The new Motorhead: Live to Win by Alan Burridge is a true rarity in the world of rock and roll books. More often than not, these oversized books are filled with pictures, very little text, and come with an astronomical price tag.
True to the spirit of Motorhead though, this is a book made with the fans in mind. While it contains a many rare pictures, it does not skimp on the history, and is priced at about half of what I expected it to sell for.
Like a lot of fans in the US, I first heard of Motorhead in 1980, with the Ace of Spades album. I later discovered that Lemmy had started out as a roadie for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He then joined Hawkwind, only to be kicked out after being busted for drugs in Canada. Lemmy has always maintained that it wasn’t the fact that he was doing drugs that got him canned. It was the fact that he was doing the “wrong kind” of drugs that did him in. He claims to have formed Motorhead so that he could never be fired again.
One of the chief attributes of Burridge’s book is that he fills in the early years quite well for those of us who only knew the basics. There were plenty of false starts, both in the makeup of the band, and with the record labels. The “classic” Motorhead trio featured Ian Fraser Kilmister (Lemmy) on bass and vocals, “Fast” Eddie Clarke (guitar), and “Philthy Animal” Taylor (drums).
The band’s luck with record labels was miserable at first. They were initially signed to United Artists Records, and recorded an album that the label found unfit for release (until much later). Next was a deal with Stiff for a single, which was blocked by UA, and was only available as part of a compilation.
With all of these roadblocks, the only way the guys could earn any money was to play live, which they did relentlessly. When Chiswick signed them for a single, they were given two days in the studio to record it. The heavy gigging schedule paid off, as they were so tight they managed to record the basic tracks for the Motorhead album in those two days. Chiswick funded a couple of more days in the studio to finish it up, and released the album. It promptly went nowhere.
Then the Bronze label stepped up, and signed the trio to yet another single deal. Motorhead’s version of “Louie, Louie” actually did well enough to earn them an appearance on Top of the Pops. This led to the recording of Overkill, which actually sold, followed by Bomber, then Ace of Spades. Motorhead were well and truly on their way.
The author chronicles the history of Motorhead on a year by year basis, beginning in ‘75. With pictures and text, each year covers a few pages. 1975 is the longest, as it catches the reader up on Lemmy’s life to that point in time. This is where the Hendrix and Hawkwind situations are explained. After that, Burridge focuses on the major events of each year, with a strong emphasis on the tours, and notable gigs. He notes quite a few more label and personnel changes over the course of 35 years as well.
What I like about Burridge’s writing style is how it well it suits the band. Motorhead’s music is lean and mean, with no extraneous fluff, and the text is that way also. The author gets right to the point, giving us just what we need without a whole lot of editorializing. He also wastes no time on crap like how many “O” levels (or whatever they call it over there) Lemmy passed.
After reading way too more rock bios than is healthy, I have had my fill of 700-page tomes that spend the first half detailing the minutia of the subject’s early life. It has gotten to the point where I usually just skip the first 10 chapters, because I really do not care what happened to Joe Rock Star in kindergarten.
Alan Burridge gets this, which is a big reason that his book is so much more than just a collection of photographs. Besides Lemmy’s 2001 autobiography, White Line Fever, I would have to say that Motorhead: Live to Win is about the best book on the band that I have seen.