The 50 best Motorhead songs

(Image credit: UDR)

In their 40 years as a band, Motorhead were the truest encapsulation of rock'n'roll, diving headlong into excess whilst never forgetting to stand up for the little man, spit in the eye of tyranny and make just about everybody else on the planet seem genteel. 

Starting out as a rock'n'roll outcast after being fired from cosmic proggers Hawkwind for doing 'the wrong drugs', Ian 'Lemmy' Kilmister went on to front one of the world's most iconic bands, their influence stretching across punk, black metal, thrash, hard rock and beyond. Never better than when stuck in front of a crowd, Motorhead were road warriors through and through, which goes some way to explain why their live albums often provided superior versions of studio-released songs and why the band toured right up to the end.

But with 22 studio albums and 14 live albums to choose from, we took up the Herculean task of picking out the 50 best songs in Motorhead's back catalogue, assessed by cultural significance, how important they were to the band's development and above all else how gloriously cacophonous they are. So with no further ado, these are the finest cuts in Motorhead's exceptional and expansive discography...

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50. On Parole (On Parole, 1979)

A rock'n'roll outlaw before he'd even settled fully on the sound of his new group, Motorhead's first album, On Parole, languished in limbo following its recording in 1975, only getting released in 1979 as the band's original label United Artists realised the band were gaining traction and they were sitting on a money spinner.  

In truth, On Parole [the album] is more Kilburn And The High Roads than it is anything else in Motorhead's canon, its songs beholden to 70s pub rock and lacking the grease that would come to define the band. Written by original Motorhead guitarist Larry Wallis (of Pink Fairies fame) On Parole [the song] is a fascinating look at the transitional period Lemmy experienced after his booting from Hawkwind, charming in a roguish way but still trying to find its own identity and voice. 

49. One More Fucking Time (We Are Motorhead, 2000)

By and large, Motorhead's approach to singing about romance was to layer it on thick with tales of conquest or lovers doing them wrong. One More Fucking Time broke that trend by exploring the band's more tender side, albeit without fully giving over to sappy sentiment. After all, if Motorhead were going to write a love ballad, they'd do it with their boots on.

While We Are Motorhead is by no means a bad album, its relative lack of character and thrust makes it one of the more ignorable records in the band's output. This is somewhat reflected in the fact of the album's songs only the title track proved to have any staying power in Motorhead's sets (and even then, intermittently), but One More Fucking Time at least offers something unique in the Motorhead catalogue. 

48. Live To Win (Ace Of Spades, 1980)

"Born to Lose - Live to Win" is about as perfect a philosophy as Motorhead could ever hope to live by, life's perennial underdogs spitting in the eye of fate to ensure they could make off with as much as they could get their grubby mitts on. The 'Born to Lose' part of the slogan was introduced way back on the band's self-titled debut in 1977 on the track Iron Horse/Born To Lose, but three years of slogging it out later the band were changing their fortunes with Live To Win.

By the time Ace Of Spades came out the band had largely moved on from their straight rock'n'roll roots to fiercer stuff, but Live To Win kept its feet rooted in greasy rock'n'roll to the point where it positively oozed snake oil. From the opening serpentine bass licks to its wailing guitar and chugging drum beat, this was Motorhead's classic trio of Lemmy, Phil 'Philthy Animal' Taylor and 'Fast' Eddie Clarke doing their level best to live up to their claim to be rock's dirtiest group. 

47. Rock It (Another Perfect Day, 1983)

Songs about the miraculous power of rock'n'roll came just as easily to Motorhead as they did to the ACDCs and Thin Lizzys of the world. Motorhead were just as likely to sing about the gruelling realities of tour life as they were to sing about the perks of rock'n'roll (and they certainly didn't shy away from indulging in those). But then, before Lemmy had been in bands he was lugging their gear, as when he was a roadie for Jimi Hendrix

Another Perfect Day is somewhat unfairly overlooked in the Motorhead canon by dint of it being the first record since the dissolution of the 'classic trio', but ex-Thin Lizzy axeman Brian 'Robbo' Robertson acquits himself nicely in his only outing with the band. A standard rock'n'roll tune in the vein of Live To Win, Rock It is decidedly cleaner in the production stakes but also has a sense of panache – and added piano jangles, courtesy of Robertson – that makes it a perfect celebration of the genre the boys loved so much. 

46. Heroes (Under Cover, 2017)

No strangers to covers – this song comes from an album of them – Motorhead nonetheless seldom managed to rise above turning the songs they covered into glorified karaoke versions. The added heft and grit the band brought to the table was put to perfect use on their cover of David Bowie's Heroes; though unmistakably Motorhead in approach, the production is cleaner and Lemmy's snarl is reduced to not jut out above the smooth production.

The fact this song wasn't released until after Lemmy's 2015 death (and Bowie's just weeks later in January 2016) only adds to the poignance of the track, as does the fact the band apparently only ever got to play it live once - in Luxembourg in 2015. The sound of one legend saluting another, Motorhead's Heroes is a powerful take on a very different kind of rock'n'roll classic. 

45. The Game (single, 2001)

With a riff dropped like a sledgehammer and Lemmy's voice at its snarliest as he utters 'It's time to play the game', this was Motorhead at their most deliciously villainous. Written for wrestler Triple H as he made his transformation into a heel, The Game was a percussive blast of hellish growls and the kind of cackles that would be the last thing you'd ever hear walking down an alley.

Like many others, Motorhead had experienced some wobbly years in the late 90s, but by the time the 2000s rolled around they were clawing their legacy back one sweaty gig at a time. While it would be oversimplifying far too much to say The Game played an enormous part in that return to public consciousness, it certainly didn't hurt that it exposed a whole new generation to the brilliance of Motorhead, and helped cement a bond between wrestling and heavy music that continues today. 

44. God Was Never On Your Side (Kiss Of Death, 2006)

Supposedly, Motorhead never deviated too far from the base formula, but you still get funny looks if you mention any of their ballads. Lemmy was never shy of showing his sensitive side - it's just that most often it came out when the subject required more tact than the band's usual bluster, as with 1916 or Don't Let Daddy Kiss Me.

Picking a fight with organised religion, God Was Never On Your Side showed off Motorhead's more melancholic and existential side - something they indulged more readily in their autumnal years. Featuring guest accompaniment from Poison guitarist C.C. DeVille and former Ignite vocalist Zoltán Téglás [as well as a swell of brass and strings], the song shows that Motorhead could do massive productions just as well as anybody else.

43. Built For Speed (No Sleep At All, 1988)

Nudge-nudge wink-wink innuendo aside, Built For Speed is another case of Motorhead laying out their mission statement in no uncertain terms. 'I was born to rock'n'roll/Everything I need' is as pure as it gets, straight from the horse's mouth and packaged in a slick, groove heavy ditty that would inspire similar sentiments in fans.

The introduction of two guitarists into Motorhead's ranks (courtesy of Michael 'Wurzel' Burston and Phil Campbell) didn't do too much to change the essence of how they sounded; if anything, it helped the band regain a tight groove that had been lost as they (somewhat aptly) picked up speed in the early 80s. But where the No Sleep At All version takes superiority is not just in its ability to re-introduce some of that speed back into the mix without losing the tightness at the heart of the song, but that it gives enough space for both Wurzel and Campbell to strut their stuff without coming off as ostentatious.

42. The Thousand Names of God (Motorizer, 2008)

2008's Motorizer was by and large a love letter to classic 50s-style rock'n'roll, many of its rhythms and structures drawn from the catalogues of Little Richard or Chuck Berry. But even put in the driving seat of a vintage vehicle, so long as it's a Motorhead engine beneath the hood there's no chance this would come off as anybody other than Motorhead themselves. 

The three-piece unit always suited Motorhead best, stripping away frippery to leave behind only the bare essence of what a rock song should be. That in mind, The Thousand Names Of God bounces along with a physicality that perfectly accentuates the force of nature that was Mikkey Dee on the kit, taking away any sense of showboating to leave behind just a brilliant latter-day Motorhead classic. 

41. Metropolis (Overkill, 1979)

A mainstay of Motorhead sets, Metropolis was surpassed only by Ace Of Spades and the title track of its parent album, Overkill , in terms of most-played Motorhead songs, wracking up over 1,200 registered appearances in the 36 years since its release. Something of a stylistic curiosity when stacked against much of the band's later material, Metropolis was more beholden to Motorhead's early days when still finding their voice and shifting from Lemmy's tenure in Hawkwind. 

The prog-like quality of the music perfectly accentuates the song's lyrical bent, however, supposedly written by Lemmy "in five minutes" after watching the 1927 movie of the same name in London.

Rich Hobson

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token.