Although I like Motorhead just as much as the next guy, I was never a die-hard fan. Seen ’em a couple times, own a couple albums, but I’m hardly a completest. Didn’t buy my ticket for next weekend’s gig till the last minute (two weeks ago), and it was the solid supporting acts (Clutch and Valient Thorr) that swayed my decision to shell out 45 bucks this time around.
That being said, even as a casual fan, I can’t deny the influence the ‘head has had on heavy music. In melding punk with dirty blues rock, they stumbled upon a new genre–speed metal–well before anyone else was doing it (‘cept maybe Judas Priest). Furthermore, they also put out one of the earliest, most influential releases in a format widely used by punk and metal bands today: the split EP.
Having visited the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, I know that the first-ever rock ‘n roll single was “Rocket 88,” an Ike Turner tune released in 1951 on Sun Records. But a quick internet search on the history of the split EP turns up nothing, not even a decent argument as to what the first split would be. So let me be the one to start the debate, right here.
It might not have been the first-ever split, but in 1981, Motorhead teamed up with labelmates Girlschool for the St. Valentines Day Massacre EP. The former were the kings of fledgling NWOBHM label Bronze Records, having just put out Ace of Spades, while the latter was making waves as the first all-girl metal band after the release of their debut, Demolition. The early February release suited the album title perfectly, and the cover photo lives on in metal lore.
But this wasn’t just some cheap gimmick for Bronze to push some wax by putting two of its biggest bands together. Instead of showcasing new material for radio–or re-packaging “Ace of Spades,” for instance, the split saw each band tackle one of their counterpart’s tunes, then get together as an eight-piece for a crushing cover song. There might have been split EPs before this one, but did any of them do that!? (Seriously, I’d actually like to know…)
The VDay EP comes roaring out of the gates with said cover, an amped-up version of an old rock ‘n roll tune, “Please Don’t Touch” by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, with Lemmy and Kelly Johnson trading off verses and a massive gang chorus, punctuated with a ripping solo by Fast Eddie. Then Motorhead takes their turn on “Emergency,” a raw, fast-paced rocker with an infectious chorus “Nine-Nine-Nine–Emergency!” Both of these tunes later appeared on a CD reissue of Ace of Spades, and in listening to the latter, you wouldn’t have known that Lemmy didn’t write it–unless you were already aware of the split.
Girlschool fires back with their take on the classic “Bomber,” which chugs and snarls like the original with the high-pitched, reverbed vocals of Kim McAuliffe replacing Lemmy’s trademark snarl, offering a different kind of venom–but just as deadly. There are only three tracks on here, lasting a little more than nine minutes, but in less time than it takes to shower, Lemmy and the girls from Girlschool blew open the doors to a new format. The next time you throw on some split 7-incher, think back to where it all began…
Need any further proof that Lemmy is God? The Royal on College St. is screening the documentary Lemmy: 49% Motherfucker, 51% Son of a Bitch from now till Thursday. I’m gonna be heading down there for the matinee showing in a couple hours, myself.
P.S.: I’ll be playing a coupla Motorhead tunes on Smokin’ Green tonite, along with some other bands coming to town next weekend–namely Barn Burner, Clutch, Valient Thorr and Weedeater–plus some heavy tunes from the tobacco roads of N’awth Car’lina! Be sure to tune in from 1 till 3 am at 88.1 fm on yer radio, channel 947 on yer TV or www.ckln.fm on yer computer! Playlist and podcast posted over here afterwards.