With their 1977 self-titled debut, Motörhead opened the floodgates for a new style of bluesy, bombastic biker metal, but two years later, on March 24, 1979, they rewrote the rule book altogether with the more urgent, combustive Overkill.
From the start of the record, it was clear that Motörhead were at the forefront of something big. Drummer Philthy Animal Taylor starts with a double-bass beat and Lemmy Kilmister unleashes as fuzzy wall-of-sound bassline. By the time Fast Eddie Clarke is playing a swampy, storming rhythm and Lemmy’s growling, “On your feet, you feel the beat / It goes straight to your spine / Shake your head, you must be dead if it don’t make you fly,” Motörhead have hit stride, creating a sound that inspired every existing New Wave of British Heavy Metal band and burgeoning thrash group.
“There’s no way to overestimate the influence of Motörhead,” says Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian. “We were listening to them nonstop when we worked on our first album. At the time, there was nothing else like them.”
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It might seem like a legendary album such as Overkill was intensely labored over and painstakingly assembled. From song to song, the mix is heavy, but diverse and bluesy and never stodgy. In addition to the iconic title track there’s the sleazy dissonance of “Stay Clean,” the murky, stealthy psychedelia of “Capricorn,” the iconic skull bashing throughout “No Class” and the Chuck Berry-on-speed finesse of “Damage Case.” But, like most everything they’ve done, Motörhead crafted and tracked Overkill like a pilot flying drunk and blind.
“We only had a fortnight (two weeks) to record Overkill,” wrote Lemmy in his autobiography, White Line Fever, “[But] considering our checkered recording history it was a world of time for us, and besides, being quick in the studio has always been natural for us.”
Motörhead worked on the album at Roundhouse studio with producer Jimmy Miller and Lemmy described the experience as “pure joy.” The frontman wrote most of the lyrics, but “Damage Case” was co-written with his friend Mick Farren, a British journalist and singer for the proto-punk band The Deviants.
Before Motörhead even started recording they had already been playing “Damage Case” live as well as “No Class,” “I Won’t Pay Your Price” and “Tear Ya Down.” Other songs on Overkill, including “Metropolis” and “Capricorn” (Lemmy’s birth sign) were born in the studio. The textural solo on the latter was actually an accident. “[It] happened while he was tuning up,” wrote Lemmy. “The tape was running while he was fooling around and Jimmy added some echo. When Eddie finished tuning he came in and said, ‘I’ll do it now,’ and Jimmy told him, ‘Oh, we got it.’”
Motorhead, “No Class”
A major fan and staunch supporter of raunchy female rockers Girlschool, Motörhead surprised some of their tougher-than-nails fans by inviting the ladies to open for them on the Overkill tour. After the tour, the two bands collaborated in the short-lived Headgirl, and in 1980 released the EP The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, on which they covered each other’s songs.
Overkill peaked at No. 24 on the U.K. album charts, but didn’t crack the Billboard charts. In fact, it wasn’t until 1981’s No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith that Motörhead started to gain a strong fanbase in the U.S.
Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the author of Raising Hell: Backstage Tales From the Lives of Metal Legends, co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, and Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My Riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.