Queen's Hall, Leeds, England
29 March 1981: City Hall, Newcastle, England
30 March 1981: City Hall, Newcastle, England
3 April 1981: Maysfield Leisure Centre, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Backstage at the Leeds and Newcastle shows the band were presented with silver record and gold record for sales of Ace of Spades, a silver record for Overkill and a silver record for "Please Don't Touch." The sound at Leeds Queens hall was not good and most of the original album is taken from Newcastle. Vocalist and bassist Lemmy has stated that originally they intended No Sleep 'til Hammersmith to be a double album but they only had enough material for three sides. At time of the album's release, the band were in the middle of their first tour of North America, supporting Ozzy Osbourne. "When No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith came out", Lemmy stated to James McNair of Mojo in 2011, "it made a difference financially, but a lot of it went back into the show."
No Sleep 'til Hammersmith is the band's most successful in terms of chart positioning, peaking at #1 on the UK charts, having capitalized on the preceding success of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre EP and Ace of Spades album and single. Lemmy believed its success was due to a building anticipation from their fan base for a live album, due to the band having toured so heavily in the past, but also considered it "our downfall" due to the difficulty in following up its success. The album is listed in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Jason Birchmeier of AllMusic writes, "Motorhead could do no wrong at this point in time, as they were laying the foundation for the coming thrash movement, in a way, and their winning streak continues here on No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith, one of the best live metal albums of all time." Amazon.com: "Motorhead's No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith captured the band at its earth-shattering, genre-forming peak...No Sleep is one of the best live albums of all time, capturing the live high-octane impact of the legendary power trio line-up." In the 2011 book Overkill: The Untold Story of Motorhead, biographer Joel McIver calls the album "the peak of the Lemmy/Clarke/Philthy line-up's career."
It doesn't happen often, but sometimes the ruthlessly uncompromising is also popular - the original No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith album went straight to No. 1 in the UK when it was released in 1981. Fast and hard and dirty rock'n'roll played live by a band as good as Motorhead ought to be hugely entertaining and it is. It was then and it still is now.
Of course other bands have come and gone that were faster, harder and dirtier, so why does this still sound so ... entertaining? It's because of the way the songs are put together - the fantastically catchy riffs and hooky choruses that make these tracks superb examples of songwriting craft as well as being asskicking rockers. Later bands abstracted the asskicking attitude and took it further, but few had the songwriting chops to produce classics like those found on this album. "Ace Of Spades" is the famous one but for me it is songs like "No Class", "Overkill", "Bomber" and "Motorhead" that stand out as great music. But every song on here is a well-made monster, like a fleet of 11 classic Harleys in pristine condition roaring down the highway.
Motorhead's live sound is the ultimate genuinely powerful trio. At first you think that you can't hear Lemmy's bass - is something wrong with the mix? It isn't until the bass solo on the second track that you can tell why, the bass has so much upper-register attack that it sounds like another guitar, and the bass and the guitar are playing in such tight formation that they sound like one instrument until the solos. When Fast Eddie steps out from the riff to play a solo you can listen clearly to Lemmy playing the riff - to say he has a crushingly powerful style would be an understatement. Holding down the bottom end is the double-bass drum, but unfortunately Philthy isn't quite as tight as the other two and occasionally strays out of time. Of course that just enhances the authenticity of the live sound.
The passage of time has put Lemmy's vocals on this album into perspective - they used to be considered the ultimate in rough-edged incomprehensible growling, but compared with where metal vocals have gone since then, he sounds positively cultured. Obviously still a tough customer but one who actually articulates words.
So after the original 11 tracks are over and the all-clear siren has gone the 7 bonus tracks come out and they are not ashamed to be heard in such august company. All are from the same three shows that produced the originals and all are of the same high standard as the originals, "Jailbait" and "Fire Fire" standing out. The only thing I don't enjoy is the bit during the last track when Lemmy tries to play a call-and-response with the audience. It doesn't work - maybe the crowd was too wasted and pummeled by sound to understand? The bonus disc is alternative versions of 11 of the songs on disc 1. These performances are a little bit rougher and the mix is a lot more raw-sounding, so it is like getting a top-quality bootleg of a 1981 show.
At the time Motorhead seemed to be the only band that both metallers and punks could agree on although this album is not really either. It is really just a powerful and speedy rock'n'roll show.