Top 10 Motorhead Songs
Lemmy Kilmister always maintained that Motorhead weren't a heavy metal band, but a rock 'n' roll band – albeit the fastest, nastiest, heaviest and loudest rock 'n' roll band to ever crank their Marshall stacks beyond 11. Motorhead were also one of the most consistent and prolific music institutions for decades, reliably churning out 20-plus albums (not counting all the live, compilation and assorted other releases) that have made them underground royalty. With more than 250 tracks to choose from, we somehow managed to come up with a list of the Top 10 Motorhead Songs, shattered eardrums be damned.
This devastating nugget from the war-obsessed 1916 LP ended one of Motorhead’s rare recording hiatuses (they spent four years in legal limbo fighting their record company) just like it starts our list of the Top 10 Motorhead songs, with a signature blast of supercharged, genetically mutated ’50s rock 'n' roll. (Also see late-career honorable mentions like "Sacrifice," "Liar," "Crazy Like a Fox" and "Smiling Like a Killer.")
Released in 1982, "Iron Fist" comes from the final album recorded by the classic Motorhead lineup of Lemmy, guitar slinger "Fast" Eddie Clarke and drumming dynamo 'Philthy Animal’ Taylor. Some of the album's weaker songs hint at the stress fractures that would tear apart this magical partnership, but the LP's title track is a textbook example of the trio’s patented three-minutes-or-less calling card – the same one that showed many future thrashers how fast and furious was done.
This surprisingly melodic highlight from the band’s 1983 album, the first and only to feature former Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian "Robbo" Robertson, revealed a new side to Motorhead’s lethal bite while eliciting scattered cries of "sell-out" among the band's most faithful followers. But history has proven that the haters overreacted to the game-changing Another Perfect Day LP. Its standout number, "Dancing on Your Grave," proves that not even Lemmy would let Motorhead stagnate in the speed-metal trenches.
The song that started it all, "Motorhead" was Lemmy’s last composition as a member of space lords Hawkwind, and, somewhat ironically, it addresses the main reason for his dismissal: “not liking the same drugs as the rest of the band” (uppers for him; downers for them). Yes, this sort of thing mattered in the ‘70s. Turning adversity into opportunity, Lemmy quickly named and launched his new band with a turbo-charged re-recording of "Motorhead," and the rest, as they say, is history.
Motorhead’s second album of 1979 is the one that introduced most fans to Lemmy’s lifelong hobby of collecting World War II-related memorabilia, some of which (like the Nazi stuff) caused some controversy. Bomber's rollicking title track inspired infinite head-banging as well as the construction of a 40-foot stage-spanning light truss shaped like – you guessed it – a WWII bomber, famously captured for posterity years later on the cover of the live album No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith.
If this tribute to long-suffering roadies everywhere sounds especially vivid and accurate, that’s because Lemmy had the benefit of firsthand experience when he wrote it. Back in the late ‘60s, sometime between gigs with the Rockin’ Vickers beat combo and space cadets Hawkwind, Lemmy was a roadie for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, gaining remarkable insight into the daily trials of those employed by rock stars as well as their colorful lingo and tools of trade.
The ultimate expression of Lemmy’s twisted literary genius, and probably Motorhead’s most “metallic” song, "Orgasmatron" transforms a hilarious sexual aid used in Woody Allen’s futuristic comedy Sleeper into a merciless indictment of religion’s tyrannical crimes against mankind. Did we mention Lemmy is the son of a Royal Air Force chaplain? One of the most underrated lyricists in rock 'n' roll gets back at his dad (who walked out when Lem was just three months old) on "Orgasmatron," challenging the vocabulary skills of long-haired acolytes in the process.
By the mid-'80, the build-them-just-to-break-them British press had pretty much written off the band. Then came "Killed by Death," which put everyone in their place. One of four new cuts recorded for the must-own No Remorse compilation album, "Killed by Death" boasts all of Motorhead's classic hallmarks. Lemmy has rarely deployed such inspired wordplay ... and certainly never such a spectacular, so-cheesy-it's-brilliant music video.
Speed metal begins right here, in the brain-bullying tattoo of "Philthy Animal" Taylor’s double-kick drums, in the open-throttle thrust of Lemmy’s Rickenbacker bass and in "Fast" Eddie’s strangled Strat. "Overkill" – both the song and album – display a quantum leap in Motorhead’s songwriting abilities, as the threesome truly come together as a performing unit and further define their defiant and explosive post-MC5 aesthetic. Clarke and Taylor may be long gone, but you only need to bring up this song to understand the take-no-prisoners attitude and musical power that stokes the flames of Lemmy’s locomotive and, in turn, drives the band.
In "Ace of Spades," heavy rock has its ultimate expression of sheer decapitating efficiency. To put it another way, if Slayer’s Reign in Blood remains the benchmark for heavy-metal intensity delivered in less than half an hour, then "Ace of Spades" provides the individual-song equivalent. Every note and raspy croak is picture perfect, and the song’s collection of gambling metaphors is filled with wisdom usually reserved for scholarly texts and national constitutions. Not only is "Ace of Spades" a necessary part of any list of the Top 10 Motorhead Songs, but also any list of metal's all-time Top 10. Sorry, Lemmy, we mean rock 'n' roll.