Since the band’s inception in 1975, Motörhead have been the very pinnacle of all things heavy metal – the music, the lifestyle, and the image. The one constant in the band’s long and storied history is bass player, lyricist, and lead vocalist, the iconic Lemmy Kilmister. Born Ian Kilmister on December 24, 1945, in Stoke, England, the singer transcended his genre to ascend to the status of unquestioned rock God.
After starting his life in music as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix, Lemmy went on to join space-rock outfit Hawkwind, with whom he wrote and performed Silver Machine. Lemmy was fired from the band in 1975 but wasted little time in moving on to his new project; he recruited guitarist Larry Wallis and drummer Lucas Fox, forming Motörhead later that same year. Before the band could record their first album, Fox was replaced on drums by “Philthy Animal” Phil Taylor, and Wallis was replaced on guitar by “Fast” Eddie Clarke. Lemmy, Phil and Eddie are considered the “classic” Motörhead lineup.
The classic trio released five albums between 1977 and 1982, the last of which, Iron Fist, features many of the bands greatest and most well-known songs – cult favourites such as Heart of Stone, Loser, I’m the Doctor, Sex & Outrage, America, and Speedfreak. But just as they were hitting their stride, Clarke left the group in 82, feeling the band were beginning to compromise their principles.
Former Thin Lizzy guitarist, Brian Robertson, joined the band for the 1983 album, Another Perfect Day. Phil Taylor left the band shortly after, taking a three-year hiatus. Lemmy went on to record the 1986 album, Orgasmatron, with an entirely new lineup: Pete Gill on drums, Würzel Burston on lead guitar, and Phil Campbell on rhythm guitar.
Taylor returned to the drums, joining Lemmy, Burston and Campbell for two albums – Rock ‘n’ Roll, and 1916 – before leaving the band for good in 1992. Just as “Fast” Eddie went out with a bang a decade prior, Taylor’s last record with the group – 1916 – reads like a Motörhead greatest hits. Songs on the album include The One to Sing the Blues, I’m So Bad (Baby I Don’t Care), No Voices in the Sky, Love Me Forever, and Shut You Down.
Tommy Aldridge took over the drums for the 1992 album, March or Die, which featured cameos from Slash and Ozzy Osbourne. Swedidh drummer Mikky Dee became the band’s permanent and final drummer in 1993. Along with Lemmy, Burston and Campbell, the quartet recorded two albums, Bastards in 93 and Sacrifice in 95.
After this, Burston left the group. The trio that remained, Lemmy, Campbell and Dee, recorded ten studio albums over the next twenty years; they are the most widely recognisable incarnation of Motörhead.
The legend of Lemmy was immortalised in 2010 when directors Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski released their entertainingly insightful documentary. Lemmy: 49% motherf**ker. 51% son of a bitch (available on Netflix) was filmed over several years, across several countries and features interviews with those who know the man best, including friends, family, roadies and fans (like Metallica). The most endearing part of the movie show lemmy cooking chips in his outrageously cluttered LA apartment before heading to the shop to buy a Beatles CD.
11 years on and Greg Oliver is returning the myth, creating the big-screen biopic, Lemmy. “Everything you’ve heard about Lemmy is probably true… not because he was embracing rock n’ roll clichés, but because he was creating them,” said Olliver. “Marlboro Reds and Jack Daniel’s for breakfast, speed for dinner – all true. But behind that steely-eyed façade of rock ‘n’ roll was also a compelling, complicated and lion-hearted man who never gave up playing the music that made him happy.”
During a 40 year run, from 1975 to 2015, Motörhead released 22 studio albums, 10 live albums, 12 compilation albums, five EPs and countless singles. Everybody knows Ace of Spades, and the most casual of fans will know songs such as Motörhead, Overkill, I Got Mine, Killed By Death, Deaf Forever, and Hellraiser. But even the most ardent fan – die-hard Motörhead groupies – would find it hard to have listened to all 22 studio albums – let alone have an encyclopedic knowledge of all the band’s output.
Today, in honour of Lemmy’s birthday, we explore 10 of the band’s lesser-known, but no less astounding songs.
Stay Clean (Overkill, 1979)
All the Aces (Bomber 1979)
Go To Hell (Iron Fist, 1982)
Just ‘Cos You Got the Power (Rock n Roll, 1987)
Bad Religion (March ör Die, 1992)
Don’t Let Daddy Kiss Me (Bastards, 1993)
I Don’t Believe A Word (Overnight Sensation, 1996)
Walk A Crooked Mile (Hammered, 2002)
Smiling Like a Killer (Inferno, 2004)
God Was Never on Your Side (Kiss of Death, 2006)
Happy Birthday, Lemmy. Cheers.