1977 Part 7. And then I’ll move on.
Back in 1977 while The Saints, The Ramones and The Sex Pistols were giving Rock Music a pretty hefty and very public shoeing, Lemmy Kilmister’s Motorhead were preparing to perform a similar operation on Heavy Metal.
And it needed it as much as Rock did. Heavy Metal had started in the 1960s as a loud, bass-driven, distortion-heavy version of The Blues, pioneered by groups such as Blue Cheer, Iron Butterfly and Cream. And later, in the early 1970s, by Led Zeppelin (some of the time), Black Sabbath and Deep Purple.
By late 1976 it had completely lost its way – degenerating into a stale and lifeless pale shadow of its former self. And then Motorhead appeared.
Lemmy Kilmister had been the bassist in Hawkwind until 1975 when he was fired for delaying the Canadian leg of a tour by getting busted for cocaine. When he got himself back together he decided to form a new band. After coming very close to choosing the ever-so-Top-Of-The-Pops-friendly name, Bastard, he finally settled on Motorhead - the name of the last song he had written for Hawkwind.
Motorhead had a very clearly stated mission – to strip away the excesses and indulgences of mid ’70s Metal, inject more raw energy and return it to its (in Lemmy’s view) 1950s Rock’n'Roll roots. And of course play it at ear-splitting, deafening volumes that would have been impossible to generate with the equipment available in the mid ’50s.
There were clear similarities to what the early Punksters thought they were doing in the paralell universe of (less-heavy) Rock. And then in late 1976 Lemmy heard these first Punksters at play. He says he immediately liked The Ramones and The Damned and was impressed by the speed and energy that they injected into their (early) music.
So onto Motorhead’s vision of a reinvented ultra loud ’50′s Rock’n'Roll-inspired Heavy Metal he grafted the speed and frenzy of Punk. That of course was a very new idea because it had never really been present in the loud but usually fairly pedestrian ’60s and early ’70s version of Metal.
The single ‘Motorhead’ was the first recording they released (although they had tried to release other material before but had been blocked by legal wrangles with former labels). In addition to the energy and speed and sheer weight of the thing, ‘Motorhead’ also borrowed some of the production values of the Do It Yourself Punk ethos – in other words it sounded like it had been recorded under water. Even that though couldn’t stop it having a massive influence on the future of music.
What actually happened next was quite complicated. There was indeed a revival of Heavy Metal – with the arrival of the so-called ’New Wave Of British Heavy Metal’. Bands like Iron Maiden and Saxon came swaggering out of the woodwork after Motorhead and ‘Motorhead’ (both of whom, critically, were liked by the ultra cool early Punks) made Heavy acceptable again. But musically NWOBHM took a major wrong turn. It choose to follow Judas Priest (who had already released two albums by this stage) rather than Motorhead and headed off down what turned out to be a very dull, very long cul-de-sac. And it wasn’t really till Grunge, over a decade later, that Heavy Rock finally realised it had been lead astray.
Interestingly Lemmy knew this all along. Rather than bask in the ‘glory’ of at least partly inspiring NWOBHM, he turned his back on it, said he wanted absolutely nothing to do with it and always maintained that Motorhead had more in common with Punk.
Available on the album ‘Motorhead’: Amazon