Motörhead ”Ace of Spades” SUPER DELUXE EDITION (Heavy/Metal) [Music/History/Review]

9/10 (Package 10/10)

Year: 1980 (This edition 2020)
Genre: Heavy Metal
Direct Link to This Edition: Discogs

What can I say about this classic that hasn’t already be said? This is the classic of the classics, Motörheads “Ace of Spades”, an album your grandmother probably heard of. Now it’s 40 years since its release. I love this album, especially the title track, “Ace of Spades” “Shoot You in the Back”, “(We Are) The Road Crew” and “The Hammer”. The only song I could have done without is “Fast and Loose”.


THE DELUXE EDITION

A couple of weeks ago Black Sabbaths milestone ”Paranoid” where released in an awesome deluxe boxset that I was extremely happy about, but this one even kicks that boxsets ass. It’s simply awesome. This is how you do it. Filled to the brim with a lot of material from this era of the band that you see here down below. Both live recording from Belfast and Orleans are awesome. Raw, yet filled with Motörhead energy and a great sound. The B-sides and Outtakes record is interesting to listen to, especially personal favourites “Ace of Spades” and “The Hammer” in alternative versions.

CONTAINS:

ACE OF SPADES
(Half speed mastered from the original tapes for dynamic range)

LIVE AT WHITLA HALL, BELFAST 23/12/81
(17 song, sound board recording from the Ace Up Your Sleeve tour, gatefold double vinyl.)

LIVE AT PARC EXPO, ORLEANS 05/03/81
(18 song, sound board recording from the Ace Up Your Sleeve tour, gatefold double vinyl.)

THE GOOD, THE BROKE & THE UGLY
(19 song double album of B-sides, outtakes and rare tracks from 1980-1981. Gatefold double vinyl.)

A FISTFUL OF INSTRUMENTALS
(10″ EP of 7 previous unreleased instrumental demo songs from the Ace Of Spades recording sessions)

ACE ON YOUR SCREENS
(DVD of rare & lost and found live, studio & interview TV appearances from 1980-81. Plus BBC live concert from ’81 and 5.1 mix of the original album.)

THE STORY OF ACE OF SPADES
(40 page book, in the style of an old leather bound
journal. Written by Kris Needs from previously unpublished interviews from the studio and on the road. Includes previously unseen photos and memorabilia.)

ACE UP YOUR SLEEVE TOUR PROGRAMME
(Reproduction of original Ace Up Your Sleeve tour programme from 1980)

ROCK COMMANDO COMIC
(Reproduction of the rare 1980 comic book)

POKER DICE
(Set of 5 poker dice that can be played on the game board on the inside of the box lid) 

HISTORY

Ace of Spades is the fourth studio album by the band Motörhead, released 8 November 1980, on Bronze Records. It is the band’s most commercially successful album, peaking at number four on the UK Albums Chart and reaching gold status in the UK by March 1981. It was preceded by the release of the title track as a single on 27 October, which peaked in the UK Singles Chart at No. 15 in early November.

It was the band’s debut release in the United States, with Mercury Records handling distribution in North America. In 2020, the album was ranked at 408 on Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.

Background

By 1979, Motörhead had released two successful albums, Overkill and Bomber, and had gained a loyal fan following by constant touring and television appearances. Their ferocious, loud proto-thrash playing style appealed equally to punks and heavy metal fans, but in 1979 Sounds writer Geoff Barton coined the term “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” (NWOBHM) to classify a slew of newer bands such as Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, and Saxon. Motörhead – a band that resented being labeled anything other than rock ‘n’ roll – was placed in this new genre, which would go on to influence the emerging thrash metal movement that would include bands like Metallica and Megadeth. In the 2011 book Overkill: The Untold Story of Motörhead, Joel McIver quotes vocalist and bassist Lemmy: 

“..I like Iron Maiden and Saxon out of the new mob, and that’s about it, really…We were too late for the first metal movement and early for the next one…Motörhead don’t fit into any category, really. We’re not straight heavy metal, because we’re a rock ‘n’ roll band, which no-one knows how to market anymore..”

Regardless, the association with NWOBHM would be another positive element in the increasing momentum that would lead to the band’s most successful commercial period at the beginning of the new decade. In fact, United Artists decided to finally release the band’s “lost” first album at this time under the title On Parole, which had originally been recorded in 1976 but shelved because it was deemed commercially unviable. Next, the Big Beat label, which had taken over Chiswick’s catalogue, released Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers (EP), packaging four extra tracks that the band had laid down for their debut album. Further evidence of Motörhead’s nascent mainstream success was the release of the EP The Golden Years in May 1980 on Bronze Records, which became their highest charting release to date, peaking at #8.

Recording

Motörhead recorded Ace of Spades with Vic Maile at Jackson’s Studios in Rickmansworth in August and September 1980. Maile, who had worked with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and the Who, had crossed paths with Lemmy when he was a member of Hawkwind. The bassist recalls in his 2002 memoir White Line Fever:

“..He used to own a mobile studio – Hawkwind hired it out to do Space Ritual and he came with it…Vic was a great man and a great producer, really brilliant…Those were good times; we were winning, we were younger, and we believed it..”

As Steffan Chirazi observes in the liner notes to the 1996 reissue of Ace of Spades

“..Vic Maille at the production helm used an expert ear to translate the monstrous live sound and feel of the band to vinyl..”

Maille, who was affectionately nicknamed “Turtle” by the band (for his resemblance to the reptile), was critical in giving Motörhead a sleeker sound on record without sacrificing its raw power. Diminutive and soft-spoken, Maille was well equipped to deal with the trio, who were notorious for in-fighting and general unmanageability. In the documentary The Guts and the Glory, drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor remembers:

“..Even if he was angry, he was angry like this: (assumes soft-spoken tone) ‘You’re not supposed to do it like that,’ or ‘Stop that boys .'” Lemmy Concurs, “Vic was great. He was the first one who told us we were all cunts and work harder. He had a very dry personae: ‘Is that really the best shot you’ve got?’..”

In 2015, Clarke recalled to John Robinson of Uncut:

“..He didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke, and he was very delicate because he was diabetic. He had to have his Ryvita at six o’clock. We couldn’t get heavy with him, couldn’t fucking shake him, you know what I mean? He might die! So we had to listen to him..”

Whereas the band had previously had an input at the mixing stage, Maile took sole responsibility here, Clarke explaining that the result was “..you can finally hear everything that’s going on..”Of the performances, Lemmy stated “..Vic got me singing instead of just shouting all the time..” while Taylor added “..and he got me playing more solid..”[


Compositions

The LP includes some of the band’s most popular songs, including “The Chase Is Better Than the Catch,” “(We Are) The Road Crew,” and the hit single “Ace of Spades,” which rose to #15 on the UK Singles Chart. In his autobiography, White Line Fever, Lemmy speaks at length about the tune:

“..I used gambling metaphors, mostly cards and dice – when it comes to that sort of thing, I’m more into the slot machines actually, but you can’t really sing about spinning fruit, and the wheels coming down. Most of the song’s just poker, really – ‘I know you’ve got to see me, read ’em and weep, Dead man’s hand again, aces and eights’ – that was Wild Bill Hickock’s hand when he got shot. To be honest, although “Ace of Spades” is a good song, I’m sick to death of it now. Two decades on, when people think of Motörhead, they think “Ace of Spades.” We didn’t become fossilised after that record, you know. We’ve had quite a few good releases since then. But the fans want to hear it so we still play it every night. For myself, I’ve had enough of that song..”

In 2011, Lemmy admitted to James McNair of Mojo:

“..I’m glad we got famous for that rather than for some turkey, but I sang ‘The eight of spades’ for two years and nobody noticed..”

The song “(We Are) The Road Crew” was written as a tribute to the band’s roadies. In the 2004 Classic Albums documentary on the making of the album, guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke declares:

“..They were a good crew, and they were proud of how good they were. I would put them up against any crew in the world.”

In the same film, Lemmy, who worked as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix and the Nice, recalls that he wrote the song “in ten minutes” and that when roadie Ian “Eagle” Dobbie heard the song “he had a tear in his eye”. Many of the songs, such as “Love Me Like a Reptile.” “The Chase Is Better Than the Catch,” and “Jailbait.” blatantly reference sex, which drew the ire of some critics and feminists. Clarke explained to Classic Albums in 2005:

“..We only thought of ourselves as a good time rock ‘n’ roll band, really… But we weren’t trying to get a message across, apart from have a good time, you know: get pissed, get stoned, and fuck a chick. And that’ll do..”

Release

Motörhead appeared on Top of the Pops twice in October to promote the single “Ace of Spades”, and were guests on the ITV children’s morning show Tiswas on 8 November. The band undertook a UK tour from 22 October through to 2 December under the banner Ace Up Your Sleeve, with support from Girlschool and Vardis. After the Belfast show on 2 December, hijinks resulted in Taylor breaking his neck forcing him to wear a neck-brace and curtailing any further band activity. The other members of the band took the opportunity to collaborate with Girlschool for the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre EP.

Artwork

Like the song “Shoot You in the Back,” the Ace of Spades artwork employs a classic wild west motif. Originally the idea for the album cover was to have it in a sepia tone and have gunfighters at a card table, but the band decided against it. They decided instead to have themselves in the desert dressed as cowboys. The ‘Arizona desert-style’ pictures used on the album sleeve and tour programme were taken during a photo session at a sandpit in Barnet. Each of their cowboy outfits were based on different type of Western protagonist. Eddie was based on Clint Eastwood’s character, The Man with No Name from the Dollars Trilogy. Phil’s costume was based on Marlon Brando’s character in One-Eyed Jacks. Lemmy’s costume was claimed by Phil to be inspired from Bret Maverick from the TV show Maverick. Contrary to popular belief, the sky was not real and was airbrushed in due to it being very cloudy that day.

Critical Reception

The album has been described as “one of the best metal albums by any band, ever” and has become a significantly influential ‘hard rock classic. AllMusic calls it:

“..rock-solid, boasting several superlative standouts” and insists it “rightly deserves its legacy as a classic. There’s no debating that..”

Sid Smith of BBC Music enthused in 2007: 

“..When Lemmy sings the lyrics to ‘(We Are) The Road Crew’ it’s the sound of a grizzled veteran who has been there, done that and gone back for second helpings…If ever a piece of music was a manifesto for the mad, bad and dangerous to know party then the title track is it. Unrepentant and full of hell, there’s not one note out of place..”

Despite the band always referring to their music as Rock ‘n’ Roll, the album, and particularly its title track have been considered amongst the most influential in the development of thrash metal. The title track is, for many, the definitive Motörhead anthem. The album is listed in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. In 2020, the album was ranked at 408 on Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.

Personnel

Per the Ace of Spades liner notes.

  • Lemmy – vocals, bass, backing vocals on “Emergency”
  • “Fast” Eddie Clarke – lead guitar, lead vocals on “Emergency”
  • Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor – drums except on “Please Don’t Touch” & “Emergency”
  • Kim McAuliffe – rhythm guitar on “Please Don’t Touch”
  • Kelly Johnson – co-lead vocals & co-lead guitar on “Please Don’t Touch”
  • Enid Williams – bass on “Please Don’t Touch” (NOTE: Enid and Lemmy play bass on the track, making it a six piece for this song)
  • Denise Dufort – drums on “Please Don’t Touch” & “Emergency” (NOTE: Denise plays all the drums on the EP because Phil had a broken neck at the time)

Production

  • Vic “Chairman” Maile –  producer, engineer & mixing
  • Giovanni Scatola – mastering (2005 remaster)
  • Martin Poole – design
  • Alan Ballard – photography
  • Curt Evans – 2005 cover design
  • Joe Petagno – Snaggletooth (Phil’s wearing a badge with it on his leathers)

How Motörhead Propelled Thrash Metal with Ace of Spades

Written by Bryan Reesman and originally posted on the discogs blog.

Perennial Motörhead frontman and co-founder Lemmy Kilmister seemed like a living contradiction. He played high-decibel, high-octane music, yet conversations with him were nuanced at a quieter volume. His band spurred the development of thrash metal, but he did not consider his band a metal outfit and disdained mosh pits. He once told me that he preferred jiving, an African-American style of dancing popularized in the 1930s. His band was very influential, but they never sold huge amounts of records. He never seemed to be of his time, but it felt like we always needed him around.

When he, raucous guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke, and wild-haired drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor released Ace of Spades 40 years ago on November 8 – and it just got a massive vinyl box set reissue – they had already been cranking out their signature brand of forceful, fast-paced rock ‘n roll for five years. They combined the riffing energy of heavy metal with the wild abandon of punk music. Their outlaw image and the monstrous Snaggletooth mascot image designed by Joe Petagno lent them a dark mystique, and Lemmy reportedly earned the respect of hardcore British bikers who followed his rules.

The Canadian tape version.

The rambunctious trio had had some success in their native England; albums MotörheadBomber, and Overkill increasingly charted better, each being certified Silver there for sales of 60,000 units. Ace of Spades, however, would blow the doors open for them, selling over 100,000 units in England and hitting #4 on the UK charts, with the title track hitting #15. It garnered them international attention. They also influenced many budding young metalheads including a then-unknown Lars Ulrich, the future drummer of Metallica, who was inspired to start his own band after euphorically devouring their music.

So what set apart Ace of Spades from previous Motörhead releases as well as standing out during the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that was exploding in 1980? Beyond the superior quality of the songs, a big factor was producer Vic “Chairman” Maille who gave them a fuller studio sound while retaining the jagged edges and manic intensity that was so important to their core sound. Kilmister and Taylor recalled in the past how Maille was unafraid to push them to play and be better. They accepted his challenge. He even got Lemmy to sing more.

The band mixed up faster-paced numbers like the title track and “Fire Fire” with snarling mid-tempo rockers such as “Dance” and “Fast and Loose.” Their combination of Clarke’s aggressive and often bluesy swagger with Taylor’s tight grooves and Lemmy’s percolating bass and distinctly raspy vocals produced a sound like no other band. Maille was able to translate their pummeling concert sound into a durable and palatable package to lure new fans in.

The most overtly thrashing song on the album was its last cut, “The Hammer,” which laid down the gauntlet for future headbangers to pick up and race with. The title track of 1979’s Overkill with its double bass drum propulsion could have used this sonic boost. It’s easy to see how young metalheads heard “The Hammer” and wanted to emulate its aggression. Albums released in 1980 by Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Angel Witch helped fueled that fire too, while Motörhead’s consistent boisterousness served as a major sonic template for thrash metal.

Japanese CD version.

As Guardian contributor Van Badham recalled upon Lemmy’s death in 2015, the group did not just play rock ‘n’ roll, they defined it. “Everything that is pleasant in life is dangerous,” Lemmy once said. “Have you noticed that?” While the thrash to come metal often wrestled with serious topics like political corruption and nuclear destruction – and Motörhead got more intense later on – the lyrical themes of Ace of Spades boiled down to good old fashioned sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Lemmy espoused his love for card gambling (the title track), chronicled the roadie life (“We Are The Road Crew”), dissected cinematic outlaws (“Shoot You In The Back”), and expressed the eternal struggles of the underdog (“Live To Win”). Plus there were the odes to sex: pursuing it (“The Chase Is Better Than The Catch”), getting down and dirty (“Love Me Like A Reptile”), and seeking forbidden fruit (“Jailbait”). That last song would not fly today for a new band.

Motörhead also allied themselves with hard-rocking women. Three months after Ace of Spades came out, the group collaborated with the British quartet Girlschool on the three-song St. Valentine’s Day Massacre EP, followed in May 1982 with the three-song Stand By Your Man EP recorded with Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics. In the mid-1990s, Lemmy would also forge a long-term friendship with Nina C. Alice and Jim Voxx of Skew Siskin that occasionally led to live or studio collaborations.

None of Motörhead’s long-term success might have come about had it not been for the breakthrough of Ace of Spades. Media that had ignored them before suddenly took notice, and they played the title track for their third appearance on the highly watched BBC music show Top of the Pops. The group embarked on an extensive tour of Europe and for the first time the U.S., which ran through a majority of 1981. The North American leg lasted a little over two months. The album’s stature has only grown over the decades, and it recently made #408 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time list.

After Ace of Spades, Motörhead released the equally aggressive Iron Fist in 1982 (their first to crack the U.S. Top 200 albums) before detouring into a more melodic sound with Another Perfect Day.  That was the album that had marked the departure of Clarke  – he co-founded Fastway whose debut hit #31 in the U.S. – and the one-time enlistment of former Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian “Robbo” Robertson. Contentious perhaps for some fans, that album is actually my favorite Motörhead release.

Swedish tape version.

Like AC/DC, this trio would stick with their signature sound throughout their career even as their band membership morphed over time (they were a quartet between 1984 and 1995), although they would occasionally veer off into other areas.  Their Grammy Award-nominated album 1916, Taylor’s last with the band in 1991, included keyboard, cello, and saxophone in select spots.  They flirted with prog-rock timekeeping on 1998’s Snake Bite Love, and they put out a percussion-free acoustic tune called “Whorehouse Blues” as the closing number to 2004’s Inferno. That album finally won them a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance for (weirdly) their cover of Metallica’s “Whiplash.”Inferno also featured some shredding axework from Steve Vai on a couple of tracks.

Lemmy asserted that he did not think the title track for Ace of Spades, despite being iconic and their most well-known tune, was better than other songs in their catalog. But it captured people’s attention like never before and opened up a wider audience to them. Despite the massive influence they had on the thrash and speed metal movement of the ’80s, and on various iconic rockers from that genre and beyond, Motörhead never really sold as many albums as one might expect. None of them have been certified gold or platinum by the RIAA in America.

Commercial acceptance was never the point of Motörhead. They lived a fast, wild, and loose lifestyle that irked the mainstream. That single-minded purpose was captured vividly on Ace of Spades.

The one time I had the opportunity to visit Lemmy at his apartment in West Hollywood back in April 2001, he showed me a taped performance of their Wrestlemaniaappearance and discussed World War II history with me. Then he showed me the diabetes pills he took in the morning and the others for the night, after which his girlfriend offered me a Jack and Coke. I thought, “Dude, correlation?”

Lemmy was no fool. He must have sensed that a life devoted to women, booze, smoking, and speed was bound to catch up to him, as it did when he developed Type 2 diabetes in his fifties. He passed away at age 70 in December 2015 from prostate cancer, cardiac arrhythmia, and congestive heart failure, one month after his old bandmate Phil Taylor succumbed to liver failure. It seemed amazing that the Motörhead frontman had endured so long, especially when one sees so many rock icons dying at younger ages today and without having lived the excessive way he did.

But he lived it on his terms.

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