Back in their early days, Motörhead sure seemed like an anomaly in the heavy metal world. Thrash, aka speed metal, hadn't been born yet, and metal had been bloating itself into irrelevance since at least the mid-'70s. In fact, if we're talking about loud rock music that actually managed to exhibit over-the-top energy, punk (and eventually, to some extent, its descendants hardcore and oi!) had dang near supplanted metal which probably explains why Motörhead reportedly tended to fare better with live crowds when they shared bills with, say, The Damned or The Adverts than when they opened for an increasingly decrepit Ozzy Osbourne.
In retrospect, some other metal had begun to speed up and strip down (somewhat) at the time at least, by the early '80s, certain grassroots small-label British bands recording on poverty budgets. But those groups were even harder to hear about, certainly in the States, than Motörhead. And it might not matter anyway, since Lemmy Kilmister has long insisted that Motörhead were never even a metal band in the first place and he may well have had a point. As far as he was concerned (and not unlike his Aussie fellow travelers in AC/DC), he was just in a rock 'n' roll band. He barked through gravel and leather and grime about motorbikes, gambling, amphetamines, customs offices and outrunning the law, not about Vikings, goddesses, wizards and ancient mariners.
"People call us heavy metal because we have long hair," he said when I interviewed him in 1996, two decades into Motörhead's career. "If we had short hair, they would've called us punk. They just look at the surface, the clothes; they didn't want to look at what we really do. We're a rock band. I am rock 'n' roll; I've seen the whole thing. I remember Elvis' first record. Heavy metal is people who shriek and plod around. I wanted to be the MC5. We bend, like dance music. Except it's too fast to dance to."
I'd say Motörhead don't "bend" like they used to. Like with AC/DC, recent decades have seen them downplaying the boogie groove they were born to; if they're still not metal, they've surely become more metal with age. And unlike lots of bands once called metal, Motörhead don't seem like they've ever really been abandoned by the headbanging hordes. Me, I'm old school; I still prefer their early stuff, from the '70s, when they were basically a super-heavy pub-rock band. If you're more of a metal purist than I am, you might opt for more recent stuff and you might not even wonder, as I do, whether they've been spinning their wheels for the past quarter-century. Whatever. Motörhead, released in 1977, is the album that started things. Here are some dirty genes it wore.