Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Motörhead—
What's Wordsworth?


Released 1982 on Big Beat
The Seth Man, December 2003ce
By the early eighties, several shelved Motörhead recordings were quickly dusted off and released to cash in on the current rising accelerating popularity of the group that had been steadily on the rise since signing with Bronze Records in 1978. From their first Jimmy Miller-produced album, “Overkill” for that label that perfected the Motörhead template, it would be nothing but rising popularity for the unashamedly volume/drinks/various white substances-driven trio from this point on. But prior to this, they had spent the better part of a four year period keeping themselves together by refusing to quit and staying on the road long enough just to pay for petrol, ciggies and drinks/various white substances.

Going back to before the Bronze Age, in chronological order there was a single on Stiff; an album and a single for Ted Carroll’s Chiswick label and prior to that an earlier version of that first album recorded for (and subsequently shelved by) United Artists in 1975 that featured the very first lineup comprised of ex-Pink Fairies guitarist Larry Wallis and Lucas Fox on drums -- Headed up then, now and always by the man on the bass and vocals, Lemmy “Ian” Kilminster.

And then there was this behemoth...

Recorded at the Roundhouse in London on January 18, 1978, “What’s Wordsworth?” is the most unvarnished and chaotic Motörhead record of them all. A very ragged and alive live rock’n’roll blared out from ‘Iron Fist and The Hordes From Hell’ (as they were billed for the evening’s performance) in a display of utter contempt for dynamics, professionalism and silence as it aggressive planted itself rudely right between the eyes and ears and barely moved from that position as the volume/drinks/various white substances kicked in as squarely direct hits were clocking in like crazy for the duration of their set. It shoulda be called “30 Seconds Over Chalk Farm,” because it’s an all out bombing raid. With a running time of 35 minutes, “Wordsworth?” feels almost like the closing encore segment of the show as more than half of it is a succession of perfect cover versions that nevertheless all wind up sounding more like Motörhead, anyway) that get hammered out fast, loose and greasy as hell, but it was in reality a truncated set. (It was reported in an earlier CD reissue that they did perform “Lost Johnny” with Mick Farren on vocals, which accidentally shuffled off to into the ether of the ol’ Archives of Oblivion while reels were being re-loaded on the mobile unit, losing for posterity a perfect display of The Deviants/Pink Fairies/Hawkwind axis coming full circle a decade since it all began with The Deviants’ “PTOOFF!” album.)

Originally conceived as Motörhead’s final recorded legacy, Fast “Eddie” Clarke on guitar, Philthy “Animal” Taylor on drums and vocalist/bass strummer/panzerführer Lemmy Kilminster go for it in a blur of Superfuzz White Stratocaster, errantly hit drums/cymbals/broken sticks and Rickenbacker bass throb going for the jugular in a noise-mongering thrash that had no parallel at the time. It was dirty, streetwise, disorderly, loud and performed with a power fuelled in equal parts by volume/drinks/various white substances that raised a rebellious hand then swung it down hard in a defiant fist against those expecting something safe...or barring that, at least approaching reason.

First up is “The Watcher” and it’s as faithful to the version Lemmy contributed as the closing track on Hawkwind’s “Doremi Fasol Latido” as the unplugged version of “Layla” is to the Derek & The Dominoes original: which is to say, not at all. The first thing you hear before the initial spiking up into red meters of this sonic blur (as ferociously anti-social and aggressive as the snaggletoothed, too ugly to die/born to lose/play to win biker wildebeest logo Joe Petagno cooked up) is Lemmy’s percussive Rickenbacker bass doubling as twin Luftwaffe bomber engines and a coupla cymbal strikes by Philthy “Animal” Taylor to steel himself up for the horrible blast from the guts that will commence. And when it does, turn it up and stand back because “The Watcher” is a crude barrage refashioned from the Kilminster composition stretching back a beyond Hawkwind’s version and into its true genesis as “You’re On Your Own Now” by Sam Gopal. It’s so pummeling, when Lemmy roars out a repeat line just before the finish, he can’t even finish it: “You’re on your own now / You’re on your own now / You’re on your owNOOWWWWWWRRRGGGHHHH...!”

The rest of this mess gets br-a-a-a-nged out as unvarnished as only the very best rock’n’roll is and can be. It’s the sound of amplified chainsaws miked through a line of Marshalls set at full strength, and they stink up the Roundhouse in no time flat as they blaze through biker anthem ”Iron Horse/Born To Lose” and continue on with savaging Larry Wallis’ “On Parole” only after Lemmy steps up to the mike to tip his hat to Lazza for the tune, and they’re off into a tunnel-visioned rave that build wildly in ways that that neither of the previous two studio versions (one from Motörhead’s abortive first album with Wallis or Wallis’ own single on Stiff) could ever hope to achieve. Pealing squeals of feedback perforate above the pandemonium, into eardrums and they send it all off over the nearest cliff in flames with an overkill ending complete with Lemmy’s percolating runs up and down his Rickenbacker with the greatest of ease. The band plows through the night with “White Line Fever.” bulldozing against the odds and the expectations of the audience and probably the band. Philthy fierce jackknifes both hi-hats and kit into a twist. I think this one ends their set proper cuz Lemmy rasps, “Ooowwwgoodnight...!”

Side two continues on that highway to nowhere head first with “Keep Us On The Road,” a contribution from Mick Farren that makes as much sense for Motörhead to record as it did for Farren to write. Next up come three roughly handled covers that flash by in a rage like an amphetamine jukebox with all of Lemmy’s favs racked up and paid for in black bombers: “Leaving Here” by The Birds, “I’m Your Witchdoctor” by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and “The Train Kept A Rollin’” by The Yardbirds. It’s non-stop action for three tracks, all hanging together with a teeth-grinding propulsion and informed by a keenly felt sense of rock’n’roll throughout. The best part is when Lem’s bass cuts out for seconds during “Leaving Here” and instead of upending the track, it only forces the bass to return even louder and more discordant with flurried vengeance.

They round it all off by grinding into the stage floor a rendition of The Pink Fairies’ “City Kids.” Lemmy’s vocal and bass played like a lead instrument drives this sucker straight down the line that nearly unseats the rhythm Philthy is playing while Eddie consents to keep in the background until the final set-ending load is dropped as loud as hell (or maybe one louder than everything else.) Brilliant.

All bases are completely covered on this live record: abrasive, lumbering rock’n’roll delivered at full strength...Guaranteed to get you moving like a parallelogram.