September 24, 2012 by Dan Swinhoe
Metal pioneers Motörhead have one hell of a back catalogue. However, with the whole lot being packaged as ‘greatest hits’ and sold for the price of two festival tickets, the questions is whether it’s worth the investment…
The widely accepted truth is there only a few certainties in life; Death, Taxes, and Motörhead. Few bands can claim to have more influence and a longer legacy than Lemmy Kilmeister & Co., or a bigger influence on heavy metal.
Unbeknown to many, they did actually have more than one song. Ace Of Spades may be the one everybody knows, but the band have been releasing quality music on a regular basis for the last 30+ years, up to and including 2010′s The Wörld Is Yours (Motörhead are also the band that made umlauts properly metal). Most bands couldn’t dream of having the kind of quality back catalogue these guys do. To mark the band’s 35th anniversary Sanctuary have released The Complete Early Years, a 15 disc collection covering the band’s first seven years. Comprising of eight albums and seven singles/EPs, this box set covers their formation and rise to stardom that culminated in a no.1 live album.
Lemmy has spent the following thirty years trying to tell people they’re better than that one song [Ace of Spades]
After being fired from Hawkwind (below) for ‘doing the wrong drugs’, Lemmy formed Bastards, but soon renamed it Motörhead, after the last song he wrote for his band as an ode to speed. Their self-titled debut was released back in 1977 (though technically their first album was On Parole, but was released by a different label later to cash in on their success). While not quite hitting the highs of later records, it was a pretty risky first foray. At the time punk hadn’t exploded, and with Judas Priest and Rainbow the only metal bands really making any significant impact, the whole music scene was fairly safe. So fast, angry songs about drugs, vibrators and ‘white line fever’ were pretty out there. The early signs were good; the raw aggression is there, but as this was still a new line up and the songwriting wasn’t quite as polished as later releases.
Next up was the first bona fide classic in 79′s Overkill. The opening title track is fucking amazing (below). From the machine-gun drum intro and rumbling bass, to the two faux endings and rampant solos, this is ace. One of the best songs in rock and metal. The rest of the album is quality too; the likes of Stay Clean, No Class and Tear Ya Down were unique at the time and went on to inspire the likes of Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax. Then came Bomber. It has the unlucky privilege of being wedged between the release of Overkill and Ace of Spades, so often gets overlooked. In Dead Men Tell No Tales, Stone Dead Forever and Bomber you have three veritable Motörhead classics, and the rest of the album is pretty sharp too. The formula of grizzled vocals, stupidly heavy bass over a pure rock and roll soundtrack was well in place by this point.
[During Iron Fist and Another Perfect Day] the warty, croaky core of Lemmy was still there, but line-up changes saw the band move towards a slightly more melodic sound.
Rounding off an incredibly prolific period in the band’s history is their magnum opus, 1980′s Ace Of Spades. Even if you’ve never heard of all the other songs on here, chances are you know Ace Of Spades. A shade under three minutes, the story of gambling has become the band’s calling card, encompassing all that is great about the band. At the same time, Lemmy has spent the following thirty years trying to tell people they’re better than that one song. He’s right, but when do people ever listen? The rest of the album features some real classics, the seedy Love Me Like A Reptile, a tribute to the men behind the stage in (We Are) The Road Crew, and the catchy, if slightly illegal-sounding Jailbait. A classic through and through.
Lemmy has always been known for his live reputation– (his old band The Rockin’ Vickers were reportedly the first British act to play in Yugoslavia) and No Sleep Till Hammersmith sealed the deal. After releasing three quintessential albums in as many years, they tied up Motörhead’s golden era with a no.1 live album, one that is still held up as an example of how to do them properly today. The last two albums, 82′s Iron Fist and the following year’s Another Perfect Day saw the band’s popularity wane. The warty, croaky core of Lemmy was still there, but line-up changes saw the band move towards a slightly more melodic sound. And while there are still plenty of quality tracks on these records (Iron Fist especially) the quality control had slipped just a tiny bit.
Lemmy himself went as far as telling fans not to buy the box set, calling it a money grab by the label which he had no say in
Lemmy has never shied away from odd musical choices, especially in his selection of covers. While in recent years Motörhead have covered classics by Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne and AC/DC, this collection includes some of the more questionable efforts for singles. A terrible punk version of Stand By Your Man (featuring Wendy O’Williams) (below), a slightly better live version of (I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man, an acceptable take on ZZ Top’s Beer Drinkers and a quality version of Richard Berry’s Louie Louie all feature. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre split EP was a big success at the time. Featuring all-girl rockers Girlschool, the two bands duet on Johnny Kidd & The Pirates’ Please Don’t Touch while covering each other for one song each, all recorded while Motörhead’s drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor was recovering from a broken neck after being lifted above an Irishman’s head in a test of strength, only to fall on his head. The Golden Years EP is another solid example of the band as a live unit- just as good as No Sleep… but shorter. The final single is the epic but equally stupid sounding Killed by death. Released as a bonus track on the 1984 greatest hits package No Remorse, it’s a great example of Motörhead on epic mode; big riffs, a big grizzled chorus and sleazy lyrics about squeezing lizards. However, quite why Sanctuary felt the need to include the greatest hits package as well is a mystery.
It seems downright odd, even stupid, to package a greatest hits in a box set, especially one that doesn’t add any new material. In fact between that and the live tracks, you end up getting three versions of some songs. Not good value for money. Lemmy himself went as far as telling fans not to buy the box set, calling it a money grab by the label which he had no say in. And when the thing costs in the region of £300, you can’t really blame him. Yep, three hundred pounds. “Unfortunately greed once again rears its yapping head,” he said when its release was announced. “I would advise against it even for the most rabid completests.”And he’s right. The truth is, that with the price of this box set, you could buy the special editions of each album, one of the numerous singles/B-sides collections and ticket to actually see the band live. With change for a few pints and a gig shirt. And some speed. The only real unique attraction is if you fancy a giant snarling head sitting on your shelf, which unusually many people don’t generally fancy.The music inside is great. There’s no question about it. These tracks are staples of heavy metal history. But fans will already have most of the material on offer here and can buy the remainder far cheaper, and no newcomer would be willing to shell out the kind of money involved on a whim. But it’s still a good listen, and if you suddenly decide you need shitloads of Motörhead housed inside a head, you can’t go far wrong.