Saturday, August 28, 2010

August 28: Motörhead, "Ace Of Spades"

Artist: Motörhead
Song: "Ace Of Spades"
Album: Ace Of Spades
Year: 1980


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Though no genre is without fault, there are few musical styles that offer as polarizing a sound as one finds within the music of speed metal.  The split occurs due to the fact that when it is done incorrectly, it is nothing short of unlistenable, and yet when played properly, there are few styles of music that are more energizing and technically stunning.  Rising to popularity around the same time as punk rock, the two genres shared much in common in their early days, as they each tried as hard as they could to be everything that was not "normal" blues-based rock music.  Similarly, these "speed metal" bands seemed to come into being simultaneously on both sides of the globe, making New York City and London, England the hot-spots for the development of the sound.  Honing their sound during this time period, there was one band that continues to in many ways stand as the most important band in the history of speed metal: Motörhead.  From their amazing attitude to the sheer speed with which they played, during the end of the 1970's and beginning of the 1980's, there was simply no other band on the planet that could "touch" Motörhead, and it was during this period that the band recorded some of the most enduring songs in the history of the genre.  Though they had already released a handful of fantastic records, there was nothing that could have prepared the world for the brilliant sonic assault that was unleashed the form of the magnificent title track to Motörhead's 1980 classic album, Ace Of Spades.

The instant "Ace Of Spades" begins, it is clear that this is a song like no other, and the lightning-fast bassline from the legendary Lemmy Kilmister remains one of the greatest ever recorded.  Lemmy seems to truly fly across the fret-board, and yet there is a sense of wild aggression that immediately adds a fantastic depth to the song.  Moments after Lemmy locks in the listener with his stunning playing, guitarist "Fast" Eddie Clarke joins in with an equally devastating performance, and it is this combination that in many ways defines everything that makes speed metal so great.  While Lemmy drives the song with an almost unsettling mood, Clarke tears across his basslines with a screaming guitar and almost feels like a bomb being dropped with every sequence.  Adding the final, amazing element to the song is drummer Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor, and his work in "Ace Of Spades" remains a high-water mark for drummers of both the punk and metal genres.  At many points, it sounds as if Taylor is trying to smash his drum kit to pieces, as the power and speed he plays with is nothing short of stunning.  Throughout "Ace Of Spades," the trio brings a volume, speed, and overall power that groups twice their size have rarely achieved, and the song in many ways represents true metal perfection, as the song has been able to crossover and reach fans that normally would not listen to heavy metal music.  The fact that this crossover occurred, and "Ace Of Spades" stays unquestionably rooted in the metal genre serves as a testament to what an amazing song it is, and why it has been able to endure over the decades.

Though many have tried over the years, there has simply never been another vocalist that has even come close to the uniquely perfect sound that is Lemmy Kilmister.  Bringing an ideal balance of gruff, growl, and gallivanting, much like the music, Lemmy's vocals on "Ace Of Spades" immediately capture the listener and pull them into his fun-loving, yet seemingly dangerous world.  It is this unique swagger that has made Lemmy the legend that he is, as there is an underlying tension and often a feeling of seediness that makes Motörhead's songs so amazing.  Throughout "Ace Of Spades," Lemmy's vocals appear to be standing on the edge of chaos much in the same was as the music, and the fact that he is able to keep things steady with such an amazing sense of tension is the main reason why the song remains a standard thirty years later.  This element of reckless danger is further enforced within the lyrics, though Lemmy takes a stab at a philosophical idea when he sings, "...the pleasure is to play, it makes no difference what you say..."  However, later in the song, Lemmy in many ways sums up the ethos behind both punk and metal when he delivers the lines, "...you know I'm born to lose, and gambling's for fools, but that's the way I like it baby, I don't wanna live forever..."  The energy and sinister spirit never drop for a moment anywhere on "Ace Of Spades," and the song continues to bring this unrivaled power more than three decades after it was first released.

Along with being one of the most enduring songs in history, upon its initial release, "Ace Of Spades" found commercial success across the globe.  It is the fact that the song found this sort of success that remains proof that a band can do so without sacrificing any of their musical integrity.  "Ace Of Spades" is in many ways as far a cry as one can get from "normal" pop songs, as the speed, power, and somewhat smarmy swagger that "is" Motörhead is in full swing, and yet it is perhaps due to the fact that the band stayed so close to their sound that the song became a success.  Over the decades, the impact of "Ace Of Spades" has been reinforced by the fact that it has been covered countless times by bands across the musical spectrum, and over the past years, it has even begun to appear in commercials.  These two facts prove that there is some intangible element at play throughout "Ace Of Spades," and the presence of the song has not diminished in any way over the years.  The almost unnerving interplay between Lemmy and Clarke remains the blueprint for speed metal guitar work, and the drumming from Taylor is nothing short of awe-inspiring.  The combined sound of these three players presents a balance of volume, speed, and pure energy that has not been equaled since, and it is why Motörhead's 1980 single, "Ace Of Spades" remains a truly indispensable and iconic song.

1 comment:

Josef said...

this latest Iron Maiden LP is incredible. I know some of u guys out there are pretty young, but get caught up http://www.ironmaiden.com/thefinalfrontier/