“Lemmy is dead.” read the text.
Five Years ago, I was sitting in a cold front room, deep in the south Japanese countryside when I got this text from my brother. With my seven-month old son playing on the floor in front of me, the snow glistening in the sunshine outside, and still trying to adjust to my new, unfamiliar Christmas surroundings, these three words hit me like a ton of bricks. “Lemmy is dead.” So matter-of-fact. So devoid of personality.
No emotion had ever registered with me the way this did. I don’t go in for celebrity, so I’ve never felt the kind of deep connection many people associate with their favourite musicians. Of course, I didn’t know Lemmy on a human level, so there was no sense of personal loss, no tears – it wasn’t like the death of a friend or family member.
There was just a dull feeling of emptiness. Sudden, immediate grief. Disappointment. I’m not a religious person, I don’t subscribe to any faith, but this felt like mourning on a spiritual level. Lemmy was one of the closest things I could consider or recognise as my own incarnation of a deity – I didn’t actually think he could die! I could buy him as a god figure you see, because he wasn’t – he didn’t look at himself as anything but a normal man, he didn’t live like anything but a normal man, and he didn’t want to be anything but a normal man – warts and all, so to speak.
Then, as I began to reflect, I felt grateful; I’m glad to have discovered and enjoyed his music while he was alive; and elated to have seen Lemmy, Mikkey and Phil play in concert in Dublin’s Olympia theatre in late 2006. I’ll never forget that night. As Lemmy barked out his trademark “Good Evening” welcome, I noticed something was amiss. His voice was off. Hoarse from screaming his way across Europe.
Halfway through just their second song, Lemmy, exited stage left. I was crushed. I had waited years to see Motörhead live and now it seemed over before it had even had a chance to begin. Mikkey played a valiant drum solo; Phil shredded his guitar for his solo; but this was not what anybody wanted – on stage or in the gallery. Then, like a wounded viking emerging from the fog of battle, Lemmy appeared from the same door he had left ten minutes prior. He strummed his bass, apologised for his absence, and explained he just needed some Jack Daniel’s and *sniff* “medicine”. What a man. What a night. What a gig.
In his later years, Lemmy continued to perform, but his best years were behind him. It was sad to see. The unstoppable Rock God was now a frail old man, unable to sing or even remember the words. But he won’t be remembered for the last two years; he’ll be remembered for the 40 years of loud, ground-breaking, unapologetic poetic metal he gifted to the world. His world.
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 shows 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 to 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.”
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. Lemmy recruited guitarist Larry Wallis and drummer Lucas Fox to form Motörhead in 1975 but 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 group went through many changes, with guitarists and drummers coming and going, often on an album-by-album cycle. Brian Robertson, Würzel Burston and Phil Campbell all took turns on lead guitar, with the odd cameo from Slash. Pete Gill filled in on drums for a while before Taylor returned, only to leave again. Tommy Aldridge was in the hot seat for one album before Mikky Dee became the band’s permanent and final drummer in 1993, setting the stage for the most widely recognisable incarnation of Motörhead: Lemmy, Campbell and Dee.
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. I wanted to do a Motörhead top 10 – impossible! I spent hours fine tuning a Top 20 – to no avail. So today, in honour of Lemmy, I count down the 25 greatest songs of the band’s legendary, iconic, mythical history.
They were Motörhead, and they played Rock n Roll.
25. No Class (Overkill, 1979)
24. Iron Fist (Iron Fist, 1982)
23. The One to Sing the Blues (1916, 1990)
22. Whorehouse Blues (Inferno, 2004)
21. You Better Run (March ör Die, 1992)
20. Walk A Crooked Mile (Hammered, 2002)
19. Deaf Forever (Orgasmatron, 1986)
18. Don’t let Daddy Kiss Me (Bastards, 1993)
17. I Got Mine (Another Perfect Day, 1983)
16. I Don’t Believe a Word (Overnight Sensation, 1996)
15. Hellraiser (March ör Die, 1992)
14. Go To Hell (Iron Fist, 1982)
13. Orgasmatron (Orgasmatron, 1986)
12. The Chase Is Better Than the Catch (Ace of Spades, 1980)
11. Motorhead (Motörhead, 1977)
10. Heart of Stone (Iron Fist, 1982)
9. We Are The Road Crew (Ace of Spades, 1980)
8. (Don’t Need) Religion (Iron Fist, 1982)
7. Bad Religion (March ör Die, 1992)
6. Loser (Iron Fist, 1982)
5. Stay Clean (Overkill, 1979)
4. Killed By Death (No Remorse, 1984)
3. Overkill (Overkill, 1979)
2. Ace of Spades (Ace of Spades, 1980)