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Why It Mattered: Motörhead – ‘Ace Of Spades’

Motörhead, for my money, are the quintessential rock n’ roll band. They are the pinnacle of everything rock music should be; dirty, fast, and really fucking loud. In fact, frontman Lemmy Kilmister’s notoriously outrageous lifestyle is one of the main reasons rock music has become so synonymous with sex and drugs.

In May 1975, for example, Lemmy was kicked out of English space-rock group Hawkwind after being arrested at the Toronto border with a gram of amphetamine sulphate shoved down his pants. In response, Lemmy slept with all five of his former bandmates’ girlfriends. “Alan Powell has still never forgiven me,” he told journalist Mick Wall. “And I hope he never will, because there was a lot of malice involved, and I really meant every fucking minute of it.”

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Motörhead’s fourth studio album, Ace Of Spades, is a manifesto for living dangerously; it’s 36 minutes of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.

Less than a month after his ejection from Hawkwind, Lemmy formed Motörhead; a project far more in line with his hard and fast lifestyle. With the filthy swagger of blues, the volume of rock n’ roll, and the relentless speed of punk, Motörhead’s music seemed to perfectly capture Lemmy’s turbulent personality.

Throughout the late 70s, Motörhead released three studio albums—Motörhead (1977), Overkill (1979), and Bomber (1979)—building a steady following for themselves in the UK. It was in 1980, however, with the release of Ace Of Spades, that the band muscled their way into the international market and set in motion a career fuelled by bad behaviour.

Rough and rugged, the album was truly ahead of its time. In the years that followed its release, many variations and offshoots of hard rock were established (ie. speed and thrash metal), all lending from Motörhead’s frantic rhythms and gravelly vocals. While the band only ever referred to themselves as “rock n’ roll,” they undoubtedly paved the way for these more extreme sub-genres.

But Ace Of Spades didn’t just epitomise a sound, it epitomised a lifestyle. On Love Me Like A Reptile, Lemmy howls proudly about ferocious love-making; a common theme throughout his discography. “People have forgotten that sex is fun,” he once said. “You can get gonorrhea from a blowjob. So what? That’s the risk you have to take. If you’re going to have sex, fuckin’ have sex and be happy about it. Don’t be looking over your shoulder all the time.”

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On (We Are) The Roadcrew, he champions a hot-blooded, alcohol-fuelled life on the road; a path that’d leave most people dead at 30, but miraculously led Lemmy to the ripe old age of 70. “Another beer is what I need / Another gig my ears bleed,” he sings. “But I just love the life I lead.”

And if there ever existed an anthem for dangerous living, it’s the title track. Ace Of Spades went on to be Motörhead’s most successful single, and for good reason. Clocking in at under three minutes, the track is an explosion of huge riffs and reckless lyricism. “Gambling’s for fools,” Lemmy growls, “but that’s the way I like it, baby, I don’t wanna live forever.”

Indeed, Lemmy never intended to live forever. Towards the end of his life, many were left astonished that he had made it so far. This was, after all, a man who once downed 100 pills after being flagged down by a police car, swallowed a teaspoon of atropine sulphate (over 200 times the regular dose), and was refused a blood transfusion because his own blood had turned toxic from too much booze and speed.

Right until death, Lemmy lived on his own terms. And he did it on the philosophy that “to get hangovers you have to stop drinking”.

Ace Of Spades isn’t just an album about living precariously, it’s a manifesto for living precariously; written by the master. It’s the greatest “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” record ever made.

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May 8, 2020