This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #440: Ace of Spades by Motorhead.
Today, we separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls, as we meet one of most respected and revered figures in all of Rock, the legendary leader of Motorhead, Lemmy Kilmister! Lemmy (he is usually just referred to by his first name, just like Cher or Madonna) is called the Godfather of Heavy Metal. He was the first, the originator, the one who came and played long and loud and fast before doing so became a thing. Lemmy and his band, Motorhead, paved the way for all other Heavy Metal bands that followed such as Ozzy Osborne and Black Sabbath, Bruce Dickinson and Iron Maiden, the boys from Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and legions more. Whether or not Heavy Metal is your brand of music, it is the music of choice for many who felt as unheard and unseen as any demographic group until they heard Motorhead records for the first time. For Metalheads, it is no exaggeration at all to say that Lemmy is to them what Michael Jackson was to Pop or Johnny Cash was to Country. He was a colossus who strode atop a genre of music for over four decades. When he passed away just a couple of years ago, he died as the undisputed King of Heavy Metal. The affection accorded him by his peers was genuine and it is accurate to say that he is sorely missed by those who knew him and who played with him and listened to him live.
There are lots of songs played by lots of Metal bands that are important to their fan base but, “Ace of Spades” by Motorhead is a song that all Metal fans know the words to. It is a song that unifies the entire genre and that is sung with respect by all. It, also, serves as a form of personal manifesto for the man, himself.
“If you like to gamble, I tell you I’m your man.
You win some, you lose some, its all the same to me.
The pleasure is to play,
makes no difference what you say…”
If you don’t know the song, you probably read those words like a poem. If you do know the song then, you will have read those words at a hundred miles per hour, accompanied by a machine-gun calibre drum beat. The lyrics to “Ace of Spades” speak to a personal philosophy that Lemmy maintained throughout his life. He loved to play rock n’ roll! He grew up being influenced by The Beatles and Elvis and Little Richard and was determined to always play with passion, skill and energy….every show…..every song….no exceptions. While Lemmy may strike some as a greasy looking son of a gun, he was actually a man of integrity who made his music for the love of making music. His fans always got his best effort and always felt respected by him. Because he was the first to play Heavy Metal music well, he helped set the bar for those who followed. As such, he brought a sort of professionalism to the Heavy Metal scene. He would enter into collaborations with anyone who asked him but, he suffered no fools….if you were unprepared to play or didn’t have the skills, he would let you know. In a documentary I recently saw, Lemmy was asked to play a song with Metallica at one of their concerts. When he showed up to rehearse that afternoon, the members of Metallica all called him, “Sir”.
As a musician, he was larger than life, in deed and in reputation. In his private life, he was very humble. He was a life-long bachelor who lived in a rent-controlled small apartment in Los Angeles. His apartment was well known for being as one would expect a hoarders home to be like; it was packed with artifacts from his career, hundreds of relics from World War I and II (he was a noted historian), scores of video games and magazines, along with bottles of Jack Daniels and cans of Coke which, taken together, was his drink of choice. Lemmy lived where he did because he could walk from there to his favourite bar. Each day, Lemmy would go there, sit at the end of the bar and hold court with anyone who asked for his time and/or his photo. The staff were as close to a family as Lemmy had. They would even bring him his mail there sometimes. *(Lemmy did have one son whom he loved very much).
“The Ace of Spades” is two-plus minutes of furious hell. It is loud and fast and sung with all the sincerity and passion that Lemmy’s cigarette-ravaged voice could muster. It was this song, sung in this style, that, also, influenced many of the early Punk rock bands who all played short, loud songs at lightning speed. Lemmy lived his life on his own terms and was respected for it by all who knew him or who listened to his band play. He lived hard and played hard but, he treated people kindly and was generous of spirit. He was a pioneer, a Man’s-man in the best sense of the term, a skilled player and, from everything that I have read and watched, a much-loved human being by his friends. He was truly one-of-a-kind. He was Lemmy. “Ace of Spades” was his most famous song. Strap in. Play it loud. Enjoy.
The link to the music video for Ace of Spades by Motorhead can be found here.
The link to the eulogy read by Dave Grohl at Lemmy’s funeral can be found here. Well worth a few minutes of your time to have listen. Great storytelling and sincere affection on display.
The link to Motörhead’s website can be found here.
Thanks, as always, to KEXP for supporting good music in all genres. A link to their website can be found here.