by Steve Pick
Back in 1981, long before anybody dreamed you would one day be able to call or write anybody anywhere and get an immediate response, there was often nothing to do but go out looking for your friends and acquaintances. If there were no rock shows going on at Billie Goat Hill or the Bernard Pub, the odds were good you could find people you knew just by migrating to the Delmar Loop and walking around for a little while.
One night, I was out on Delmar when I ran into Brett Rosenberg and Alex Mutrux, two young and highly talented guitar players who were either still in or just recently out of the local band Surgery, virtually an Iggy Pop tribute outfit. Brett and Alex immediately began breathlessly recounting their thrills earlier that evening at the Arena, as they had just come from seeing Motorhead open for some much more popular mainstream metal act. This was the first time I had ever considered the possibility that there was a heavy metal band worth my notice.
Sometime within the next year or so, I actually acquired No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith, and understood what my friends were babbling about. Last week, we talked about rock'n'roll as sexual energy - this week, we're gonna talk about rock'n'roll as outlet for non-sexual excitement. Because every once in a while, especially when you're young, the urge comes to jump around, scream at the top of your lungs, and feel release. Motorhead took this exhilaration found in much of the punk rock I loved already, and stripped away pretty much all the melody, making for primal explosions of pure "AAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHH."
Whether slam dancing to hardcore punk or banging your head to heavy metal, the urge is pretty much the same - it's aggression and joy and insecurity and connection. It's not simple, and it's not easily denigrated. I could never make this my only interest in music, as many people have, but I wouldn't want to ignore the pleasures I've gained from loud and fast expressions like this, either.
Motorhead was born when Lemmy Kilminster got bored with the prog rock of Hawkwind, and decided to push his fairly simple anthems into the realm of noise. This album features the classic trio of Lemmy on bass and vocals (his "singing" sounds pretty much like the demon which inhabited Linda Blair in The Exorcist), Fast Eddie Clarke on guitar, and "Philthy" Phil Taylor on drums. All three are technically proficient instrumentalists, yet all three are perfectly willing to bash about without worrying about impressing anybody with their skills.
Of course, many of the songs sound the same. But that doesn't mean this live version "Ace of Spades" isn't the greatest of all yelps of hormonal angst. "I know I'm born to lose / And gambling's for fools / But that's the way I like it, baby / I don't want to live forever." As long as it sounds like this, living forever might feel pretty good.
So what if "The Hammer" is just a rewrite of "Ace of Spades," or the song "Motorhead" sticks pretty closely to the same pattern? If it ain't broke, don't fix it, I always say, and Motorhead never needed to fix anything. Besides, they throw in "Capricorn," as close to a nod to the Stooges as anything else, just for a bit of variety.
Nowadays, you can buy a deluxe version of this album with 18 bonus tracks (including alternate versions of many of the same songs, which really don't change much from the original, except in so far as they aren't exactly the way you remember them), but I'll stick with the original eleven bursts of power which made this the live album I've long considered the best of all time. Yes, 1981 had its share of songcraft - Elvis Costello's Trust, the Blasters major debut, Psychedelic Furs' Talk Talk Talk, and Squeeze's East Side Story - but it's this jolt of caffeine (or speed) that lives brightest in my heart.