35 Years Ago: Motorhead Get Live on ‘No Sleep ’til Hammersmith’
As popular and widely respected as Motorhead became in their later years, leading all the way up to band leader Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister's death in December 2015, it remains almost impossible to believe that, way back in 1981, one of the group's furious slabs of speed metal mayhem actually topped the U.K. albums chart. And yet Motorhead, which at the time consisted of Lemmy, guitarist "Fast" Eddie Clarke and drummer Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor, accomplished this incredible feat with their seminal and uncompromising live recording, No Sleep 'til Hammersmith.
Or, as Lemmy put it, when interviewed for "Fast" Eddie Clarke's website, years later, "We knew that No Sleep was gonna do well, but never in our wildest dreams did we think it would go straight in at No. 1."
Lemmy's confidence was rooted in the fact that his band's landmark fourth studio effort, the ubiquitous Ace of Spades, had already peaked at No. 4 in the U.K. in 1980, which was no small achievement for a group once voted by readers of the NME as being the "worst band in the world." But by the end of 1980, Motorhead were so popular that they swept every category in the year-end polls conducted by Sounds magazine, except for the Male Sex Object award, where Lemmy came in second behind David Coverdale.
Meanwhile, the aptly named Ace Up Your Sleeve tour had taken Motorhead across much of Great Britain and Europe before culminating in four sold out nights at London's prestigious Hammersmith Odeon -- another impressive milestone that made naming the band's forthcoming live album a no-brainer. But despite the name, dates in Leeds and Newcastle (March 28-30) from their next tour wound up being picked for No Sleep 'til Hammersmith.
The title, which also referenced the band's notorious propensity for speed (musical and chemical), became as iconic in heavy metal lore as Motorhead's performance. As "Fast" Eddie told author Jake Brown in his book Motorhead in the Studio, "The kids used to enjoy the live gigs so much that a live album sort of takes them back there. The whole Motorhead attitude, what we stood for back in those days, I think the show had a lot to do with it. Having the Bomber [light truss] and generally being so loud you couldn't hear yourself think. But obviously you can't include that on the record."
From the opening jab-to-the-throat of "Ace of Spades" through to the final knockout applied by the band's eponymous tune, 40 breathless minutes later, No Sleep gave everyone not lucky enough to see them 11 thrilling reasons to wish they had. Almost all of the fans' favorites were captured here in their beautifully bludgeoning glory here, including perennial concert staples like "Stay Clean," "Metropolis" and "No Class," speed metal cornerstones like "Overkill," "Bomber" and "(We Are) The Road Crew," and even a few surprises in the relentless "The Hammer" and atypically restrained "Iron Horse" and "Capricorn" -- the last introduced by Lemmy as "a slow one, so you's can get mellowed out."
Fans were not mellow about rushing out to British record stores on June 27, 1981, and quickly snapping up their copies of No Sleep 'til Hammersmith, contributing to its aforementioned burst to the top of the charts and eventual gold certification. Unfortunately, the band members themselves weren't nearby to enjoy the fringe benefits of their album's accomplishments, having already flown across the Atlantic to open up for Ozzy Osbourne's Blizzard of Ozz tour. Clarke's bio on his official website notes that his "biggest regret was that, with being on the other side of the Atlantic, nobody could buy them any celebratory drinks."
Lemmy related his own thoughts on the matter in his autobiography White Line Fever, saying, "I heard about it in New York -- I was still in bed when somebody phoned me. 'Uhhh -- call me back, will you?' I mumbled and hung up. Then about 10 minutes later it hit me and I was up like a shot. That was the height of our popularity in England [and] when you've peaked there's nowhere to go but down. But at the time we didn't know we'd peaked. We didn't know anything."
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