On Christmas Eve in 1945, Lemmy Kilmister entered our world, destined to become an integral part of rock 'n' roll culture. On December 28, 2015, just a few days after he learned of his extremely aggressive cancer, he passed away. Lemmy left a musical legacy that will most likely exceed generations of the musicians and fans alike he has influenced; a time span much longer than the 70 years the Motörhead frontman himself thought he would survive.
As the founding (and only constant) member of Motörhead, he put out music consistent with his passions, beliefs, and well, brand — a razor-sharp, stripped-down brand of breakneck speed metal, punk, and rock that has been hailed as perfectly embodying the spirit of rock 'n' roll.
Scheduled to tour in 2016, Motörhead released 23 albums over the years, which is a catalog most artists could only dream of. Stuffed with a wealth of solid riffage, whiskey-soaked vocals, and historic lyrical content at times, these tracks tell his life story. Here are tracks that define Lemmy’s style, influential reach, and talent. “Motörhead” (1977)
In 1977, the band released this declaration that clearly declared they weren’t going anywhere — ever. The band never wavered from this in-your-face style, complete with Lemmy’s gravelly vocals and aggressive three chords. It also showcased the band’s affinity for punk and speed. “Damage Case” (1979)
In “Damage Case,” it isn’t Lemmy’s bawdiness that appeals to me, although it is one of his most lewd tracks (I don't care what you think your game is / I don't care even what your name is") — it’s the way he plays the bass. With ease, ol’ Lemmy made us believe in the bass as a lead instrument, while the song celebrates dirty swinging rock with funky punctuating notes.
"Stay Clean" (1979)
This song digs past the attitude of girls, drinking, and drugs to highlight some of Motörhead’s integrity. Apparently, there has to be a little bit of nobility past the outlaw façade, and this song is its showcase. The title isn’t specifically about staying clean from substances, but to trust yourself, overcome your fear, and accept the darkness in the world.
“Ace of Spades” (1980)
Say it’s cliché if you want; but if it weren’t for the iconic “Ace of Spades,” Motörhead would have never achieved the fame it did. This song is the band’s most recognizable, with it’s thundering bass, four-note riff, and Lemmy’s whiskey-soaked voice celebrating his personal take on life (“You know I’m born to lose / And gambling’s for fools / But that’s the way I like it, baby / I don’t want to live forever”). Sure, he’s written way better songs. But “Ace of Spades” opened the doors for the band to take it to the next level, spending 12 weeks on the U.K. singles chart and turning thousands Americans into Motör-heads.
"(We Are) The Road Crew" (1980)
As someone who has a lot of appreciation for the people who work behind the scene in the music industry — be it roadies, managers, venue owners, or promoters — I love this homage to the road crew. Lemmy was no stranger to that life; before he joined Hawkwind, he was a roadie for Jimi Hendrix in the ‘60s. He always felt a strong connection to the guys who hauled around their gear, and reportedly preferred riding at the front of the bus rather than hanging in the back.
“Stand By Your Man” (with Wendy O. Williams) (1982)
Heavy rockers often get a bad rap for misogynistic lyrics and their debauchery — but while Lemmy often sang of perversion, he also had a strong appreciation and acknowledgment that women could play music just as hard and heavy as men. He always stated that he enjoyed making records with the ladies. One of my personal favorites was his duet on “Stand By Your Man” with Plasmatics frontwoman Wendy O. Williams. While out-of tune and crazy-paced, there was a passionate affection in Lemmy’s voice, and an element of beauty in the ragged craziness.
While I’ve always been a sucker for the fastest track on records, I equally love the occasional rock ballad. “1916” is one of my favorite Motörhead tracks, with delicate orchestra and Lemmy’s wavering voice tenderly soaring. On top of that, the lyrical content provokes compassion that everyone can relate to. Lemmy, a lover of military history, based the lyrics on the Battle of the Somme, one of the biggest battles of World War I. The narrator, still a teenager — like most of the one million soldiers who were wounded or killed — presents beautiful pictures of the war’s affect on the loss of innocence after the war.
“Shake Your Blood” (2004)
With Dave Grohl’s 2004 album Probot came a fantastic combination of articulate and heavy collaborations, including “Shake Your Blood.” It leaves one wondering how Grohl was able to squeeze the quintessential essence of 30 years of Motorhead into a three-and-a-half-minute song. It also leaves us wondering how Lemmy pulled off such a melodic, mainstream radio rock performance (sneering attitude and all) that made it impossible to rip one’s eyes away.