Motörhead ( /ˈmoʊtərhɛd/) are an English heavy metal band formed in 1975 by bassist, singer and songwriter Ian Fraser Kilmister, known mainly by his stage name Lemmy, who has remained the sole constant member. The band is often considered a precursor to or one of the earliest members of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, which re-energised heavy metal in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Usually a power trio, Motörhead had particular success in the early 1980s with several successful singles in the UK Top 40 chart. The albums Overkill, Bomber, Ace of Spades, and particularly No Sleep til Hammersmith, cemented Motörheads reputation as one of Britains foremost rock bands.
Motörhead are typically classified as heavy metal, and their fusion of punk rock into the genre helped to pioneer speed metal and thrash metal. Motörheads approach has remained the same over the bands career, preferring to play what they enjoy and do best; their appreciation of early rock and roll is reflected in some of their occasional cover songs. Motörheads lyrics typically cover such topics as war, good versus evil, abuse of power, promiscuous sex, substance abuse, and, most famously, gambling. The name "Motörhead" is a reference to users of the drug amphetamine. The bands distinctive fanged-face logo, with its oversized boars horns, chains, and spikes, was created by artist Joe Petagno in 1977 for the cover of the Motörhead album and has appeared in many variations on covers of ensuing albums. The fanged face has been referred to variously as "War-Pig" and "Snaggletooth". The band is ranked number 26 on VH1s 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock.
Lemmy was fired from Hawkwind in May 1975 for, as he says, "doing the wrong drugs." He was arrested on suspicion of possessing cocaine at the Canadian border and spent five days in prison, causing the band to cancel some of their North America tour dates. Now on his own, Lemmy decided to form a new band called Motörhead, inspired by the final song he had written for Hawkwind.
Lemmys stated aim was to "concentrate on very basic music: loud, fast, city, raucous, arrogant, paranoid, speedfreak rock n roll ... it will be so loud that if we move in next door to you, your lawn will die". On the recommendation of Mick Farren, he recruited Larry Wallis (ex-Pink Fairies) on electric guitar and Lucas Fox on drums. According to Lemmy, the bands first practice was in a furniture store in Chelsea, England in 1975. Kilmister has said they used to steal equipment, as the band was short on gear. Their first engagement was supporting Greenslade at The Roundhouse, London on 20 July 1975. On 19 October, having played 10 engagements, they became the supporting act to Blue Öyster Cult at the Hammersmith Odeon.
The band were contracted to United Artists by Andrew Lauder, the A&R man for the band Lemmy was previously in, Hawkwind. They recorded sessions at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth with producer Dave Edmunds, during which Fox proved to be unreliable and was replaced by drummer Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor, a casual acquaintance of Lemmys. Their record label was dissatisfied with the material and refused to release it, although it was subsequently issued as On Parole in 1979 after the band had established some success.
In February 1976, deciding that two guitarists were required, the band auditioned "Fast" Eddie Clarke. Wallis, who was continuing to tour with a reformed Pink Fairies, quit immediately after the auditions and Clarke remained as the sole guitarist. This trio of Lemmy – Clarke – Taylor is today regarded as the "classic" Motörhead line-up. In December, the band recorded the "Leaving Here" single for Stiff Records, but United Artists intervened to prevent its general release as the band were still under contract to them, despite their refusal to issue their debut album. Initial reactions to the band had been unfavourable; they won a poll for "the best worst band in the world" in the music magazine NME.
By April 1977, living in squats and with little recognition, Taylor and Clarke wanted to give it up, and after some debate, the band agreed to do a farewell show at the Marquee Club in London. Lemmy had become acquainted with Ted Carroll from Chiswick Records and asked him to bring a mobile studio to the show to record it for posterity. Carroll was unable to get the mobile unit to the Marquee Club but showed up backstage after the engagement and offered them two days at Escape Studios with producer Speedy Keen to record a single. The band took the chance, and instead of recording a single they laid down 11 unfinished tracks. Carroll gave them a few more days at Olympic Studios to finish the vocals and the band completed 13 tracks for release as an album. Chiswick issued the single "Motorhead" in June, followed by the album Motörhead in August, which spent one week in the UK Albums Chart at number 43. The band toured the UK supporting Hawkwind in June, then from late July they commenced the "Beyond the Threshold of Pain" tour with The Count Bishops.
In August, Tony Secunda took over the management of the band, and their cohesiveness became so unstable that by March 1978, Clarke and Taylor had formed and were performing as The Muggers with Speedy Keen and Billy Rath.
In July 1978, the band returned to the management of Douglas Smith, who secured a one-off singles deal with Bronze Records. The resulting "Louie Louie" single was issued in September peaking at number 68 on the UK Singles Chart, and the band toured the UK to promote it, recorded a BBC Radio 1 John Peel in session on 18 September (these tracks were later issued on the 2005 BBC Live & In-Session album), and appeared for the first time on BBC Televisions Top of the Pops on 25 October. Chiswick capitalised on this new level of success by re-issuing the debut album Motörhead on white vinyl through EMI Records.
The singles success led to Bronze extending their contract, and put the band back into the studio to record an album, this time with producer Jimmy Miller at Roundhouse Studios. A hint of what the band had recorded for the album came on 9 March 1979 when the band played "Overkill" on Top of the Pops to support the release of the single ahead of the Overkill album, which was released on 24 March. It became Motörheads first album to break into the top 40 of the UK Albums chart, reaching number 24, with the single reaching number 39 on the UK Singles Chart. These releases were followed by the "Overkill" UK tour which began on 23 March. A subsequent single was released in June, coupling the album track "No Class" as the A-side with the previously unreleased song "Like a Nightmare" on the B-side. It fared worse than both the album and previous single but reached number 61 on the UK singles chart.
During July and August, except for a break to appear at the Reading Festival, the band were working on their next album, Bomber. Released on 27 October, it reached number 12 on the UK Albums Chart. On 1 December, it was followed by the "Bomber" single, which reached number 34 on the UK Singles Chart. The "Bomber" Europe and UK tour followed, with support from Saxon. The stage show featured a spectacular aircraft bomber-shaped lighting rig. During the "Bomber" tour, United Artists put together tapes recorded during the Rockfield Studios sessions in 1975–1976 and released them as the album On Parole, which peaked at number 65 on the UK Albums Chart in December.
On 8 May 1980, while the band were on tour in Europe, Bronze released The Golden Years, which sold better than any of their previous releases, reaching number eight on the UK Singles Chart. The band had, however, preferred the title Flying Tonight, in reference to the "Bomber" lighting rig. On 20 August, the band (40 minutes) and Girlschool (20 minutes) were filmed performing live at the Nottingham Theatre Royal for the Rockstage programme, broadcast on UK television by the ATV station on 4April 1981.
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