To celebrate the long and storied life of Lemmy, we asked you to nominate your favourite Motörhead song of all time.
It could be any song from the band’s 22 studio album output – from their classic 1977 self-titled debut to their final release, Bad Magic, which was made available this summer. We also allowed the band’s Killed By Death single from their 1984 collection, No Remorse, because it would be stupid to exclude the song on a small technicality.
Here then, are the 20 greatest Motörhead songs – as voted by you.
20. LOST WOMAN BLUES (Aftershock, 2013)
One for all those who believe Motörhead were always one dimensional, only about being aggressive and raw. This is a slow moving, smokin’ blues song, one that allows Lemmy to display a wider range of his vocal repertoire. The laidback feel is deceptive, because Phil Campbell’s guitar approach is still intense, without the need to fill every nanosecond with a powerchord. Yes, the lyrics come from the clichéd end of the blues – lonesome man bemoans the woman who cheated on him – but there’s a sly, wry humour at work.
**19. DANCING ON YOUR GRAVE (Another Perfect Day, 1983)
**Another Perfect Day is an album often decried by purists, because Brian Robertson came in to replace Fast Eddie and brought a more virtuosi approach. But when you now listen to Dancing On Your Grave, the charms of the music rage through. The clarity of the production and the musical arrangement mean this is as close as the band ever got to – ulp! – AOR. But the way Robertson weaves his magic around Lemmy’s snarling bass lines and Philthy’s yelping drum attack is stunning,. The song is an attack on those who put money ahead of integrity, delivered with that customary Lemmy snear. Brilliant.
18. IRON HORSE/BORN TO LOSE (Motörhead, 1977)
From the self-titled album that first brought Motörhead to everyone’s attention. And this track was a crucial reason why both metalheads and punks alike immediately fell under their swell. It’s about the idealism of the open road. Just one man and his machine, riding forever into the sunset. The ultimate relationship. The performance is primitive and stripped bare, but that’s what made it all wotk. As an almost world weary Lemmy raises his the spectre of lost dreams, yet never loses touch with the idealism of the underlying emotion. And it’s all done with a sense of live thrill.
17. THE HAMMER (Ace Of Spades, 1980)
It became tradition for Lemmy to end every Motörhead show with the declaration that, “We are Motörhead and we play rock’n’roll”. A song like this makes clear exactly what he meant. This tucks right down into that Chuck Berry groove, being so simple that anyone seemingly can play it. But no-one did this sort of thing better. On the surface, it’s about serial killer who violently targets women. But underlying the sentiment is perhaps something a little closer to home, as Lemmy warns of those sinister individuals in positions of power who will mislead you into torment.
16. IRON FIST (Iron Fist, 1982)
This has the distinction of being the last single ever released by the Lemmy/Fast Eddie/Philthy Phil line-up, and it bristles with all the seeping energy for which the trio had become renowned. A couple of years earlier, Motörhead did a charity show under the pseudonym Iron Fist And The Hordes From Hell, from which this title was taken. Despite the fact that the album of the same name was regarded as a disappointment, this track is bonafide classic, raising all sorts of drug and alcohol induced spectres. There’s a punchy riff and an even more devastating punch line.
15. THE CHASE IS BETTER THAN THE CATCH (Ace Of Spades, 1980)
And the title says it all. On the Ace Of Spades tour at Hammersmith Odeon, Lemmy cryptically dedicated the song to Kelly Johnson of Girlschool. When asked why he might have done that, all Kelly would say was, ‘Ha, ha! I’m glad he never caught me. Otherwise we mightn’t have this song!’. This could have come across as a bitter, twisted song, but in fact is loaded with a sense of frivolity and tour-fuelled fun.
14. ROCK ‘N’ ROLL (Rock ‘n’ Roll, 1987)
This is essentially a paean to Lemmy’s love of the genre. As he says in the lyrics, ‘it satisfies my soul’. No matter what goes wrong in his life, and whoever lets him down, Lemmy knew he could turn to that one constant: rock’n’roll. And the way the song opens up is a celebration of all that’s timeless and great about the music. This is a passionate, feel good track on which Lemmy delivers a vocal performance that stretches his talents right to the max. You can tell he and the rest of the band are living the sentiments, not just strumming their way through.
13. STONE DEAD FOREVER (Bomber, 1979)
There are those who would tell you that all Motörhead songs sound the same. They’re a quick fix and then all over. But this isn’t the case here. This is close to five minutes in length, and never sounds as if it’s overstayed its welcome. Predicated on a cool riff from Fast Eddie, it builds into a formidable barrage, as Lemmy recounts a message warning people they should watch the way they treat others. Because while not a morality tale, it can be interpreted as an indication that karma has a way of coming back to snap at your soul. One of those ‘Head songs that gets beneath the surface, and proves the depth of their talent.
12. METROPOLIS (Overkill, 1979)
Lemmy once said he wrote the lyrics to this song in just five minutes, after seeing the classic 1927 film of the same title at a cinema in London’s Portobello Road. And certainly this isn’t exactly a verbose tune. But it captured the sparseness of the Fritz Lang movie quite brilliantly. Nestling against a dark riff from Fast Eddie, and some tangled drum patterns from Philthy, the lyrics cut through, as Lemmy stands back and shrugs his shoulders at the cold complexity of life. Oh, and the bass line here pulses with insouciance. If you want proof that Lemmy was a master musician, here it is.
**11. BORN TO RAISE HELL (Bastards, 1993)
**Lemmy originally wrote this for German band Skew Siskin, but thankfully Motörhead ended up doing it themselves. The best version, though, is one put out as a single in 1994, with Ice-T and Whitfield Crane joining Lemmy on vocals. That has bite and spit, and you believe this trio will soon be trashing a bar round the corner. You can hear the song at the end of the movie Airheads, in which Lemmy has a cameo role. In some ways, this sums up Lemmy’s attitude to life and music. ‘Born to raise hell, we know how to do it and we do it real well’… now there’s a claim nobody would argue with.
10. (WE ARE) THE ROAD CREW (Ace Of Spades, 1980)
Although famously a tribute to the no-nonsense, psychotically dedicated crew that managed to keep the so-called classic Motörhead lineup on the road during the halcyon days of the late 70s and early 80s, this seminal cut from Ace Of Spadesmight as well have been about Lemmy, Philthy and Fast Eddie themselves. Over a prime burst of full-throttle, punked-up blooze, lines like ‘I just love the life I lead, another beer is what I need, another gig, my ears bleed…’ erupt from a bug-eyed Lemmy’s bourbon-ized gob, affirming the notion that, in rock’n’roll at least, the stars and their henchmen were very much all in it together and on the same road to ruin. Here’s the live version from No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith.
**9. 1916 (1916, 1991)
**Motörhead ballads are a strange breed: sometimes knowingly melodramatic, sometimes full of darkness and spite, they pop up every now and then throughout the band’s vast catalogue like pointed reminders that Lemmy had a slightly softer, more thoughtful side to counterbalance the rampaging hedonism and intensity of more standard ‘head fare. 1916 only qualifies as a ballad because it doesn’t clatter along at 200mph: in fact, it’s a cleverly pitched tribute to fallen teenaged soldiers in the First World War, sung with exquisite restraint and pathos by Lemmy, as he sings of barely adult comrades that ‘died, clinging like kids to each other’… Beautiful, heartbreaking poetry over mournful cellos and a muted drum machine pulse: not what anyone expected from Motörhead, but pulled off with consummate class.
**8. KILLED BY DEATH (No Remorse, 1984)
**“If you squeeze my lizard, I’ll put my snake on you…” may just be the weirdest opening line in Motörhead history. Did Lemmy mean his penis? In which case, did he have two of them? And why was one a snake and the other a lizard? Furthermore, isn’t Killed By Death a clumsy tautology? Perhaps we’ll never know. What we do know is that this pounding, mid-tempo anthem is one of Motörhead’s most enduring classics; a blazing barrage of muscular riffs and menacing momentum that became a staple of the band’s live shows, despite failing to climb higher than number 51 in the UK singles chart.
7. DAMAGE CASE (Overkill, 1979)
One of the major reasons why the Lemmy/Philthy/Eddie lineup has retained its legendary status over subsequent decades is that those early Motörhead records really swung, exuding a loose-hipped swagger that owed more to punk rock and dirty blues than anything more metallic. Damage Case is a perfect example of the band’s mastery of the groove: although delivered as a clipped, lurching stomp, Damage Casethrusts and bounces like there’s no tomorrow. Compare and contrast with the version that Metallica recorded some years later, wherein Lars Ulrich played the exact same beat but made it sound lumpy and lifeless… ultimately, you either have swing or you don’t. Chuck in some lyrics that seem to be about an escapee from a mental institution on the hunt for love (i.e. sexy times), and this is a brilliant snapshot of the Motörhead ethos in action.
**6. OVERKILL (Overkill, 1979)
**Arguably the moment when Motörhead’s sound finally came together, Overkill is notable for two major reasons. Firstly, Philthy’s double-kicks were groundbreaking and, as time went on, massively influential, not least on the thrash metal scene that erupted in the US a few years later. Secondly, the song is effectively a statement of sonic values that Motörhead never betrayed: ‘Only way to feel the noise is when it’s good and loud…’ bellows Lemmy, possibly having a little chuckle to himself about the many thousands of people whose hearing he planned to irrevocably damage.Overkill was an essential part of virtually every Motörhead gig – often performed in relentless, extended form. The title says it all.
5. NO CLASS (Overkill, 1979)
‘Shut up, you talk too loud!’ Yup, Lemmy was not known for suffering fools, and No Class was just one of Motörhead’s many songs dedicated to verbally dismantling the targets of the great man’s disdain. A turbocharged boogie that sounded like ZZ Top’s Tush reborn in hellish flames, this gem from Overkill has been covered by Megadeth, Orange Goblin, The Plasmatics and Kingdom Of Sorrow (among many others). As with many of Motörhead’s greatest songs, it all hinges on an opening riff that is simultaneously classic and familiar and unmistakably the work of Lemmy and his noisy associates. If it doesn’t make you bang your head, you may not have one.
**4. ORGASMATRON (Orgasmatron, 1986)
**Lemmy often insisted that Motörhead were not a heavy metal band, and it’s a fair point… but Orgasmatron is a vicious, brooding heavy metal song, whichever way you slice it. Perhaps one of his finest ever lyrics, it reads more like some infernal anti-war poem (‘Your bones will build my palace, your eyes will stud my crown… for I am Mars, the God of war and I will cut you down…’), albeit one set to some of the nastiest, slowest and most cheerfully malevolent riffs that Motörhead ever recorded. Memorably covered by both Sepultura and Satyricon, Orgasmatron provided the album of the same name with its devastating finale, while introducing a then recently convened new lineup featuring Lemmy alongside guitarists Phil Campbell and Wurzel and drummer Pete Gill and pointing to a subtle broadening of the band’s musical vision. It is also arguably the heaviest song Motörhead ever committed to tape.
**3. BOMBER (Bomber, 1979)
**Inspired by Len Deighton’s 1970 novel of the same name, Bomber would probably have ended up being Motörhead’s de facto theme song, had they not penned Ace Of Spades a few months later. Fast, furious and punk as fuck, its re-imagining of the blues as a flat-out weapon of destruction encapsulates everything that made Motörhead such a thrilling proposition, not to mention one of the few bands that united punks and metalheads back in the days when it seemed that never the twain would meet. Plus, of course, it inspired one of the greatest stage sets of all time – as shown on the cover of none-more-seminal live album No Sleep Til Hammersmith in 1981.
**2. MOTÖRHEAD (Motörhead, 1977)
**Originally written by Lemmy while he was still chucking spanners into Hawkwind’s works, Motörhead could well be the true musical starting point for the chaos and glory that followed after Mr. Kilmister was unceremoniously given the boot from the legendary space rock crew. A frenzied, balls-out rager that somehow became one of Motörhead’s biggest hit singles when a monstrous live version was released in the summer of ’81, it first appeared on the band’s thwarted 1977 eponymous debut in somewhat less invigorating form. It’s the live version that can be found on glorious 1984 compilation No Remorse that you need, though. And yes, as Lemmy once noted, it is almost certainly the only rock anthem to feature the word ‘parallelogram’.
1. ACE OF SPADES (Ace Of Spades, 1980)
What can be said about this song that hasn’t been said a thousand times before? Yes, Ace Of Spades is Motörhead’s greatest anthem, the one they performed on an episode of The Young Ones, the one that graced every live show and the one that everyone - even people that have never heard anything else Motörhead ever recorded – knows inside out and back to front. But what is rarely mentioned is what an absolutely perfect three minutes of genre-defying rock’n’roll it really is. Released as a single in October 1980, it took the band into the UK top 20 and to the BBC for another Top Of The Pops performance, but beyond that initial flush of success it swiftly became an integral part of the heavy music lexicon: a benchmark for speed, aggression and unapologetic catchiness that has seldom been bettered over the last 35 years. And there it is, midway through… Lemmy’s ageless clarion cry of ‘You know I was born to lose, and gambling’s for fools… but that’s the way I like it baby, I don’t want to live forever!’ Yeah, it seems unduly poignant right now, but has any other figure in our world ever been so true to his word? We may have said a sad goodbye to its creator, but Ace Of Spades is immortal.
Words: Malcolm Dome (20-11), Dom Lawson (10-1)