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Motorhead: Ace of Spades Retrospective

by Alex Barbieri
Staff Writer

November 8, 2010 celebrates an historic day in the annals of heavy metal: The 30th anniversary of the Motorhead masterpiece, Ace of Spades.

From the first lyrics, Lemmy takes control: If you like to gamble / I tell you I’m your man / you win some, lose some / It’s all the same to me. It’s all the same to him. Bloody brilliant. Three decades on, Lemmy’s indifference is a big part of his lasting appeal. He truly does not give a s**t if you like him or the band. Listen, or be damned.

Ace of Spades was tracked between August 4 and September 15, 1980 at Jackson’s Studios in Rickmansworth, U.K. Produced by Vic Maile, their fourth album was their best sounding to date. Maile nailed the right blend of NWOBHM power and post-hippie groove. Ace of Spades was the sound of a band in the zone — refocused and ready to take on the world. And conquer it, they did. Ace of Spades reached gold status (500,000 units sold) in the U.S. by March, 1981. The album peaked at No. 4 on the U.K. album chart and the single “Ace of Spades” reached No. 15 on the U.K. singles chart in November, 1981. Not a small feat, considering how intense the album was for the time. For many metal kids of the time, Ace of Spades was the heaviest album they had ever heard. It brought the New Wave of British Heavy Metal into the cultural Zeitgeist, and is arguably the first thrash/speed metal album of all time.

Listen to the intro riff and snake rattle of ”Love Me Like a Reptile;” the saloon swagger of “Shoot You in the Back;” the stripper-sleaze groove of “Fast and Loose;” and the unapologetic confidence of “The Chase is Better Than the Catch.” The three-minute speed-inspired songs on Ace of Spades were not only heavy, they were sexy, too. You could dance to Motorhead. Or slam dance, if that was your thing. In fact, Motorhead was one of the first bands to break down barriers between the punks and the metal kids. They had cross-over appeal between the long hairs, Mohawks and, yes, the chicks dug them too.

The Mexican-flavored album cover photo of Lemmy, ”Fast” Eddie Clark and “Philthy Animal” Taylor further added to the mystique of Motorhead as outlaw bandits. The picture was actually taken in a sand pit in Barnet, outside of London. But to young eyes, the three diablos looked like true devils — dangerous enough to intrigue young record buyers and piss off parents.

Ask any tried and true headbanger, and Ace of Spades is likely to be one of their top metal albums of all time. It would have warranted an HRH rating of 10 out of 10, were it not for some mediocre moments. “Dance” and “Bite the Bullet” just don’t retain the balls-out brilliance of the first seven tracks. Still, Ace of Spades is worthy of a place high in the heavy metal pantheon. Happy 30th birthday and cheers to a truly groundbreaking moment in heavy metal history.

Watch for a classic 1980 club performance of “Ace of Spades” on YouTube.

Order the Deluxe Edition of Ace of Spades at Amazon.

Special thanks to Bob Nalbandian and the Shockwaves Skull Sessions for contributing thoughts on the historic relevance of Ace of Spades.

Genre: Hard Rock/Heavy Metal

Lemmy Kilmister – Vocals, Bass
”Fast” Eddie Clark – Guitars
Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor – Drums

Track Listing:

Deluxe Edition CD 1
1. Ace of Spades
2. Love Me Like a Reptile
3. Shoot You in the Back
4. Fast and Loose
5. (We Are) The Roadcrew
6. Fire Fire
7. Jailbait
8. Dance
9. Bite the Bullet
10. The Chase is Better Than the Catch
11. The Hammer

The Deluxe Edition contains alternate versions and BBC session tracks on a 2nd CD.

Label: Sanctuary Records


Hardrock Haven rating: 9/10