[Released March 24th, 1979 through Bronze Records. Artwork by Joe Petagno]
I suppose you could consider yourself a metal fan and not hold Motörhead in the highest and loudest regard, but that sure would make an easier case for proving your overall cred is about as triumphant as Jon Cryer in a deadlift competition. Yes, of course: who really cares about everyone’s favorite invisible friend, “cred”—love what you love without reservation. On a serious note, though, just how in the hell can anyone who claims to be a fan of loud music not have a profound gratitude for what Motörhead accomplished with their career. When loud was born, it was actually called Löud and looked like a wolf bear boar biker with a chain hanging from its tusks. Motörhead out banged The Big Bang, and they were there to laugh like booming thunder when [the god of your choice] dropped the first mountain on his or her toe during creation. Motörhead is the Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt be loud, or thou shalt piss off. A Motörhead show was the only conceivable place where one could witness an actual wrecking ball in attendance “just to enjoy the music of their people.” Before the arrival of Motörhead, the world was basically doilies, extended pinkies, and flowery medieval bows.
What the band’s 1977 self-titled debut did to welcome all living creatures to their dreadful rumpus, it was Motörhead’s sophomore effort and Bronze Records launch, 1979’s Overkill, that fully established them as The Holy Trinity of all things blaring. Bronze’s first exposure to the band was a sight unseen release of a 7” single in 1978 that included a cover of Richard Berry’s “Louie Louie,” and even that relatively clean (by Motörhead standards) cover was rough enough for label head Gerry Bron to refer to it as “…the worst record I’ve ever heard.” Still, it landed the band in primetime glory via Top Of The Pops, a British “popular music” show that ran from 1964 to 2006.
With Motörhead somehow securing enough of a cult following to lock the Louie Louie / Tear Ya Down single at #72 on the charts, the band was awarded a more advantageous studio circumstance that included renowned producer Jimmy Miller, who’d recently twiddled knobs for the Rolling Stones on Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main St. and Goats Head Soup. One can only guess what Bron & company were expecting from that rendezvous, but the experience of having the brazen uproar that is Overkill punched into the ears of a bunch of suits in 1979 must have been comparable to being forced to watch a bulldog fuck a poodle for a half hour.
Even today, after hundreds of thousands upon millions of billions of riffs upon riffs atop kicks upon fills and endless snarls over unending howls, Overkill still sounds louder than a bomb strapped to the Krakatoa volcanic eruption. Perhaps not as many bonafide flagship Motörhits as Ace of Spades, and maybe not quite as heavy as Orgasmatron, but Overkill is regularly acknowledged as the band’s pinnacle because its maximum intensity guaranteed Motörhead their rightful spot as immortals 40 fucking years ago, and it will never lose that crown.
Happy 40th, you vulgar, lumpy, hazardous beauty. All our lives would be a lot quieter without you. And praise be, as long as there are living eardrums to be split, Motörhead will never be past tense.
At times, Motörhead kicks down the gates so convincingly on its opening tracks that listeners probably wonder how the hell the album’s intensity can be upheld. In terms of maintaining all energy levels at maximum horsepower, “Overkill” is the Mustang of songs fit for an album too restless to be kept in any barn or stable. The song’s most memorable attribute, though, is Philthy Animal’s galloping drum intro, which has been bucking Motörhead fans out of their seats for 40 years running. So strap yourselves in and enjoy, because the pace has been set and ain’t slowing down anytime soon. [KONRAD KANTOR]
While Motörhead is primarily known for straight forward, driving rock and roll tinged with punk fury, the band is also adept at playing a grimy blue tune when the time calls for it. Following the blustery title track, “Stay Clean” offers a contrast of styles. Based on a blues riff (as opposed to power chords), the track fires forth with all the grease of a day-old Awesome Blossom (sometimes referred to as a Blooming Onion). The production is thick, warmer than elsewhere on Overkill. Lemmy’s voice is swathed in reverb while Philthy’s drums bounce softly rather than the more common machine gun attack. Lemmy sounds breathless, exhaling at the end of each line as prelude to Fast Eddie’s choppy interludes and ripping solo. Even at sub-three minutes (1950s pop length) the track conveys a crucial message: “Don’t be scared, live to win / Although they’re always gonna tell you it’s a sin / In the end, you’re on your own / And there is no-one that can stop you being alone.”
Stay clean, brothers and sisters. [MANNY-O-WAR]
“(I WON’T) PAY YOUR PRICE”
The bluesy, boogie-woogie bounce of “(I Won’t) Pay Your Price” is one of the more playful, lighthearted tracks on Overkill from a purely music perspective. Fast Eddie’s simple, up-down riff drives the verses as much as the equally punchy drumming, while Lemmy’s rapid lyrical delivery almost reaches a rap cadence at times. The soloing, which switches between being staccato scratchy and smoothy blues, also helps to give the song that fun bar band feel, as do the great guitar screams during the chorus. But the lyrics that Lem is delivering tell a different story. Someone is a bad friend, burden, social cancer, whatever, and he’s simply not having any more of it. Lemmy was always quick to admit when he was being the degenerate, but that doesn’t mean he suffered fools. [ZACH DUVALL]
“I’LL BE YOUR SISTER”
“I’ll Be Your Sister” slows down the tempo and cranks up the sleaze. It’s actually quite beautiful, as when it’s broken down, Lemmy is just telling the person of his affection that he will be whatever it is they need him to be. He’ll be their lover, mother, sister, maybe. It’s just when all of these are put into a singular context, and delivered over Fast Eddie Clarke’s filthy, mid-tempo rock and roll riffing that it just feels dirty somehow, alluring the dark, twisted side of the imagination to conjure what perverted meaning may lie beneath. Quite frankly, it sounds like something Tipper Gore would get in a tizzy about without realizing exactly why she’s offended. That’s part of the beauty of Motörhead: They have this ability to latch onto the low-down, good-fer-nothin’ outlaw vibes and pull them to the surface, regardless of what subjects they are dealing with. In fact, Lemmy wrote it in the first place with hopes that he could get Tina Turner to record it. It is this attitude, coupled, of course, with the music at the core that is just what Motörhead always preached: pure rock and roll. [RYAN TYSINGER]
Of news to (hopefully) no one is the fact that Motörhead spoke to the punks, the metalheads, and the rockers alike. On the truly epochal Overkill, those threads were often wound tightly together. In closing out side A with the (relatively) slow-burning tale of astrological self-reliance “Capricorn,” Lemmy & co. reached for a trick they would return to throughout the decades: the hard-driving yet almost-swinging blues thrust, touched with streaks of both sassy defiance and the merest hint of regret (“When I was young, I was already old”). The mid-song solo break is a beauty of a thing, beginning as it rides out the downcast post-chorus bridge, but then picking up the increasing intensity from Phil Taylor’s cymbal-heavy downbeat punishment. Lemmy’s reverbed vocals echo seemingly to eternity as the band plays to the record run-out on a moody fade. It’s a forceful reminder both that Motörhead had more nuance than they’re often credited for, and that Lem, Fast Eddie, and Philthy Animal also wanted little else than to stuff that meticulous nuance straight up your ass, you cramwads. Their life, their heart: play it loud. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
Rock and roll has obviously never been a stranger to all things cheeky, but does there exist a more fitting textbook definition than song 1 / side B from Overkill? Perhaps taking their fondness for ZZ Top beyond reason, Motörhead (aherm) borrowed the riff from “Tush,” force-fed it some speed, and then had the balls to hitch a stack of schoolyard lyrics admonishing some sucker with “No Class” in order to bring it all home. Accelerated imitation is the speediest form of flattery, no? In this case, Motörhead made the riff that ZZ Top perhaps rented from some lesser-known delta bluesman their own, and that equated to enough roaring boogie to make “No Class” a key ingredient for all future shows. The “No Class” pinch of “Tush” is casebook cheekiness, but just about anything filtered through Motörhead ends up sounding like it was meant to be. [CAPTAIN]
Only Lemmy could write a song about being on the run from “some institution” and also make it not only about trying to seduce his would-be abettor but also filter the whole thing through a great bit of self-deprecating humor. Being outside the law plus being a sexual lord plus being at perfect peace with your status as trash. If that ain’t Motörhead, not much is. Musically, the tune shows the classic trio in a slightly restrained mode, but only from a speed standpoint, as this one is hefty hefty. It’s ugly riffs, bass, and drums all working together as unified gut punches, and contains some of the most pummeling work of Animal Taylor’s career. Like the record’s title track, it’s also a song that you could envision the band jamming on until they fell apart from exhaustion and/or some sort of chemically-induced state. The villain/hero of the story can surely relate. [ZACH DUVALL]
“TEAR YA DOWN”
Much has been made of Motörhead’s influence on thrash and speed metal, and with good reason, as there are several tracks on this very album that provide ample evidence of that. At its heart, though, the original Motörhead was a sleazy rock band, and Overkill provides ample evidence of that as well, not least among that evidence is “Tear Ya Down”.
The lyrics of “Tear Ya Down” are primarily comprised of unsubtle metaphors for showing a young lady a good time. The only things in real danger of getting torn down in this track are underpants. However, the sleaze doesn’t stop or even start with the lyrics: The fuzzed-out intro/main riff is pure swagger, and that ascending lick at the end is sure to get asses shaking.
While “Tear Ya Down” is mostly about the groove, that brief, post-solo rev-up packs a pretty metallic punch, and it also happens to sound a hell of a lot like the intro to “Freewheel Burning.” Were the boys in Judas Priest keeping tabs on Motörhead? More power to them if they were. [JEREMY MORSE]
Across Overkill, Motörhead truly shows the breadth of their ability. While they may not be marquis musicians, and Lemmy might not be teaching you how to play the bass on some grainy VHS tape you bought off the television at 11 PM on a Saturday night for three easy installments of $34.99, they are tight. Tight as hell actually. Tighter than a young Pinot that didn’t spend enough time in the oak barrel. And that’s where it’s at, right? At three and a half minutes, “Metropolis” sees Motörhead channeling the psychedelia of the time with Lemmy and Philthy simply holding it down while Fast Eddie moves outside the standard box of his solos and experiments with grace notes, bends, and just a touch of the diminished dissonance. The rhythm section is simply on fire here, rolling lock-step across a compositional format not often sighted in the Motörhead discography. This is one groovy tune full of simple lyrics and ample room for guitar solos, replete with effects and wah-wah pedals. I don’t care. I don’t care. [MANNY-O-WAR]
“LIMB FROM LIMB”
“Well I’ve never done nothing that’s ever gonna shame my life.” Is there another opening line that’s any more Lemmy? Beloved for his “what you see is what you get” pragmatism, he lived on his terms and was an open book about his motivations. And on “Limb From Limb,” ol’ Lem’s motivated by some lovin’. Okay, okay, I’ll grant that may not be the most accurate term for what’s going on here between Lemmy and his partner. Not quite so loving, more a primal love/hate dysfunctional relationship ode to making the beast with two backs. “Subtle and tasteful,” you remark. “Fuck off,” Lemmy replies. But what’s truly filthy here—like downright disgusting, old-school Cinemax-after-dark level nasty—is the greasy hook of the Eddie guitar riff at the center of this song. It’s dyed-in-the-wool bluesman work, although presented in suitably Motörhead griminess. It’s the kind of swaggering riff that spawned legions of adolescent boys and girls frantic to learn their first riffs. Good don’t have to be complicated, folks. I’ve always felt it’s a curious choice for a track to close the album proper, but perhaps that’s why they transition to double time to close it out. Or maybe it’s because they were built for speed. [MATTHEW COOPER]
“TOO LATE TOO LATE”
It’s testament to the creative brilliance of vintage Motörhead that each of their records sports a handful of b-sides, outtakes, and bonus tracks that are all of killer quality, oftentimes equally as great as the tracks that made the records. (Thankfully, the deluxe editions rescue those tracks from the ignominious fate of being overlooked any longer.) “Too Late Too Late” is a prime example, another classic Motörhead burner, all simple and catchy Fast Eddie riff, Lemmy’s swaggering bad-assery, and Philthy’s speed-fueled drive. Originally the b-side of the “Overkill” single, “Too Late Too Late” may not match that one in terms of historical importance—and let’s be honest, very few songs do—but it’s absolutely a worthy track, one that deserved more attention than just standing in the shadows of giants, and now permanently appended to the end of one of rock history’s greatest records, it finds its place as an almost-unsung classic that any Motörhead fan should know and love. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
“LIKE A NIGHTMARE”
My very first Motörhead was the No Remorse compilation, which is a wonderful representation of their time with Bronze Records (my version was a white cassette tape with a baby blue sleeve), and it contained a b-side from the “No Class” single, called “Like a Nightmare.” Slowed down and bluesed up, it’s a bit outside Overkill’s purview which is probably why it ended up a b-side, although it shares enough with “Capricorn” and “Metropolis” that even that doesn’t jibe completely. Regardless, it’s a fine track in its own right, guitars tuned to evoke that awesome and vaguely familiar nighttime vibe that belongs to the 70s. The main riff rides a cool, rolling bass line along with some laid back rock ‘n’ roll beats, but this song is very clearly a showcase for Fast Eddie, peppered throughout with little mini-leads and featuring an extended solo section that’s both warm as a summer breeze and supremely cool. The “alternative version” released later is very cool too, but loses much of that 70s warmth with an upgraded production job, including lots of reverb and other effects, so the No Remorse version remains my favorite. [LONE WATIE]
“We are Motörhead , and we play rock ‘n’ roll.”
Those words served as the introduction for virtually every Motörhead concert ever—certainly all the ones I was lucky enough to attend—and seldom were truer words ever spoken. Sure, they weren’t your father’s rock ‘n’ roll. Motörhead was loud, fast, brash, ugly—but isn’t that kind of the point? Isn’t that what rock ‘n’ roll really is? And what better way to drive home their love for the classics than covering one of early rock’s most primitive and iconic tunes? For this non-album single originally released a year in advance of Overkill, Lemmy, Fast Eddie, and Philthy take a song we’ve all heard countless times, from oldies stations to high school pep rallies, and energizes it further with their signature grit and groove, taking a garage rock staple and pushing it into further into the rebellious, into the energetic, into that punk-metal hybrid that can only be described as pure classic Motörhead. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]