“Who’d win in a wrestling match, Lemmy or God?”
“Wrong. Trick question. Lemmy is God.”
It’s one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies, Airheads. Brendan Fraser tests the authenticity and trust of a man claiming to be a record executive, while Fraser’s band, The Lone Rangers, holds hostages in a local radio station.
Lemmy Kilmister, the singer and hellion bassplayer for Motörhead, is an understandable metal demigod and Motörhead is an understandable gold standard for metal. The band’s a twenty-some piece kit, searing solos, and a bass overloaded with gain, topped with long, stringy hair and no-frill songwriting. They can play heavy and they can play fast.
“Ace of Spades”
But as easy as it is to call Motörhead a metal band, whether because of their sound or the look of Lemmy and former drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor,” to Lemmy Motörhead will always be rock and roll.
“I wanted to be the MC5,” Lemmy said in a recent interview. Perhaps best known for the song, “Kick Out the Jams,” MC5’s place in music history was solidified because they, along with the Stooges, Television, and The Who, planted the seeds for punk’s rise in the late seventies.
Like MC5, Lemmy counts among his greatest influences rock and roll pioneers like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers, and Buddy Holly.
“Let it Rock” (Chuck Berry)
Motörhead is, as Lemmy called them, “the best worst” rock and roll band. Their brash sound is at home with metalheads and hard rockers, but their songs’ lean musculature could have come from the bizarro minds of Johnny and Joey Ramone. (Lemmy did in fact write a song for them, which appear on Motörhead’s 1916 called “R.A.M.O.N.E.S.”)
Through the band’s rotating membership, Motörhead has always been Lemmy’s and has followed his disregard for pretense and rules. When members couldn’t keep up with his breakneck recording—21 albums in 35 years—and touring schedule, Lemmy always found fresh blood waiting.
Though Airheads might seem like a send up of metal excess and silliness, it’s really about embracing the scene’s fierce independence, as well as the zealousness of its followers. The same zeal that others might devote to a church—though the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
For Lemmy and Motörhead, there’s a purity in their music and the music that influenced them—they just happen to express it through distortion, double bass drum, and the declaration, “We were born to raise hell.”
“Born to Raise Hell” (featuring Ice-T and Whitfield Crane of Ugly Kid Joe)