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Motorhead’s Mission: To Be ‘The Dirtiest Rock and Roll Band in the World’

Fin Costello, Getty Images
Fin Costello, Getty Images

“They’ll be the dirtiest rock and roll band in the world. If you moved in next door, your lawn would die.”

Those words served as Lemmy Kilmister‘s memorable manifesto for Motörhead, the band he founded in 1975 after being fired from Hawkwind in the wake of an arrest for drug possession. There was more than a hint of defiance in his plans for the new group, and for good reason — as he told Spin years later, he felt he was being unfairly singled out for an indulgence he’d essentially shared with his former bandmates.

“It was more that I was messing with the ‘wrong’ drugs,” he argued. “Everybody was doing acid; I was just doing speed with it, too. Even in the drug culture, there was this snobbery: ‘Oh, you’re taking that awful speed?’ Well, f– off, then. I can’t be bothered with people’s class awareness.”

A different sort of speed — of the musical variety — proved a crucial component of Motörhead’s sound, adding an essential element to the band’s aggressive attack and helping bridge the gap between punk and metal. Although Lemmy always argued that Motörhead weren’t really a metal band, their seething energy and raw, unbridled power helped inspire countless younger artists, adding a sinewy strand to the genre’s DNA.

Along the way, Motörhead more than lived up to Lemmy’s boastful prediction, selling millions of records around the world and achieving legendary status as a live act even as they settled into elder statesmen status. And although his hard-living reputation threatened to overshadow the music on occasion — and ultimately didn’t help the health problems he faced later in life — the band’s many classic records haven’t lost an ounce of their power over the last 40 years. And as for that famous quote? Lemmy later admitted he’d stolen it from Dr. Hook — and it might not have been all that accurate anyway.

“In truth, if you lived next door to us in those days, you probably would’ve never stopped to see if your lawn was dead,” he told Spin. “You would’ve just moved out because of the f—ing racket.”

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