A dream for Motörhead fans looking to more deeply explore this mythic moment in the band’s history.
When surveying a legacy band or artist’s career, we can look back and pick out one or two magical years that not only defined their music but perhaps chased them in dogged fury from there forth, impossible to escape. For Motörhead, that year was 1979, the moment when their sound coalesced, forever setting a bar that future work could almost never reach. Collecting both albums released that year (Overkill and Bomber), along with a plethora of bonus material, the 1979 boxset is a dream for Motörhead fans looking to more deeply explore this mythic moment in the band’s history.
Beginning with the band’s sophomore effort, Overkill, the classic Motörhead trio of bassist/vocalist Lemmy Kilmister, guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke and drummer “Philthy Animal” Taylor slap together their signature sound that draws from the best of rock, metal and punk. Combining Lemmy’s sleazy lyrics with aggressive, yet loose, songwriting, the first two discs in this collection tell the story of a band with nothing to lose setting out to win over fans from a variety of different genres.
The real gem in the collection is a remastered version of Overkill. It hasn’t sounded this good since its original Bronze pressing. Exploding with the self-titled opener, Overkill redefines how much noise a trio could make together. Lemmy already had a colorful musical history before Motörhead, acting as roadie for Jimi Hendrix, playing guitar for the costumed group the Rockin’ Vickers and being tossed out of Hawkwind in 1975 after being caught with amphetamine sulfate. With Motörhead, Lemmy had finally gained complete control over a band and soon his fame eclipsed that of his prior groups.
Beginning with an aggressive Taylor drum battery, “Overkill” pulls no punches. Lemmy’s distorted bass soon joins in while Clarke’s guitar screams like a banshee. “The only way to feel the noise is when it’s good and loud,” Lemmy coughs, his distinctive growl choking up Motörhead’s manifesto. Is it metal? Is it rockabilly? Who cares? It’s fucking awesome, and from there Overkill doesn’t lose any steam. “Stay Clean” choogles like a barroom brawl while Lemmy professes, “When I was young, I was already old” on the showstopper “Capricorn.”
Recorded in late 1978 and early 1979, Overkill was produced by Jimmy Miller, best known for helming a slew of classic Rolling Stones albums, including Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St. Miller helped Lemmy move away from the more stripped-down sound of the band’s self-titled debut and into something more fully-formed. Of course, Lemmy was also whacked out of his mind of drugs and booze, helping him push forward in his creativity.
Recorded in the summer of 1979, Motörhead rushed out Bomber, the follow-up to Overkill, before the end of the year. Featuring the same classic trio and production by Miller, Bomber may not feature a collection of songs that is as uniformly excellent as its predecessor, but it is still considered an essential Motörhead release. The album features some prime Lemmy cuts including his anti-heroin screed, “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” the hard-rocking “Stone Dead Forever” and the title track which would kick off Lemmy’s fascination with World War II memorabilia.
For those fans looking for more than these two classic albums with punched-up sound, 1979 comes with two live albums, one recorded in London and the other in Le Mans, and a collection of B-sides and rarities. While the sound quality on the live recordings isn’t top-notch, they are still excellent documents of live Motörhead circa 1979. The songs are louder and faster and Lemmy’s personality as a frontman shines through, especially when he has the French crowd shout the word “bollocks.” Then he responds, “Now you all speak English.”
Yet, these live albums and other goodies included in the box set are just icing on the cake. The real prize here is Overkill and Bomber. Though Motörhead would continue to get bigger and more popular, Lemmy would only record a few more albums with Taylor and Clarke. No amount of bonus material can scale the heights of these two records, but for Motörhead fans, 1979 is an essential release.