The sound and the fury
I don't think there is a live album with such an overwhelming beginning as No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith. From the moment Lemmy's Rickenbacker starts playing the mythical riff of Ace Of Spades, the most thunderous trio in history goes from 0 to 100 faster than a Formula 1 car, but the incredible thing is that during the next 40 minutes of the album they don't take their foot off the accelerator even for a single second.
At Motörhead concerts you had to go prepared because the band was like Atila - and after they played the grass wouldn't grow back. Lemmy sounded as if he had drunk a bottle of Jack Daniels before going on stage and then lit a match and threw it down his throat. There is no singer with a raspier, more tortured and more perfect rock & roll voice than his, and of course the rest of the band, "Fast" Eddie Clarke on guitar and Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor on drums, were no slouches either, ready to follow their leader at all possible speeds.
Lemmy had formed Motörhead after being ousted from Hawkwind in 1975. His intention was to make music “fast and vicious, like MC5”, basic, direct music, rock ‘n roll played at full speed and top volume, crowned with his voice soaked in Jack Daniel’s. After a couple of changes he found the right lineup with the arrival of Phil and ‘Fast’ Eddie in ‘76. A year later they released their first record, named after the band, in which their style was already patent, a mix of punk and metal that precursed ‘thrash’. The formula was perfected with Overkill, released on March 24th, 1979, Bomber, the 27th of October that same year, and especially Ace of Spades, out in November of 1980. The latter, with its unstoppable title song made them stars in the U.K. and the promotional tour was recorded to make this live record.
No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith arrived at the right time, after the magnificent 3 aces Bomber, Overkill, and Ace of Spades. The most remembered lineup of Motörhead, was a perfectly well-oiled machine. With this album they fulfill a full-house of best records in a space of two years, and left it as a reminder of one of the most explosive live shows in history.
The funny thing is that despite its title, none of the recordings come from the legendary Hammersmith Odeon in London (a place where they didn’t even play on this tour) but come mainly from 2 shows at the end of March 1981 in Newcastle and Leeds. Despite everything, the record was released in June 1981 and went to the top of the charts in the U.K. and was the peak of the trio’s career.
The moments in which it was recorded the trio were unstoppable, after having played together nonstop. The band seemed to be always in the studio or on the road without resting. The songs follow one another like bursts played at top speed and precision.
Clarke more than proved that he is the most perfect guitarist that Lemmy has ever had, capable of recalling Hendrix with his wah on the explosive Metropolis or, even more difficult, getting his Stratocaster with a Dimarzio SDS-1 in the neck, a DiMarzio X2N humbucker on the bridge and the original Fender in the mid position, to sound sharper than Lemmy's Rickenbacker, run through a Marshall, with the bass at minimum and the treble at maximum. That's called kamikaze soloing.
The album can also serve as one of the band's greatest hits, from the aforementioned Ace Of Spades to the song that gave them their name, Motörhead, passing through such greats as (We Are) The Road Crew, The Hammer, Iron Horse, Overkill and Bomber. There is not a single bad song here and the covers are superior to the studio versions - and we are talking about their best albums - with a band reaching the absolute zenith of their career, combining the fierceness of punk with the strength of heavy, and anticipating the advent of thrash in the following years.
The only negative related to No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith is that it was almost the swan song of the band's classic line-up (Lemmy, "Fast" Eddie Clarke and Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor) if we discount the disappointing Iron Fist, released the following year. Although Lemmy and Motörhead would continue to release good albums for several more decades, they never again reached the power, noise, fury and vertiginousness they reached with this marvel - that must be considered one of the best live albums in the history of rock & roll.