"And don't forget THE JOKER!!"
The case can be made (a case strong as the smell emanating from under Lemmy's leathers) that Motorhead's "Ace of Spades" is one of the greatest rock songs of all time. And when I say greatest, I don't mean top 500, or top 100. I mean top 10, maybe top 5. How many songs are as crazy? How many songs are as desperate? How many songs have that single-minded drive directly into the void at the core of culture, a drive that threatens to explode everything that we consider normal? Not many.
Everything here is obvious, just as rock -n- roll should be . . . and yet, it's not without its elegance. The ace of spades, of course, is the death card, and form follows function here on the rails to hell. As with any great song, there is a hook you remember, a hook big enough to be the expressway to your skull. It has an absolute single-mindedness, every element focused directly into the heart of the void. And, more than any song I can think of, it still sounds fresh in spite of having been at the top of my rotation for 25 + years.
And yet, it isn't even Motorhead's best song. Or, to be more accurate, Motorhead is not served by having a great song. Motorhead is about the undefinable drive to the heart of other - songcraft is just GILDING THE FUCKING LILLY.
The most essential element of the Motorhead oeuvre is breakneck drive. Sonically, this means a rampaging pace and plenty of mass. The mass is achieved by Lemmy's "guitaristic" approach to bass: roll off the low end, boost the mids, break it up a bit, and play chords instead of individual notes. The resulting sound is less spatial, more undifferentiated and impenetrable . . . and more projectile-like, or like putting the BULLET into bullet train. There's no funk to the drums; nothing there but raw drive. The guitar solos, such as they are, exist like turbulence inside the cartridge, like a light show from inside a bottle, and in no way draw down the aerodynamics of the thundering comet. Lyrics exist only to serve this single-minded purpose - vague, open-ended signifiers that, shouted out in Lemmy's rusted wail, create a cloud of threatening proto-meaning: "OVERKILL!" "KILLED BY DEATH!" "JAILBAIT!" "DANCING ON YOUR GRAVE!" "TOO LATE, TOO LATE!" "STAY CLEAN!" "BOMBER!" "STEAL YOUR FACE!" "UNDER THE KNIFE!" "SNAGGLETOOTH!" "STONE DEAD FOREVER!" etc. There is no thinking here on any level, just understanding, knowing-before-knowing the irrational at the heart of the void. Motorhead takes the substrata that drives youth culture (lust, antisocial angst, free floating anger, self-hatred) and fashions it into a perpetual motion projectile. Hammering machinegun-style against the dark empty core of existence is all that matters - everything else is secondary.
Cruising around debased mall hell the other day, Motorhead was a bracing tonic (it shouldn't need to be said that Motorhead is best in a motor vehicle - and the faster moving the better). It is counter intuitive (and ultimately wrong) to think of Motorhead as transcendent, but it shakes me like the most "transcendent" of musics. Surrounded by the gray of the landscape, weighed down by the great undifferentiated masses around me, a bereaved mourner at the funeral of meaning, Motorhead fuels the only emotion that keeps me going in the face of my claustrophobia: adrenalin rage. I was reminded of a night years ago, sometime around '87, driving my pickup out to DC to rendezvous with my pal Guy Gorman. I had been driving straight through from Bloomington. I roared through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and down through West Virgina . . . through mountains at Morgantown in the purple twilight, Giant Sand on the tape deck . . . and down into DC from the north, ratcheting crazily through the gears in my stripped-down white pickup with pirated Grateful Dead stickers mutated into Throbbing Gristle signifiers . . . the boy from the country screaming into DC with the windows down and Motorhead roaring on the stereo. Here, there was an odd joy in the adrenalin rage; in the undifferentiated monster that is Motorhead, there is plenty to be found, in spite of an almost ascetic minimalism, a sort of grungy austerity. More than most mortal rock -n- roll bands, Motorhead does not signify, Motorhead is.