40 Years Ago: Motorhead Set a New Standard With ‘Ace of Spades’
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 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 that gave the world these early LPs. The way that trio played together was truly incredible, and though Motorhead continued with other members until Lemmy's death, this lineup still holds a special place in the band's history.
Listen to Motorhead's "Ace of Spades"
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 of their other albums would be measured.