By Noah Hubbell
By Leslie Simon
By Brad Lopez
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Inkoo Kang
By Dave Herrerra
By Josiah M. Hesse
Motorhead's self-titled first album was released in 1977 and featured its best-remembered lineup: Lemmy on bass and vocals, "Fast Eddie" Clarke on guitar and "Philthy Animal" Taylor behind the drum kit. Together this threesome quickly won a reputation for loudness, rudeness and slovenliness that's never been rivaled. But because the debut arrived smack in the middle of the British punk/new-wave explosion, Motorhead was dismissed by the country's tastemakers--something that would happen again and again over the next twenty years. "It's not that I take pride in being unfashionable," Lemmy says. "It's just that I've gotten used to it. I do it rather well now. I've been practicing for a long time."
True believers regard the next several Motorhead platters--especially 1979's Overkill, 1980's Ace of Spades and the wonderfully obnoxious live assault No Sleep 'til Hammersmith--as classics of their type. They've got a point: These recordings form the blueprint for Eighties speed metal and proved hugely influential for a slew of future stars. Before Lars Ulrich co-founded Metallica, for example, he was the president of a Motorhead fan club.
Unfortunately, the combo spent the remainder of the decade in flux, in large part because of frequent personnel changes; Clarke left in 1982, and Taylor departed in 1984 (he returned a few years later, then split for good in 1992). Moreover, albums such as 1982's Iron Fist didn't live up to anyone's expectations--and because of record-company non-interest, even decent long-players such as 1986's Orgasmatron failed to reach as many listeners as they should have. A contract with Sony, which issued 1991's 1916 and 1992's March or Die, didn't solve these problems, either.
According to Lemmy, Motorhead's label woes came about because executives "don't really like us and don't really know how to market us and don't really know anything about our music. These foooking businessmen are all alike; they all want to take the easy option, not rock the boat and push shit out--and as long as the kids buy it, they're happy. They have no idea about quality, they have no respect for quality, and they don't know the meaning of fair play. All they want to do is to strap you to the foooking wheel and make you do the work that they want you to do and then sell it to people in the box that they've decided your music belongs in.
"I've got no patience for that shit. I listen to everything from Ravel to the Bee Gees. There are no barriers in music except the ones that we artificially put up between ourselves--but the record companies are doing that more and more. As time goes by, people are listening to only one kind of rock music, and that's foooking stew-pid. They're letting MTV tell them what to like, and MTV--well, talk about becoming the same foooking thing they started out to fight. You have to kiss so much ass over there to get a video on that you get foooking chapped lips. The message they're sending to us is that nobody wants to listen to this music, but it's not true. We've gone all around the country, and people are going balmy for it."
Touring has sustained Motorhead since its birth, but it's been even more vital over the past few years. After Sony dropped the group, Lemmy and company released Bastards on the smallish ZYX imprint, but erratic distribution prevented it from making much of an impact. Sacrifice, put out last year by North Carolina-based CMC International, appeared with just as little fanfare, but thus far Lemmy is pleased with the company's commitment: "We were going to sign and they knew that, so before we even put pen to paper, they shipped the album--which is unbelievable in the current climate. As far as I'm concerned, that was brilliant."
Sacrifice isn't quite that good, but it's certainly good enough: Motorhead's current players (Lemmy, guitarist Phil Campbell and drummer Mikkey Dee) put an impressive charge into familiar stompers like "Sex and Death," "Dog-Face Boy," "All Gone to Hell" and the title cut. Best of all is "Don't Waste Your Time," in which piano and saxophone supplement a Motorhead-friendly, Fifties-style raver. Lemmy wrote the last tune by himself--a rarity these days. "We usually write all the music together," he notes. "I write all the lyrics, but that's only because the other two can't be foooking bothered, you know? It's always been that way. Phil Taylor wrote some lyrics once, and frankly, they weren't that great. He sort of knew it, too, but at least he tried. If someone came up with better lyrics for a song than me, that would be fine."
Celebrity members of the Motorhead cult like Lemmy's words just fine. At Lemmy's fiftieth birthday party, recently staged at a California nightspot, Ozzy Osbourne and the members of Anthrax sent videotaped kudos, Iggy Pop and Tom Arnold ("That guy from Roseanne," Lemmy says) delivered their compliments in person, and Ulrich and the rest of Metallica arrived clad in full Lemmy regalia for an impromptu set. "They went on stage and did 45 minutes of old Motorhead songs," he marvels. "That was the greatest tribute. Twenty years after people said we were the worst band in the world, I've got an internationally known, trillion-selling band putting on wigs to look like me and playing my music at my birthday party. I must be doing something right."