Motorhead – Overkill (1979)
The finest heavy metal record of 1979 opens with the song that many of us Motorheadbangers know as the ultimate live show closer: “Overkill.” A metal classic for the ages, the song “ends” three times, with that screaming, high-bending lead guitar, which is such a key part of its concert appeal. We fans are delightfully attuned to it, some of us having had the pleasure of hearing it live for decades.
But imagine what it must have been like to first hear it in 1979: the most popular airplay was all about New Wave, punk rock, and The Wall. Then seemingly out of the black comes this Northern English trio with a wild Snaggletooth for a mascot, with a frontman who’s not quite singing but not quite growling either. Who could have imagined that, like the Snaggletooth charging out of the album cover, that this band would continue on for over 36 years, bulling over everything in its path, and serving as a respected inspiration by every genre from punk rock to death metal to thrash metal to alternative rock?
“Everything that’s been achieved in the history of mankind has been achieved by not being safe,” said Lemmy at the time. He’s right, you know.
2. Stay Clean
3. (I Won’t) Pay Your Price
4. I’ll Be Your Sister
6. No Class
7. Damage Case
8. Tear Ya Down
10. Limb From Limb
Motorhead seemed to have the don’t-give-a-sod attitude of original English punk, but as the joke goes, these three gents could actually play their instruments. Though the songs are simple and powerful, there are blues-boogie guitar solos and drum spots aplenty to keep busy. Lemmy’s overdriven, fuzzed-out bass was brought to the forefront, a real power move at the time, notably on the “Tear Ya Down” and “I’ll Be Your Sister” intros. And he sounds positively bloodthirsty on vocals.
“We were a blues band, really,” Lemmy insists in his book, White Line Fever. “Although we played it at a thousand miles an hour, it was recognizable as blues–at least to us it was; probably it wasn’t to anybody else.”
At least half a dozen of the songs on Overkill are acknowledged metal gold–though to be honest, really all ten of them are. Who can stop the riff-boogie monsters of “No Class” and “Damage Case,” a dizzying one-two punch for side 2 of the original LP? “Metropolis,” with its unlikely melody and sobbing leads? Never has being dirty, raw and loud sounded like so much fun.
I also have to give a big horns-up to the most underrated song on Overkill, which is saying something since the album is so stacked with classics as it is–“Limb From Limb.” It isn’t blues, it isn’t punk, it isn’t outlaw country…but it is unmistakably Motorhead. What a strut of a groove the band laid down here, with a killer finish. One of the greatest all-around metal songs of the period, good enough for my personal top 75.
The reissue includes a number of worthwhile B-sides as well–“Too Late, Too Late” (one of Metallica’s personal favorites) and the Kingsmen cover “Louie Louie” (you can actually hear the lyrics in this version!).
Helped by Motorhead’s hard touring and emerging cult status, Overkill made the UK Top 30 albums chart and had sold 100,000 copies around Europe by year-end. The fire was lit.
Motorhead may have taken its first baby steps a few years earlier in 1975, but here in Overkill was the band’s true beginning, the first of the truly essential Motorhead albums in a long pathway of beer-swilling, hellraising good times. After all…the only way to feel the noise…is when it’s good and loud!
Lemmy Kilmister (RIP)
Fast Eddie Clark
Philthy Phil Taylor (RIP)
Written by Matt P