The 50 best Motorhead songs

20. Over The Top (No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith, 1981)

Lemmy bemoaned of the Bomber album that the band hadn't had time to prepare as they customarily would have – by road-testing the ever-loving hell out of the songs at pubs and clubs around the UK. As such, there are some songs on the record that always felt a little too clean and proper – or at least, as close as Motorhead ever got – compared to their feral live cousins. Over The Top most certainly qualifies in that category.

Thank God (or Lemmy, same difference really) then for No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith, which not only landed the band their first, and only, No.1 chart spot in the UK, but did away with inferior versions of the band's output that had been captured in the studio. In the live environment, Over The Top is a feral beast and archetypal Motorhead growler, going some way to explain how it became one of the band's top 10 most played songs live despite originally being released as a b-side. 

19. I Ain't No Nice Guy (March or Die, 1992)

Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy and Slash walk into a recording studio. It's not a joke (well, depending on how you feel about ballads), but the actual set-up that saw Motorhead record I Ain't No Nice Guy for their 1992 record, March or Die. Caught in a state of flux, the band fired Philthy partway through the recording process, leaving a gap that ended up being filled by Tommy Aldridge and Mikkey Dee, respectively. 

But even with this reshuffle, March Or Die caught Motorhead at an upswing in their careers, having earned their own grammy nomination for 1991's 1916, as well as nods (and a win for best metal song) for Lemmy's contributions to the Ozzy record, No More Tears. I Ain't No Nice Guy picks up where Mama, I'm Coming Home left off, letting Oz and Lemmy explore their tender side in a trend-bucking power ballad that threw everything from strings and piano to a big ol' Slash solo into the mix in celebration of a creative partnership between three of rock's biggest legends.

18. Eat The Rich (Rock 'n' Roll, 1987)

Not so much tapping your shoulder with innuendo as clattering you around the head with a sledgehammer and asking if you got the jist, Eat The Rich is loaded front-to-back with double-entendres and leery lyrics. Featured on the 1987 movie of the same name, the track is Motorhead getting playful with their repertoire, lines like 'You wanna see my bacon torpedo?' dripping with the same schoolboy cheekiness that inspired ACDC's Big Balls

The return of Philthy on the drum kits restored something of a classic Motorhead sound to the mix, the tones feeling like they wouldn't be out of place on any of the band's first four records. Rock 'n' Roll was by no means a return to the giddy heights the band had assailed up until Iron Fist, but Eat The Rich showed Motorhead hadn't entirely lost the magic spark that made their early releases so vital. 

17. Damage Case (Overkill, 1979)

There is an irresistible sleekness and charm to Motorhead's sound on Overkill that perfectly captures the balance between primal rock fury and slick club bangers that the very best hard rock bands in the 70s exhibited. From AC/DC to Thin Lizzy right through to Motorhead themselves, there was a sense that each band was a gang, liable to crack a bottle over your teeth and fling you across the bar Wild West saloon-style if you got on their wrong side. But get on their good side, well, they'll show you the time of your life. 

Damage Case is the epitome of this, a lairy pogoing track that somehow manages to slip a bit of boogie into the mix for good measure. Lines like 'I ain't looking to victimise you, all I want to do is tantalise you' is exactly the kind of charm you'd expect Phil Lynott to bust out, but delivered by Lemmy it feels more a manic reassurance as you rapidly back away from the madman with the wild look in his eyes. This song is everything brilliant about late-70s Motorhead, striking just the right balance to ensure it remains a fan-favourite 40-odd years from its inception. 

16. Back At The Funny Farm (Another Perfect Day, 1983)

By all accounts, Lemmy's experiences working with Brian Robertson on Another Perfect Day effectively put paid to the idea of the Thin Lizzy guitarist sticking around too long. Insistent on tracking, re-tracking and tracking again, Robertson's perfectionism flew in the face of Motorhead's otherwise anarchic approach to rock'n'roll – an anathema to the spirit of the band itself.

But listen to the guitars on Back At The Funny Farm and there's a strong sense that Robertson might have been onto something. The interplay of the guitar lines elevate Motorhead's songwriting to somewhere very different than they'd gone before. Chuck in one of Lemmy's more furious vocal performances and brilliant lines like 'What was in that injection 'cause I think it's gone all wrong/I really like this jacket but the sleeves are much too long' end up serving as a real evolutionary leap in Motorhead's songcraft. Another Perfect Day might not be remembered with the fondness of its forebears, but it still offers up plenty of brilliance that showed Motorhead weren't just resting on their laurels.

15. (We Are) The Road Crew (Ace of Spades, 1980)

The ultimate love letter to the road and the people that make the shows happen, (We Are) The Road Crew somehow manages to both romanticise and demonise the tour life while making it exceedingly clear that Motorhead weren't interested in any other life you could offer.

The hiss of cymbals from Philthy's drumkit in the song's final leg (around 1:52) manages to perfectly evoke a locomotive about to come off the rails, clinging on by the barest of margins whilst still getting faster. As Lemmy puts it in the song's lyrics, 'I just love the life I lead/Another beer is what I need/Another gig, my ears bleed' – truly the words of a man who has chosen his poison and isn't going to give it up for anything.

14. Iron Fist (Everything Louder Than Everyone Else, 1999)

"We are Motorhead and we're gonna kick your ass" - with a simple declaration, Lemmy and co. wage all out war with the opening track of their 1999 live release Everything Louder Than Everyone Else. Many will tell you No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith is the definitive Motorhead live release, but Louder gives it one hell of a run, not hurt in the least by the fact that the band had expanded their repertoire considerably by the time they came to record it. While Hammersmith caught the band at the height of their commercial powers, it was also too early to include future Motorhead classics (and live favourites) Iron Fist, Born to Raise Hell, Killed By Death and Going to Brazil. Plus it doesn't hurt that Mikkey Dee hits the skins harder than just about anybody else on the planet.

The original Iron Fist album was effectively the straw that broke the back of the band's classic line-up. The quality is still exceptionally high, even if it does suffer by not moving the measurement bar from where the band had existed the previous three record. But although it doesn't necessarily reflect in the music, there's a feral energy that doesn't come in until the later live iterations. Everything Louder captures this perfectly, taking off like a rocket and achieving about the same level of devastation when it meets the fleshy sacks in its path. 

13. Orgasmatron (BBC Live & In Session, 2005)

Motorhead's influence on first wave black metal has always been something rooted in the tones of hard, fast and nasty rock'n'roll the band traded in towards the end of the 70s that would inspire the likes of Venom, Bathory and Hellhammer. But with 1986's Orgasmatron, the band proved they could be just as hellish as the bands that arose in their wake, Lemmy unleashing some of the most acerbic and hellish lyrics in his career, taking aim at corruption in politics and religion with a disdain that betrays open hatred - 'My name is called religion/sadistic, sacred whore'.

Captured on a 1986 BBC session, Lemmy sounds downright demonic, his rasp entering full Beelzebub territory that would make Pazuzu shiver with fear. Split into a spoken word intro – effectively a re-working of the lyrics in spoken word format, showing off just how brilliant a wordsmith he had become in the decade since forming Motorhead – and a 1.5x-pace rendition of the song itself, the track is Motorhead at their most metal and fiendish. When played live the band would often dip the lights in the room, going for darker hues that really accentuated just how deviously brilliant this song is.

12. Killed By Death (No Sleep At All, 1988)

Even by the end of the 80s, it was apparent that the only thing that had even half a hope of taking Lemmy on was old Boney himself, so when Motorhead wrote a song declaring as much, it was as if they'd thrown a gauntlet down that no bugger would ever want to touch. Motorhead don't often go in for showboating, but Killed By Death was effectively written around an enormous guitar solo that just so happens to last just about 95% of the track itself.

Released as a standalone single for the No Remorse compilation, Lemmy frequently joked about the song's lack of sales when playing live – just as he does on this, the version from 1986's No Sleep At All live album. There are very few bad versions of this song out there as the song just sings the praises of what Motorhead as a band could do with each member getting their chance to shine, but the No Sleep version takes the cake for being one of the few live iterations to not feature a host of guests diving onto the mic, instead relying on the then four-piece to hold everything up on their own. And they don't half manage it, growing ever more demonic and frenzied as the track wears on. The guitarwork of both Phil Campbell and Wurzel are genuinely magic while Lemmy hoarsely ad-libs lines like 'I don't know what I'm fucking doing here' that just adds to the chaotic cacophony. It's utterly glorious and a reminder of why this band are so beloved and missed.

11. Stay Clean (Everything Louder Than Everyone Else, 1999)

Honestly, it's a wonder anyone was left standing by the end of the Hamburg show(s) that made up the recording of Everything Louder Than Everyone Else. To whit, a furious opener of Iron Fist seems to go straight into an even more furious Stay Clean, the band taking the momentum from the former track and building out even madder and badder than they had in the first instance.

Stay Clean was a frequent flyer in Motorhead setlists, wracking up over 1,000 plays over the decades from its initial release on Overkill. As with much of Motorhead's earlier material, the sheer bluster of performance elevates the song to an entirely new realm that just wasn't captured in the studio, but with Mikkey Dee given full reign to just go at it like a kid on Christmas, this rendition of the song remains the definitive for fans who would turn out every November to see the band play.

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.