Sunday, 28 June 2015

he didn't want to live forever, but apparently he is - motor-comebacks through the ages

There was a time when I ate, slept  and shat Motorhead. At age 14 I had a photograph of myself with mutton chops added in biro pen pinned up next to the mirror in my bedroom so that every morning I could look at what I aspired to. At the age of 15 I got a tattoo of 'old snaggletooth' on my left arm (my mum made me get it without the Iron Cross). By the time I made it to my 16th year I was ordering Jack and Coke in pubs and was the proud owner of No Remorse on tape with the leather cover. By 17 I was losing my virginity whilst listening to said copy of No Remorse. By 19 I owned a Motorhead toilet seat made for me by my best buddy. And then, slowly but steadily I drifted away from Motorhead. the nail in the coffin for me was the album Hammered. Whilst there was certainly a shift in style with the departure of second guitarist Wurzel in the mid nineties, to my ears the albums leading up to Hammered still hold their own, but everything after that has just blown over me, unless I found myself laughing at it rather than with it (Smiling Like a Killer for example).

Anyway, getting back on track, i had no idea Motorhead were playing Glastonbury this year, I thought they only cancelled gigs now rather than play 'em, so was actually really excited when I saw their name pop up on iplayer - banging night in I thought! However, as I'm sure any motorfan of old will agree, their performance was far from stellar, in fact it was pretty dire, with Lemmy sing in the wrong places, sometimes even singing the wrong words and the tempo of many well known numbers being dropped to a snails pace. Is it time for them to call it a day? I know Lemmy won't give 2 shits what I think, but based on the Glastonbury performance I think I'll stick to my memories and the early LPs.

Anyway, why brood on the negative when we can rock out to the positive with a look at some of the more successful comebacks Motorhead have smashed through over the years.

1. We're shelving your LP, now piss off!

As any hardened Motor-fanatic knows the Motorhead discography does not begin with the rough and ready diesel sniffing punk rock self titled debut on Chiswick but with the altogether more 70's vibe of On Parole.Originally recorded within the year of the band forming, On Parole was shelved by the record label (United Artists, who must have kept Lemmy on from his Hawkwind days) and din't see the light of day till '79 when it was released (with that awful 'rock files' sleeve) to cash in the bands then success. Having their LP binned by the label really put the breaks on Motorhead and they were almost for throwing in the towel when they got the offer of recording time to lay down a single for Chiswick, recording time they used to lay down most of what would become the first album proper. The rest is history of course, but their determination got them over the first hurdle and on their way. 

I. Who doesn't love the Beer Drinkers 12" they recorded at the same time, what a banger!
II. Larry Wallis plays guitar on the first LP, not Fast Eddie, he was also in UFO for a short stint, what a legend!

2. Another Perfect Day

As is well documented (and a story repeated by so many other groups) after enjoying a cracking run of hits with both the Ace of Spades and No Sleep Till Hammersmith LPs the band took a fall. Their follow up album Iron Fist was cursed in many ways. The rushed songwriting and unfinished feel to many of the songs leaps out the speakers (compare the weaker Iron Fist numbers to the Ace of Spades 'demo' tacks which are floating around) and opting to have Fast Eddie mix the LP, whilst probably leaving them with more money in their pockets to keep their various habits trucking along adds to the overall poor sound of the LP. Additionally the album came out after the band had embarked on their supporting tour and regarding the records cover Lemmy himself once commented "I don't remember calling the album Plastic Fist". Tensions within the bands ranks came to a head during the American leg of the years touring when Fast Eddie threw in the towel and left Motorhead for good.The band quickly got Brian 'Robbo' Robertson of Thin Lizzy fame in to finish the tour, but with Fast Eddie gone the classic line-up was no more. If the band was to make a comeback it would need to be spectacular.

Well Robbo stayed with Motorhead to record their next LP (before ultimately heading back to the pub and obscurity), and to my ears it is one of their best, an absolute stone cold classic, Another Perfect Day. There are so many catchy songs on this record, the band are really on fire. On the supporting tour the band played a set heavy with cuts from the current record at the expense of some of their more well known hits, a decision which probably didn't help them regain lost ground or momentum but a decision which definitely showcased the quality of the APD tracks. Robbo stepped up to the plate and once again Motorhead avoided being consigned to the rock'n'roll dustbin.

I. Lemmy was 5 years older than I am now when he posed for this photograph, do topless 38 year olds sell records? Even when i was 14 I thought it was a bit weird "they've forgotten to put their t-shirts on..."

II. The b-side of the above single is a non album track, and also a serious neck wrecker, Turn You Round Again.

3. Don't Let Daddy Kiss Me Goodnight - Overcoming the Epic Years

Between 1990 and 1992 Motorhead recorded two of perhaps the most controversial records in their catalog, 1916 and March or Die. These records were Motorhead's first foray into the world of the major label and featured as one might expect liberal amounts of studio polish, Grammy nominations and, as a first for the motor-crew, some full on ballads. Unsurprisingly these records divided opinion at the time and continue to divide fan opinion. Despite the odd mix 1916 remains by all accounts a pretty bang-on LP, and whilst lead single The One To Sing The Blues is no Ace of Spades there are plenty of Motor-classics hidden within the grooves, albeit among some rather odd numbers (Nightmare/the Dream Time) or the odd duffer (Angel City).On the other hand, March or Die from 1992 is almost universally considered to be one of the 'Head's worst LP's, remembered chiefly for it's iconic cover art rather than any of the music contained within and the fact that a horrid cover of Ted Nugent's Cat Scratch Fever was the promoted as its lead track just added to the album's bad mojo. Unsurprisingly this lackluster effort failed to either keep the old guard happy or attract a new audience to the band, things were not looking good for the Motor-boys.

However, as we all know, the comeback kings were not ready to throw in the towel just yet. They solidified their line-up, found a new label (although signing with a German techno label might not have been the smartest thing they ever did) and got back to Basics. The result was 1993's Bastards, a full on banger of an LP, and whilst certainly demonstrating a clear shift toward a more chunky 'metal' sound in places the band were once again delivering the Motor-goods, even the inclusion of the anti-child abuse ballad Don't Let Daddy Kiss Me Goodnight doesn't bring down the mood of this return to form LP. Motorhead in the 1990's is certainly a different beast from that of the late 70's and early 80's but is rock solid in its own way with Bastards paving the way for a series of hard-hitting, hip-shaking records (Sacrafice, Overnight Sensation, Snake Bite Love). The late 90's might not have been Motorhead's most commercially successful period but they certainly turned the corner in terms of making great records.

Check out that roadies mullet and sport sock combo - 1993 - Ow!

I. During the time Motorhead were with Epic records Lemmy wrote 4 songs for Ozzy Osbourne including one of his mega hits Mamma I'm Coming Home, the royalties from which have allegedly been enough to play Lemmy's rent for the rest of his days. 
II. Apparently Don't Let Daddy Kiss Me was originally meant as a song for Page 3 model Samantha Fox but her management were having nothing to do with it - Motorfox woulda been cool no?