The music community was rocked in 2015 when Lemmy, Motörhead’s enigmatic frontman, died. The band had just finished recording their final album, Bad Magic, and the final song for their covers album, Under Cover, which is a tribute of sorts to the bands that helped inspire Motörhead and joined them in their sphere of using music to fight back against injustices. The album, released in September 2017, features covers of The Rolling Stones, Metallica, Judas Priest, and, most poignantly, a cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes”. The album was actually recorded over a number of years, spanning 1992 to 2015. Motorhead are known for taking popular songs by their contemporaries and giving them the Motörhead treatment so a covers album seems fairly apt for a band with such a prevalent history.
A 40-year career
Motörhead – who released 23 studio albums, 10 live recordings, 12 compilation albums, and 5 EPs – had a career that spanned over 40 years. The band formed in 1975 after Lemmy was dismissed from Hawkwind for ‘creative differences’ of their recreational habits. He recruited Larry Wallis (guitar) and Lucas Fox (drums – although he was quickly replaced by Phil Taylor, who was considerably more reliable) and attempted to create music that didn’t pretend to be anything other than “loud, vicious, raucous” music. The band’s early beginnings rehearsing at the Sound Management studios in Chelsea and stealing equipment as they had none hint at some of the success that would follow the band. Motörhead’s start came as a support act for Greeslade at The Roundhouse in July 1975. After playing 10 proper gigs, the band were picked as the support for Blue Oyster Cult at the Hammersmith Odeon. Following this, the band gained contracts from United Artists. The rest is, as they say, history. However, a tumultuous 18 months followed, with the departure of Taylor and Clarke (the latter who had been recruited as a second guitarist, prompting original guitarist Larry Wallis to quit). The trio is generally considered to be the classic line-up. Their differences were ironed out and Clarke and Taylor returned to the band, which took the management of Douglas Smith, who helped to get them back on track. The line-up remained the same until 1982 and is generally considered to be the formative classic years of Motorhead.
Motörhead cycled through 10 band members (Lemmy being the constant figure, and the final line-up consisting of Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee accompanying him), released 3 UK Top 10 singles, and spent a total of 6 weeks there. Their 1981 No Sleep Till Hammersmith album reached Number 1 for a week. Perhaps the most famous Motorhead song is “Ace of Spades”, which has sold 478,000 copies since 2003 and is purportedly about Lemmy’s fast and loose attitude. The song is based on the idea of playing cards and playing life with a bit of risk involved. The song gained legions of fans and has even been listed as one of the most influential references to casino in pop culture. Motörhead’s influence can be seen far and wide away from the music industry. For example, San Diego microbrewery Amplified Ales teamed up with Motörhead in order to develop a Born to Lose IPA. The beer is described as loud and aggressive, in fitting with the band’s style. And, of course, the beer is 6.5%, higher than a standard session ale, as only a beer suitable for Motörhead would be. Motörhead have also produced cider and vodka.
From Sex Pistols to Metallica: Under Cover
The Under Cover album features: The Sex Pistols’s “God Save the Queen”; The Ramones’s “Rockaway Beach”; The Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Sympathy for the Devil”, and Metallica’s “Whiplash”. The selection charts the highs and lows of punk rock music – from the loud protesting beats of The Sex Pistols to the drawl of the Stones and the upbeat melody of “Rockaway Beach”. The album takes listeners on a journey, not unlike the journey was undertaken by Motörhead themselves. The album also comes as a tribute to frontman Lemmy, whose death signalled the official end of the band, out of respect. Lemmy’s desire to live and breathe music was evident before his foray on stage – he would help manage Emerson, Lake and Palmer in the 1960s and even carted equipment for Jimi Hendrix. While Lemmy and Motorhead give tribute to those bands, Motörhead themselves are an inspiration to amateur and professional musicians alike.
Given their place in the rock and roll hall of fame, it is apt that Motörhead’s final album will be a tribute to those around them who were complicit in the lofty ideas of taking music to new heights. While Lemmy’s death renders the band frozen in time, their covers album will ensure listeners – new and old – will be transported back to the studio when the songs were recorded, giving them an almost timeless quality.