"No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith" is a live album by British heavy metal band, Motörhead. It was released in 1981 on Bronze Records and produced by Vic Maile. The line-up for the album was Lemmy (vocals/bass), Eddie Clarke (guitar) and Phil Taylor (drums).
This was the very first live album by Motörhead, and, at the time, could easily have been the loudest album ever put out, and I would have done anything to have been at any gig on this tour, which, incidentally, did not take in London's Hammersmith Odeon (now the Hammersmith Apollo). Instead, it pools from four different shows in 1980 and 1981. I was never a huge fan of the putting together of songs for a live album so I can't help but be naturally sceptical about this one. Is it any good? Let's find out!
Ace of Spades
This is perhaps Motörhead's most famous song and really doesn't need any introduction for fans of the heavy metal genre and otherwise. The song begins with Lemmy's very loud bass playing an excellent riff before the drums march in over the top of the guitar. This is Motörhead at their very best. Spitting venom and going for it as fast and as loud as they possibly can. It's a complete contrast to the Kronenbourg commercial in which Lemmy plays it acoustically in a bar. The song is about taking life to the max. Lemmy's saying you only get one chance so you may as well grab the bull by the horns and take a few risks here and there.
In complete contract to the previous song, "Stay Clean" is much slower number with the subject matter about keeping off drugs, something which Lemmy can't really talk about doing in his early years, though I believe he is now looking after himself and doesn't even smoke these days. Although it's slow, the track is noisy with an impressive bass solo part-way through, followed by a guitar solo near the end.
This is the dark horse of the album. It's slow and almost bluesy, and is sung with passion. I would liken the song to ZZ Top if it was less heavy, with its solo infused bars and catchy bass and guitar riffs. I like the band like this, but I much prefer the heavier Motörhead. If I didn't, this would be my favourite track off the album and I do think Lemmy can play a mean blues track just as well as he can a furious metal song.
As soon as "The Hammer" begins, you know Motörhead has the winning formula for a brilliant live song because it sounds just as good on the stage as it does in the studio. The guitar riff is a little similar to "Ace of Spades" but that doesn't take anything away from it being such a good heavy metal song. Philthy 'Animal' Taylor's drumming is sublime here and he surely must have been influential on a lot of thrash metal players. This is a song about heroin use and though Lemmy did like other drugs in the past, heroin was one he despised. For trivia fans, he uses the line "Believe me, the hammer's gonna smash your dream" in 1980 and Metallica borrowed it for "Master of Puppets", also about heroin use, when they said "Twisting your mind, smashing your dreams" some six years later.
Iron Horse / Born to Lose
This is a truly excellent song, which is about the Hells Angels and one in particular from the London faction called Tramp, whom Lemmy lived with for a while. The Angels are known to be fans of Hawkwind - Lemmy's first real success in music - and Motörhead in particular and are often seen at the band's gigs. The studio version of the song is a little slower than any live version, but any recording of the song is usually pretty good. As is standard with Motörhead, the mix between guitar and bass is spot on with the drums backing them up. Lemmy's bass often acts as a second guitar but no bass should ever be as powerful as this. Not that I'm complaining!
This is one of the best songs on the album but is pipped by "Overkill". It's about people in the music business that don't fit in, but I also think it's about groupies who don't match up to Lemmy's standards. Musically, the lyrics are some of the best the band has ever written and the song is a staple live favourite at any Motörhead gig. The song as a whole has great structure as it blasts through the excellent verses, culminating in a short guitar solo and more Motörhead magic.
This was, at the time, possibly the heaviest song to have ever been recorded. 'Philthy Animal' Taylor's drumming is sublime on this record with the double bass pedals going throughout, Lemmy's bass sounds angry and 'Fast' Eddie Clarke's guitar is impressively loud. The highlight of the track is the way it presumably stops twice then restarts as part 2 and part 3. This is the trio of Lemmy, Clarke and Taylor at their very best, bar none and hearing the song live has been one of my personal favourite memories of watching bands play live.
(We Are) the Road Crew
This is another excellent song in Motörhead's catalogue which is about the exploits of constant touring, taking in women, hotels, beer and different cities along the way. I like the way Lemmy's lyrics roll on from one line to another in frantic speed, almost going along like a band on tour would from one town to another. The song barely pauses for breath as it speeds along at a cracking pace, and that's something I like about Motörhead, who clearly influenced early speed and thrash metal bands with their ability to kick up the tempo without breaking sweat.
Here is a song Lemmy wrote about his astrological star sign. He makes certain references to star signs in his autobiography and has some sort of interest in astrology, although it's never made clear as to how much. It's a slower song with a heavy bass line, not unlike the style of Lemmy's previous band, Hawkwind. The guitar solo steals this song and makes it much better than it really is because without it, it may well have folded like a card pyramid with too much weight at the top.
What would a Motörhead gig be without "Bomber"? Well, it would still be as good as you'd expect with an incredibly loud sound but it would be missing a key element. This song reached No.34 in the UK singles charts when it was released as a studio version and I can remember an EP the band did with Girlschool on which the all-female band covered the song and I wish I still had that. This is a great song with incredible energy and some incredible drumming courtesy of 'Animal' Taylor, who doesn't get him name purely because he's a madman behind the kit - he even looks a little like the Muppet he's taken his name from.
This is a song which is about amphetamines, Lemmy's drug of choice. To do the drug simply implies that you are a motor head, and it is believed that the front man did the drug in abundance. There's a lot to like about this song, and I especially single out the pre-chorus where the guitar drops down a tune and the riff played sounds brilliant to the ears. It's one of those songs which fits in anywhere. It fits right in as an album opener and it would equally be just as good as the last song of the night at a loud gig.
What you hear is what you get with Motörhead. I first heard this album in the early 1980s and once owned it on vinyl - something which was sadly lost in transit - and I remember thinking to myself "no band can be this loud and make it work, can they?" For some reason it took me until 2010 to see the band live for the first time and when I did, my ears were blown away. I can remember the Motörhead blasting through two tracks and then Lemmy saying to the sound engineer at the back, "turn it up, I don't care", to which he duly obliged. To see Motörhead back then must have been something else, and you can hear on this record that it was just that. If you buy just one live album this year, it has to be this one.
1. Ace of Spades
2. Stay Clean
4. The Hammer
5. Iron Horse / Born to Lose
6. No Class
8. (We Are) the Road Crew
My rating: 8/10