Loud, brash, rude, melodic: Motörhead’s 1916, released on Sony’s WTG subsidiary in 1991, brings all of these elements together in one 11-song album that cemented the band’s reputation, as well as earning them new respect from the newer rock and metal bands. One of the stronger albums in the band’s oeuvre, it still makes me wanna drive fast, pick a fight, and chase skirts, all at the same time.
At this point, Motörhead was bashing into their 16th year as a band, and other their 1980 #1 album No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith (and its parent studio companion, Ace of Spades), success and recognition on a global scale had been just shy of their grip. Several lineup changes later, drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor was back on the drumkit, although this album would be his last with the band. Motörhead was also entering the ’90s as a four piece band, with guitarists Phil Campbell and Wurzel dealing out the riffs and solos. Lemmy Kilmister had moved to Los Angeles, a move not unlike the one Rod Stewart made in the mid 70s, as depicted on the cover of Atlantic Crossing. Maybe that’s not the best comparison, but you get the point.
1916 not only served as Motörhead’s debut for a new label but also went on to earn them a Grammy nomination in 1992 for Best Metal Album (they lost to Metallica), a spot on the Operation: Rock And Roll tour with Judas Priest and Alice Cooper, appearances on Late Night with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and quite a bit more press than had been previously afforded them.
I should also mention that 1916 deserves the same reissue treatment as Motörhead’s catalog up through 1988 — there are two tracks which didn’t make the album, “Eagle Rock” and “Dead Man’s Hand,” and there was also a live video from this tour that would serve as a neat bonus disc in a 2-disc set, if one were to be released.
1991 was a seminal year for Hard Rock and Heavy Metal — quite a few LA metal bands had peaked and were on the backsides of their careers (some of them never recovering), thrash bands like Slayer, Metallica, Anthrax, Overkill, and Megadeth had either released (or were about to release) the most acclaimed albums of their careers (again, some of them never recovered), the Seattle grunge scene was still about a year off, MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball was huge, RIP magazine had the rock and metal scene down for anyone who cared to read about it, and metal fans everywhere were either creating or perpetuating the scene, keeping it alive by every means from nailing flyers to poles to underground tape trading.
And just over 6 months after 1916’s release, one song from a band no one had ever heard of before from Seattle would effectively change everything forever, rendering the scene dated and out of steam.
Motörhead — 1916: Track-by-track review
1. “One To Sing The Blues”
1916’s lead off track and first single begins with a classic Taylor drum intro, and we’re off and running. A break-up song in the only way Lemmy can sing it, we see him take an interesting couple of lyrical turns: he switches points of blame for the last chorus (taking on the role of the heartbroken instead of the breaker), and we also see the first of what I think are three references to eyes and sharp objects (“daggers in our eyes”). Normally I wouldn’t mention it, but it’s odd that this metaphor would crop up more than once in a single album.
2. “I’m So Bad (Baby I Don’t Care)”
Ah, here we go! This is the business. One of my favorite songs from the album, “I’m So Bad” features a nasty riff and a groove that’ll grab you by the back of the head and fling you across the room. I never quite figured out the opening lyric (“I make love to mountain lions”), but what the hell. It’s Motörhead — why should we expect anything different?
One of those songs that shoulda been a hit. I also particularly like the boom sampled in at the end of the “Wham, bam, thank you ma’am/I thought I heard the back door slam” couplet. Nice touch.
3. “No Voices In The Sky”
Why wasn’t this all over the radio? Featuring a simple yet effective two-chord riff and a chorus that stays with you longer than last night’s vodka binge, “No Voices In The Sky” is truly a lost classic Motörhead album track. Lemmy’s voice is multitracked for the chorus, an effect that we’ve seen before and since, and it works incredibly well here. This is a must-have. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
4. “Going To Brazil”
Chuck Berry opens for the Rolling Stones in a biker bar. This is one that still gets into the setlist after all these years, and it’s a great, fun rock and roll song, plain and simple. Three chords, see you at the end.
A younger companion to 1980’s “We Are The Road Crew”, this one also pays tribute to the fearless and sleepless lads that work on the road, namechecking most of them, and making a comedy out of the routine. Not since the Sex Pistols took their roadies to humorous task in “Friggin’ In The Riggin” has there been something this hysterical (and possibly true to life as well). Nice little half-time turnaround (ala “Dizzie Miss Lizzie”) towards the end of the song, too.
5. “Nightmare/The Dreamtime”
Sounds exactly like that — a nightmare. Lemmy’s voice is backmasked throughout the track, giving an already creepy-ass song an even more frightening touch. Interestingly, this song treads new ground for Motörhead in that there are no drums on it, not really. Lemmy’s bass drives the track along with some sparse open chords on the guitar and a layer of synths during the chorus.
Second reference of the album to sharp objects and eyeballs (“steel needles kiss your pretty eyes”).
Not for the faint-hearted, this one. I don’t think this one was ever played live, and I can see why — too hard to pull off convincingly. Ya gotta hear it panning around your headphones to truly feel the atmosphere. Backwards guitar solos abound as well.
6. “Love Me Forever”
Another departure for Motörhead — counted out musically, it’s a waltz. Contains the album’s third reference to sharp objects in the eye, in this case a knife.
I’ve really never been a big fan of this one, honestly, but that doesn’t take anything away from how well Lemmy executes this song about losing a love. It’s sung very well and very convincingly — you can almost picture him nursing his fifth bourbon in the corner bar while this plays in the background. One of the sadder songs Lemmy has ever written, which says a lot because he’s not much for heartbreak and lament.
7. “Angel City”
I’ve never entirely been sure if this song was meant seriously or not, but the bit about spitting broken glass and eating his own shirt kills me every time. I’m going on the assumption this is one of those “first impression” types of songs, and it chronicles pretty faithfully the LA metal scene to which Lemmy just relocated, literally moving into an apartment two blocks from the Rainbow. I’m not sure if the bit about keeping a live snake in his bed was meant seriously or not either, but in any case, it’s a pretty obvious Slash reference. I don’t guess Slash took it offensively seeing as how he played on Motörhead’s next studio album. A good mid-tempo rocker, “Angel City” picks the pace back up and gets things cracking again.
Never thought we’d hear horns in a Motörhead song either. When I say horns, I don’t mean the Dio metal-horns \m/ \m/ either. I’m talking friggin’ trumpets and bones, folks. That plus a honky tonk piano just barely in the background toward the end of the song make for a good time. I don’t remember being shocked the first time I heard this stuff, but think about it — Lemmy’s always been proud of his rock and roll roots, so why the hell not? I say bring the horn line back!
8. “Make My Day”
Kinda reminds me of “Traitor” from the last album (Rock ‘N’ Roll), but a little bit faster. Lemmy’s in full horndog effect on this one. Pretty straightforward here — it’s all about the sex and the sleaze. None of that feed-the-hungry nonsense here. Unless of course you happen to be Lemmy and you’re trying to hook up with someone half your age!
It’s about as classic, fast, brash, and rough as it can get here. I figure you can either fight or make love to it. Or both. Furious stuff.
It is what it is. Really, the best song the Ramones never wrote, and only Motörhead can get away with it. Written, structured, played, and sang exactly like a classic Ramones number, “Ramones” is the perfect tribute to punk rock’s founding fathers. All of the members of the Ramones get a mention (except poor Richie Ramone, but I guess someone forgot). One of my favorite performances of this was Lemmy’s guest spot on it at the last Ramones show in 1996. Fittingly, the Ramones covered it as well.
This song should play on an endless loop at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s display case where the Ramones’ leather jackets hang.
10. “Shut You Down”
Sounds a bit like “Too Late Too Late” riffwise, but at 78 rpm. Never was a big fan of this song, as it’s lacking a bit of character. I don’t want to completely write it off as filler, but it doesn’t warrant much attention. Doesn’t suck, but not a classic either.
What do you say about this? It’s quite possibly one of the saddest lyrics ever written and sung. Sparse instrumentation on this one, a quiet military-style snare beat, keys that sound like a funeral march, and a quiet little cello solo. Written about a WWI battle that took the lives of 19,000 men in one day, Lemmy creaks his way through the words and I swear you can hear him crying as he sings. You know how when you hear Joe Cocker kind of losing it in “You Are So Beautiful?” Yeah. It’s kinda like that.
If this song doesn’t move you in some way, you should probably get yourself checked. You’d pretty much have to be made of stone.
I have no personal connection with this — I’m not a veteran and no one in my family is — but I can’t help but feel both full of grief and respect when I hear it. Lemmy’s spent many interviews, songs, and pages in his autobiography discussing the atrocities of war, and I think here he sums it up in the most unique way he can. Moving, simple, and beautiful, it’s a touching way to end a ferocious album.
1916 by Motörhead
“One To Sing The Blues”
“I’m So Bad (Baby I Don’t Care)”
“No Voices In The Sky”
“Going To Brazil”
“Love Me Forever”
“Make My Day”
“Shut You Down”