Born to Lose, Lived to Win: 40 Years of Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades”
"If we moved in next door your lawn would die." With those words Ian Fraser "Lemmy" Kilmister summed up perfectly the ethos for his new band Motörhead, forged in vengeance from being kicked out of space rockers Hawkwind in 1975 after getting caught at the Canadian border for possession of assumed cocaine (though, it was actually speed). By March of 1976 the classic lineup of Motörhead was created: Lemmy’s war-torn voice and megaton bass guitar joined by "Fast" Eddie Clarke blazing on the guitar and Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor smashing away on the drums.
Motörhead steadily found success first with a single cover of Richard Berry’s "Louie Louie" followed by their second and third full length albums, Overkill and Bomber respectively, hitting the British charts in 1979 and earning them a spot on the famous British music program Top of the Pops. The sound they crafted indelibly pulled from the heavy metal roots of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, but it was also imbued with a love for the earlier original wave of rock'n'roll and the energy and simplicity of the piss'n'anger-soaked punk movement of the 1970’s. Longhairs and newly-arisen metalheads were developing a rivalry with the punks, but both sides found a unique common ground in Motörhead, who served not only as ambassadors between the scenes but through their music forged an unmistakable influence on the soon-to-be-born speed and thrash metal scenes. Lemmy’s gravel-gargling voice, Phil Taylor’s double kick drumming, their decibel-demolishing loudness: it all played a part in creating most of the extreme metal we all know today.
In the summer of 1980, the band established themselves as legends by recording the album that’s the whole point of this tribute: Ace of Spades. Motörhead were joined by Vic Maile, famous producer for rock giants Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and The Who. By the bands’ accounts, Maile pushed them harder than anyone had before to get the right take. His rather fragile personal health helped the band, notorious for fighting amongst themselves with fists flying, avoid physical confrontations if only for his sake. The resulting album and its leading single title track propelled the band to number four on the UK album charts, eventually certifying gold status in 1981 while it became the first Motörhead album distributed to North America -- opening them up to new legions of fans.
While touring right before and after the album’s release helped form the recordings for No Sleep ‘til Hammersmith, largely considered one of the greatest live metal or rock albums ever, the band began to implode after years of close quarters on the road. Ultimately, it resulted in Clarke leaving for good in 1982 and Taylor following in 1984 (with a return from 1987 to 1992). Lemmy soldiered on as the perpetual essence of Motörhead with various lineups while continually delivering the goods musically and hitting stages across the globe. It was often joked that Lemmy would live forever, to the point that after hypothetical nuclear war there would still be Lemmy, stepping over scurrying cockroaches, looking for the last bar on earth with a bottle of Jack Daniels left.
Ultimately time and mortality caught up to Lemmy, debatably before the end of humanity arrived, as complications from prostate cancer and congestive heart failure led to his death on the 28th of December, 2015. Taylor died only a few weeks prior on November 12th, 2015 while Clarke passed away on January 10th, 2018 from pneumonia. The men that made Motörhead what it was are now gone from this earth, but their legacy continues in not only every fan alive today and the multitudes of bands that can cite them as influence, but in those fans and musicians alike yet to come who will have their faces blown off when they first hear the powder keg explosion that is the opening to "Ace of Spades."
In tribute, with a bounty of passion and wit, we present testimonials from multiple sectors of the metal world: from those not yet born when
The first time I was exposed to Motörhead was when I saw the "Ace Of Spades" video when I was very young and the impact it had was almost terrifying! "Loud, fast, dirty, and hard," were the first things that came to mind. You could almost smell the band through the TV screen. So I sought out this record and, front to back, it didn't disappoint one smidge. I hate to repeat myself but the only way to describe the album Ace of Spades is: "LOUD, FAST, DIRTY, and HARD!" I can never thank you enough, Lemmy! (RIP)
Lemmy, or "The" Lemmy, has been such a special icon of a man and the very definition of a rockstar in my eyes. To such extent that I long dreamt of one day visiting the Rainbow Bar & Grill in Los Angeles to perhaps meet the man himself. He sadly passed before I got to do so, but last year I finally got to have Jack and Cokes at the Rainbow and even visited his apartment building as well. It felt like my own personal pilgrimage. He was a one of a kind legend who gave us not only Ace Of Spades but everything else that makes up the decades long Motörhead back catalogue.
Lemmy and the album Ace Of Spades taught me to be aggressive, but honest and passionate whilst creating riffs and performing on stage. It’s the textbook for authenticity, rawness, and passion. Crossing off all the boxes on my list. The straight up fist in the face, direct, no bullshit riffs of "The Hammer" and the title track are all I need. Simple, raw, and pure rock and roll thrash that never gets old.
James McBain (Hellripper)
As soon as you hear that opening bassline, you know it’s Motörhead. The band epitomises rock ‘n’ roll and Ace of Spades has everything a great hard rock or metal album should have. The songs are sharp, catchy, recognisable, and all wrapped up in that signature Motörhead swagger. The title track itself is just a masterclass in songwriting and a track that I’ve covered with my bands many times over the years, just as many others have. Of course, Motörhead and Ace of Spades have been a huge influence on the music of Hellripper, as I’m sure anyone can hear. When I started writing music for Hellripper the very first riff that I came up with was my take on their trademark style, which turned into the song "Trial by Fire".
Motörhead has been my favorite band for so many years growing up and long after. When Lemmy died it was like losing a family member. I remember not being able to listen to Motörhead for more than a year after he died because it would make me too sad. I always felt like Lemmy was gonna live forever. I never thought he could die like the rest of us mortals.
Ace of Spades is one or their best albums and the success of the title track helped the band become such an institution worldwide though I celebrate the entire Motörhead discography, from the first to the last album. They truly represent the wild spirit of rock 'n' roll and metal. For this, we will always love Motörhead.
Jairo "Tormentor" Guedz (The Troops of Doom and ex-Sepultura)
This is an album that must be listened to fucking loud! I'm sure that I'm not only speaking for myself, but this is a cornerstone of heavy metal music, especially for those who grew up in my generation. Ace of Spades practically reinvented heavy metal by mixing together rock n 'roll, heavy metal, and punk. It’s fast, loud, and heavy as fuck! It's an album that influences me to this very day. It's inspiring! Unfortunately, Lemmy and Motörhead left this giant gap in the music world but their legacy will never be forgotten. They will live forever! It is undoubtedly one of the most important albums in music history. I remember it as if it were yesterday, in the early Sepultura era in the 1980’s: me, Max, Igor, and Paulo with our eyes shining and ears bleeding listening to this classic for the very first time. It was magical! I believe it was ground zero for the thrash, speed Metal and crossover. Simply iconic!
Ace of Spades is a perfect record, simple as that. From the swagger of "The Chase Is Better Than The Catch" to the Little Richard-on-speed "The Hammer" to the ubiquitous title track, hearing that record as a kid, I don't think my 11-year-old brain stood a chance. 21 years out from that first encounter, there've been a lot of Marshalls and Rickenbackers thrashed, miles driven, substances consumed, and songs written in the name of appeasing the fire lit by this record.
Bobby Tufino (Dialogia)
I'd be lying if I said that Ace of Spades was a formative album for me; I kind of missed it and went straight into Slayer and Morbid Angel. But later on, I was exposed to it by older friends and thought "wow, this guy's BASS playing influenced all these guys' GUITAR playing!" I can hear Lemmy's bass tone in the old Stockholm death metal classics for sure. I listen to Left Hand Path and it's impossible not to hear Ace of Spades in there. As a result if one of the tunes from Ace of Spades comes on, I now hear Left Hand Path in it. It goes on forever; living art is always in dialogue with living art. You go back into the lineage of death metal bands and it's obvious that we wouldn't be doing what we're doing if Ace of Spades hadn't materialized 40 years ago.
John McEntee (Incantation)
Ace of Spades is not only an iconic album from Motörhead but also a ground-breaking album that helped inspire a generation of musicians to push the limits of metal and hard rock. Motörhead has one of the most solid discographies of any band, with albums like Bomber, Overkill, Orgasmatron, Sacrifice... I mean the list goes on and on, but with Ace of Spades everything just lined up. Every song on that album is a classic, it had great production, and I just think the time was right. Metal was really making a comeback in 1980 and the world was ready for them. The album is metal, rock n’ roll, and punk all mashed together, but sounding so natural and honest. You just feel a "I don’t give a fuck" vibe on that album.
Ace of Spades is without a doubt one of the most important albums that has ever been released. That is not an opinion, but a fact. That album gave inspiration to every thrash, death metal, or any other extreme form of metal or punk. What do the Cro-Mags, Possessed, Metallica and Death all have in common? They were all Motörhead fans. They would not exist without Motörhead. We must all pay out respect to Lemmy and the boys as without them metal would be in a very different place.
Motörhead’s Ace of Spades was released in 1980. I was 6 years old so it flew a bit under my radar at the time of its release. My interest was more focused on that movie, the one where there's like an empire or something and they do some kinda striking back of sorts. Like any great piece of timeless art it doesn't matter when you discover it, just that you appreciate it. So when I did hear this masterpiece in its entirety I knew I was experiencing a unique life altering greatness disguised as rock n’ roll. You don't need some schlub to type a bunch of fancy words attempting to describe this album and how it changed the lives of so many people, blah blah blah (in the words of Alex Lifeson’s rock hall speech). What you NEED to do is quit reading this gibberish and as NWA once said "buy the fuckin album, bitch!" Then most importantly listen to it repeatedly, which is necessary.
Ace of Spades is probably the most important record of my life. I had been in active pursuit of a Motörhead record since reading about them in articles on the new wave of British heavy metal that had been cropping up in various music mags. Every weekend I scoured the bins of the local record shops looking for releases from this new and exciting movement. In November of 1980, I first laid eyes on Ace of Spades in the new arrivals. I immediately noticed how much more scruffy and unwashed the band looked compared to the bright eyed youngsters that made up most of the new heavy metal bands. Upon my first listen it was instantly clear that Motörhead were not just another heavy metal band. This was greasy, foul smelling, menacing rock and roll with a rawness that, at the time, seemed unfathomable. It was truly life changing. Ace of Spades went straight to the top of my playlist and has remained there for 40 years now. After loyally subscribing to every Motörhead release before and since it’s not my favorite of the band’s incredible body of work but it’s still the most influential. I learned from Ace of Spades that for me, loud, fast, and loose is the way it should be. Thank you Lemmy, Fast Eddie and Philthy. Your impact is eternal.
Ace of Spades released November 8th, 1980 via Bronze Records.