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The 50 best Motorhead songs

10. Shoot You In The Back (Ace Of Spades, 1980)

"Western movies!" Just in case you missed the Ace Of Spades album's overarching Western motifs, the band wrote a song that served as the perfect ode to the lawless plains of the classic Western. 

It's not hard to see why three grizzled barflies who were already up to their teeth in shady businessmen and cowboy managers might romanticise it all through the lens of the silver screen. In many ways it's exactly what made Motorhead so iconic, though, their outlaw image and cowboy accessories lasting well beyond the Ace Of Spades era, right up until Lemmy's death in 2015. Shoot You In The Back is exactly the kind of song you would imagine Motorhead would write, and is no less brilliant for it. 


9. Whorehouse Blues (Inferno, 2004)

If the songtitle wasn't enough of a hint, Whorehouse Blues was a big stylistic departure for Motorhead, even given their experimental period throughout the 90s. Acoustic guitars might have crept in on the odd track but Whorehouse Blues was based almost entirely around them – and a little "mouth harp blues", as Lemmy puts it – for a country-style ballad. The shift in tone from the likes of Fight and Smiling Like A Killer to Whorehouse Blues is undeniably jarring, but then that's rather the point. Uniquely, the track saw all three members playing acoustic guitars, resulting in some brilliant interplays that the three-piece would otherwise have missed out on.

Inferno's final track, it offers a flash of something completely different to the heavier sound achieved by new producer Cameron Webb, while setting the seeds for future blues-based tracks, as well as the acoustic rendition of Ace Of Spades. Webb had reintroduced a heft that had been lacking in the band's post-00s albums, We Are Motorhead and Hammered, but with Whorehouse Blues he proved he wasn't neglecting the band's more rootsy inclinations in the process. It's a reflection of the track's brilliance that unlike so many other softer Motorhead efforts, Whorehouse Blues frequently featured in setlists as a refreshing change of pace – and a chance to rest the ears.


8. Please Don't Touch (feat. Girlschool) (Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, 1981)

Released under the moniker 'Headgirl', Motorhead's 1981 team-up with Girlschool came at the height of their power. After all, the band were riding high on the consecutive successes of Bomber, Overkill and Ace Of Spades, while their chart-topping live album, No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith, remained just around the corner. A split EP before such a thing was cool, the two bands opted to cover each other's songs, Girlschool taking Bomber, Motorhead opting for Emergency, and then joined together for a duet of 50s rocker Johnny Kidd & The Pirates' Please Don't Touch

The two bands meld together surprisingly well, sharing the limelight in a way that highlights the groups' similarities and overarching love for old-school rock'n'roll whilst still allowing them enough space to shine individually. Girlschool vocalist Kelly Johnson spits with a punkish venom that would do Joan Jett proud, while Lemmy's characteristic gravel rasp harmonises surprisingly well. Reaching No.5 in the UK singles chart, the release proved that not only were Motorhead on legendary form at that point, but Girlschool were also fast rising as stars in the post-NWOBHM landscape.


7. Motorhead (No Sleep 'Till Hammersmith, 1981)

The song that gave Motorhead their name and announced their arrival in no uncertain terms, Motorhead was written by Lemmy whilst still a member of Hawkwind. Released as the B-side to King Of Speed in 1975, the song took on a new life when it was re-recorded by Lemmy's altogether scrappier and greasier new band for their 1977 self-titled debut. 

As with much of Motorhead's early output however, the song became even fiercer when transported to the live arena, an early recording from 1977 on the Lock Up Your Daughters release just how anarchic and messy the band could get with their eponymous track. The later recording on No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith manages to retain the punk pacing that the band had injected into it in those early years, but combines that with a tightness that really flexes what the 'classic' line-up could do. Lemmy wasn't off the mark when he sang 'I should be tired, but all I am is wired!' It was a shot of adrenaline that brought Lemmy's new band roaring to life, and they never looked back since.


6. No Class (No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith, 1981)

"Now this is called No Class." A classic example of how Motorhead songs could transform completely from studio to live recordings, the 1981 recording of No Class featured on No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith has since gone on to feature on numerous 'best of' collections (including one named after the song) as the definitive version of the track. 

It's not hard to see why - the original's punchy riff always felt more Saxon than Motorhead (not necessarily a bad thing, the pair would tour together frequently after all), the bounce not quite as calamitous as the band at their very best. By the time they hit it live though the song was carnage incarnate, Lemmy's snarl on lines like 'Shut up, you talk too loud/you don't fit in with the crowd' matched by the intense force of Philthy and Fast Eddie doing their best to knock the world on its arse. 


5. Just 'Cos You Got The Power (No Sleep At All, 1988)

"You like politicians, don't you? Neither do I, the lying, thieving bastards. This is for all those fucks in suits out there fucking up your life." Lemmy never was one to mince words, but that intro, taken from the 2011 Wacken performance that was recorded for The World Is Ours Vol. 2 Anyplace Crazy As Anywhere Else, perfectly captures the lyrical mindset Lemmy was in when writing this absolute gem. Featured originally as the b-side to Eat The Rich, the track nonetheless became a mainstay of Motorhead sets as it allowed guitarists – not least Slash, who jumped on at Download Festival 2010 a chance to grandstand – while Lemmy laid down the law against all the "fucks who make your life miserable."

Picking out a definitive version of this track is a matter of preference. Its stompy pace means the studio version barely loses anything in translation, but while the World Is Ours Vol. 2 iteration comes with the nifty speech, the real props go out to its first live recording on No Sleep At All. Delivered at a point where Motorhead were still in the habit of speeding tracks up because why the hell not, there is a hastiness to the No Sleep version of Just 'Cos You Got The Power that doesn't rob the track of any of its potency. Lemmy's lyrics drip utter disdain for those who take power at the expense of the common man, lines like 'You might be a financial wizard, with a sack of loot/But all I see is a slimy lizard, in an expensive suit' leaving no room for interpretation.


4. Going To Brazil (Everything Louder Than Everyone Else, 1999)

When the conversation comes up as to whether No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith is the definitive Motorhead live record, Going To Brazil is quite possibly the strongest argument to the contrary. First released on 1991's 1916, the track is about as deep in Little Richard worship as anybody could hope to be without hearing the iconic 'Whoooooooo' from the man himself.

And yet the studio recording always feels more like a rehearsal for the real thing than a classic in its own right, not least because whenever Motorhead played Going To Brazil, which they seldom did after 1991, they turned it into an exercise in pure batshit rock'n'roll bedlam. Most often cropping up in sets towards the end of the night, not least because it effectively murdered the audience with every outing, its telling that Going to Brazil didn't appear in the sets for the band's final shows in Germany just weeks before Lemmy's passing. Stick this one on loud and know we'll never see their likes again.


3. Bomber (No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith, 1981)

"BOM-BER!" Another track whose live iteration often replaced the original studio recording, Bomber's appearance on the No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith tour is nothing short of legendary. After all, while the band seldom went all-in for frippery and stage theatrics like many of their peers, their most famous indulgence was a lighting rig in the shape of the titular plane, adding an extra showy flourish to a set that would otherwise be filled with wall-to-wall straight-ahead rock'n'roll ragers. 

While Bomber's studio incarnation doesn't sound like anybody other than the band, its chugging drumbeats feel more like the little choo-choo that could than the audience-flattening blitzkrieg that the live version of the song became. To whit, the version of Bomber on …Hammersmith is Motorhead firing on all cylinders, flying the aircraft right at the earth only to take off again from the sheer incendiary force of impact. Wilder than a starved tiger and twice as deadly, this track is everything brilliant about Motorhead live.


2. Ace Of Spades (No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith, 1981)

The big one. If Motorhead never did anything else after 1980, Ace Of Spades would likely still have been an all-time classic, one of rock's most thundering tracks and the very definition of dangerous rock'n'roll. It's featured in countless movies, was played by the band on The Young Ones and even got an acoustic reimagining for a Carlsberg advert (no, really (opens in new tab)). Even so, it never lost its charm and remains for many the quintessential Motorhead track, far and away their biggest commercial success as it spent a total of 15 weeks in the UK music charts, peaking at No.15 on original release and No.13 in 2016 as fans campaigned to get it back in the charts to commemorate Lemmy's passing.

In truth, the studio version of the song hardly lacks for anything, coming about as close as any recording the band ever made to capturing the sheer magic of what they could achieve onstage. Nonetheless, the No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith version of the song does have one thing the studio doesn't: a percussive blast right at the start of the track that you'll listen for every time henceforth when you've heard it. This song is Motorhead to millions, the one song the band could never get away with not playing live. It was with a massive, knowing wink that Lemmy would deliver the lines 'You know I'm born to lose/And gambling's for fools/But that's the way I like it baby/I don't wanna live for ever...' before chucking in a cheeky "but apparently I am" in his later years. But while it's undeniable Ace Of Spades is Motorhead's biggest anthem, there's one song that reshaped rock'n'roll history, giving birth to extreme metal as we know it...


1. Overkill (Everything Louder Than Everyone Else, 1999)

Extreme metal would not exist in the form it does without Motorhead. For years, Philthy Animal had toyed with the idea of using two bass drums for years, but his decision to deploy the technique on the title-track for Motorhead's 1979 record Overkill changed the shape of extreme metal entirely, creating a whole new school of drumming for double-bass junkies who desperately wanted to replicate that same thundering beat.

Icons in thrash, black metal, death metal and beyond have openly sung Motorhead's praises, but Overkill is the song that absolutely blew the doors open for a new level of extremity, bypassing NWOBHM and going straight to thrash. Chuck in the band's usual lairy guitar sound and you've got a five-minute riot in a can – utterly devastating and the downfall of many an overeager mosher who didn't realise the song had two false endings before wrapping up in an abyss of howling feedback.

The closer to almost every Motorhead set after 1982, often ping-ponging between set opener and pre-encore closer in its first three years, the song just naturally feels like a thunderous last hurrah for the evening, hammering away at a pace that would inspire so much development in the metal scene going forwards. Mikkey Dee's drumming on the Everything Louder Than Everyone Else recording is characteristically enormous, thumping the bones to dust before the rest of the band even get a look in. As Lemmy says right at the start of the track, 'The only way to feel the noise is when it's good and loud' and with Overkill, Motorhead were never louder, or better. 


Everything Louder Forever is out now via BMG

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.