Motorhead – 1916 (1991)
Not only are we at the 100th anniversary of 1916 the year, we are also at the 25th anniversary of 1916 the record.
Now a fearsome foursome with the addition of Wurzel on Guitar #2, Motorhead kicked off the 90s chapter of Motorhistory with this album. An avid historian and collector of war paraphernalia, Lemmy Kilmister was undoubtedly aware of the year 1991’s significance: it was the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, still the bloodiest single day in British Army history with 60,000 casualties. What a price to pay for 6 miles of German territory on the Western Front. A horrific day of sorrow and exhaustion.
So it’s fitting that the title track here may be the best-known song from this Motorhead outing. Yes, in “1916” Lemmy actually sings! Mournful organ and cello with a light martial drum make this ballad a moving tribute to the men of the First World War. Though many metal bands choose to explore the horrors of war by trying to match the battlefields din and aggression with their instruments, Lemmy’s spare poetics are perfect and deserve a hearing as nations reflect a century later. An unusual song for Motorhead, but they really knocked it out of the park.
“We never did play ‘1916’ live; it’s too iffy, because you have to have silence for it, and you’re not gonna get that with our audience,” Lemmy writes in White Line Fever.
1. The One To Sing the Blues
2. I’m So Bad (Baby I Don’t Care)
3. No Voices In the Sky
4. Going to Brazil
5. Nightmare/The Dreamtime
6. Love Me Forever
7. Angel City
8. Make My Day
10. Shut You Down
If Motorheadbangers are even passingly familiar with this album, the first thing they’d likely notice is that Lemmy’s voice sounds a few notches cleaner than usual–and they’d be right. Motorhead’s first studio effort since 1987 features more polished production values, though that takes nothing away from the bands attitude and performance.
Drummer Philthy Phil Taylor (also dearly departed in 2015), starts off the proceedings on “The One To Sing the Blues,” its energetic intro showing that he really showed up to play on this one. The highly entertaining clutch of first four songs flies by, and they all contain a heavy dose of traditional rock influences rather than straight-up metal. “Going to Brazil” especially is the band’s best “old school rock n roll shoutout” type song. I don’t think “Going to Brazil” is any kind of drug slang…though I could be wrong.
In another example of the better songs on 1916 not being typical Motorhead fare, we have “Nightmare/The Dreamtime.” Lemmy’s eerie, backwards-vocal effects here make him sound genuinely menacing, and the almost total lack of percussion adds to the gloom. “Angel City” (Lemmy’s then-new home of Los Angeles!) has a brassy, bold, New Orleans-like sound to it, and “R.A.M.O.N.E.S.” is a tribute to the beloved punk band played in their style (with the quick countoff and all!). And “Shut You Down” is a fun, lively rip-through that must have been a hit on tour.
“Several of the songs on ‘1916’…were were very different from anything we had done before, but it’s not like we were trying to change, we just did.” – Lemmy
1916 will probably never be named the BEST Motorhead record, but it is more than worth owning. It is well paced, with moments of every emotion from joy and adventure to fear and sadness, all courtesy of Lemmy the storyteller, who signs off on the album thank yous with the below message…
“I want to tell you: there are only two kinds of people in the world: The kind that pick you up when you’re down, and the kind that put you down there in the first place. To everyone all over the world that ever picked me (or even an arm or a leg) up, I am always (though not always visibly) grateful and ready to do the same in return. As for the other kind: IT’S NOT WORKING, IS IT? HAHAHAHAHA! Eat your hearts out! To everyone I ever loved–I love you…you bastards!”
Lemmy Kilmister (RIP)
Phil “Wizzo” Campbell
Philthy Phil Taylor (RIP)
Written by Matt P
Author’s Note: Part of a deep dive series on Motorhead. Read the rest of the series: