Motorhead racked up 22 studio albums in their four-decade run as rock’n’roll’s truest champions, eschewing flavour-of-the-month scenes running from NWOBHM to punk rock and plain old heavy metal to live by the maxim: ‘We are Motorhead, we play rock’n’roll’.
However, like many of their 70s peers it was the band’s live output that more readily represented who they truly were. Steadfast road warriors through and through, Motorhead played songs that reached their apotheosis when jammed into a room of sweaty punters prepared to sacrifice their hearing in exchange for an opportunity to glimpse the true face of rock’n’roll, in all its verrucose glory.
Motorhead toured right up until the very end – Lemmy often quipped he hoped to “die on stage like [comedian] Tommy Cooper” – and their live releases often offer a truer insight into who the band were at a given point in their career.
Changes in personnel, style and approach are all captured in the 14 releases (to date) that make up the band’s live album catalogue, not to mention some of the more unscrupulous background circumstances that surrounded certain releases, put out by the band’s ex-manager to capitalise on the success of No Sleep ’Til Hammersmith).
In spite of this, each live release offers a truer-to-life representation of the band than their studio output ever could. There is, after all, a reason live versions of No Class and Bomber find their way on to ‘greatest hits’ releases, and why No Sleep ’Til Hammersmith took pride of place as the only Motorhead record to top the UK charts.
Reliable as clockwork – Christmas still doesn’t feel right without their annual November jaunt – and subtle as a nuclear bomb, Motorhead live were a rampaging beast, uninterested in adhering to anything so mundane as decibel limits, and unimpressed by the frippery their contemporaries adorned themselves with on the road to becoming ‘rock stars’.
Twelve-minute solos and warbling vocal demonstrations could never compete with the sheer bluster that Iron Fist, Over The Top or Orgasmatron could bring to bear. Motorhead cemented themselves as rock icons by letting the music do the talking. As the band themselves put it almost every single show after 1979: “The only way to feel the noise is when it’s good and loud.”
Scholars agree that Motorhead were on a creative form that can only be fairly termed ‘shit hot’ when they released No Sleep ’Til Hammersmith in 1981. Overkill, Bomber and Ace Of Spades climbed the charts from 1979 to 1980, but it was Hammersmith that took the coveted top spot.
Slick, speedy and meaner than a mule’s hind legs, Hammersmith set the tone for how Motörhead songs should sound live, making studio renditions of Bomber, No Class, Over The Top and even Ace Of Spades feel anaemic by comparison. After the percussive explosion that marks the start of opener Spades, there’s no turning back
Every rock fan worth their salt reckons No Sleep ’Til Hammersmith is the definitive Motorhead live album. They may also be wrong. Hammersmith might be bottled lightning as far as capturing the band’s ‘classic’ line-up goes, but Everything Louder Than Everyone Else offers an insight into the three-piece that upheld their legacy right up until their dissolution in 2015.
Motorhead never sounded more imperious or world-conquering than they did on Louder, and newer cuts such as Sacrifice and Burner are every bit as thunderous as the band’s enduring old standards.
Recorded in Santiago, New York and Manchester, The World Is Ours Vol 1 – Everywhere Further Than Everyplace Else captures the band at the height of their powers in their winter years. Comprised of songs stretching from right back to 1979 right up to their 2010 record The World Is Yours, the set is archetypal of the contemporary Motorhead setlist.
The band attack the songs with a vitality that sends lightning fizzing through classics such as Stay Clean and Killed By Death, while Get Back In Line and Rock Out showcase their zeal for the souped-up classic rock’n’roll sound.
The straw that broke the camel’s back as far as Motorhead’s relationship with GWR went (a dispute over a lead single ultimately leading to legal action and the band’s departure from the label), No Sleep At All also suffered due to an uneven mix.
Even so, the final product plays up the band’s speed-freak reputation, each song sounding speeded up to give a sense of sonic anarchy. The twin-guitar assault of Phil Campbell and Wurzel lends a panache that the usual Motorhead power trio setup doesn’t, with Eat The Rich and Just ‘Cos You Got The Power in particular given full 80s guitar-god treatment.
Once Hammersmith topped the UK chart in 1981, many of the music industry sharks Motorhead had run into in their early years smelled money in the air and attempted to cashed in with their own live releases. By and large those late-70s recordings are half-cooked, with none of the band’s characteristic venom and vigour.
Lock Up Your Daughters bucks the trend by capturing one of the earliest instances of the classic trio (‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor, ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke, Lemmy) as they set to spice up the band’s early songs, evoking the anarchic vibrancy of punk in the process.
Motorhead marked their quarter-century birthday in style, pulling together a star-studded guest list for a show at Brixton Academy in October 2000. Brian May, Whitfield Crane, Doro Pesch and more joined the band for songs including Overkill and Born To Raise Hell, while ‘Fast’ Eddie returned for run-throughs of The Chase Is Better Than The Catch and Overkill.
All in all, the set upholds an enormously celebratory tone, but the sheer napalm fury of I’m So Bad (Baby I Don’t Care) and We Are Motorhead show the band weren’t resting on past glories.
Decidedly more trim than many other post-2000 Motorhead live records, Louder Than Noise offers a 70-minute ‘greatest hits’ set with the added bonus of capturing the band firing on all cylinders. Taking off like a jet engine for I Know How To Die, the likes of Rock It and The One To Sing The Blues sound more refined and powerful than the studio versions.
Motorhead might not claim to be musos, but the mix of Louder Than Noise highlights the seamless tightness of their playing, Metropolis and Damage Case in particular sounding groovier than ever before.
Recorded between 1978 and 1986, BBC Live & In Session is the definitive document of Motorhead’s evolution in their first decade. Not drenched in as much distortion as other live releases, BBC feels inherently closer to a traditional rock’n’roll record.
To whit, on record I’ll Be Your Sister always felt like a stylistic oddity, but included as part of a 1978 Peel Session the song’s existence becomes more understandable when stacked against thee band’s early numbers like Keep Us On The Road. Elsewhere, the BBC rendition of Orgasmatron deserves special note, capturing Lemmy in all his demonic glory
Ironically the only Motorhead live album actually recorded at Hammersmith (Apollo), Better Motorhead Than Dead catches up to the band at the three-decade mark in 2005. Although the sound is muddy, the record still has the hallmarks of magic that a Motorhead show generally entails, plundering their grease-filled engine for cacophonous deliveries of We Are The Roadcrew, R.A.M.O.N.E.S. and Love For Sale.
Most notable, however, is the inclusion of Whorehouse Blues – while Motorhead indulged ballads more in their post-90s output, the songs seldom made set-lists or live releases. More’s the pity.