S-Tier Songs, Vol. 13

It’s time yet again for another edition of S-Tier songs. Here’s a list of who’s in so far and the criteria behind it all.

It looks like unlucky number thirteen is up. What against the odds, damn it all band could possibly live up to that distinction?

Motörhead – Ace Of Spades

This homage to gambling would not just serve as a band’s hit, it would become the signature song associated with one of heavy metal’s most influential acts. Motörhead would not find massive commercial success, but after decades of recording and tearing up the pavement all the world over, they would become a stud in the crown of metal music.

Ace Of Spades was a single release a month ahead of the band’s fourth album of the same name. The song got noticed and hung out on the UK charts for a few months, it would also receive a UK gold certification for sales in excess of 400,000. The album Ace Of Spades would chart modestly well throughout Europe and also go gold in the United Kingdom for sales over 100,000.

And those fairly modest sales figures would be one of the biggest commercial successes of the band’s 28-year career. Motörhead were never a super popular or financially successful act, yet they endure as one of the heavyweights of the metal genre. Bassist and vocalist Lemmy Kilmister, praised in many circles as God, would make far more money writing songs for Ozzy Osbourne than for his own band.

Yet, when all comes due, it is Lemmy’s vehicle Motörhead that remains as a bastion of heavy music.

And even among the “great unwashed” who aren’t radically familiar with the music of Motörhead, it’s a damn safe bet that a lot of people have heard this song. It’s known far and wide as one of heavy metal’s greatest tunes.

The song is pretty simple in its premise – it is a buzzsaw, but with enough subtlety to distinguish it from the later-to-come death and black metal. It embodies rock, punk, speed and thrash, the latter two terms not even yet existing when it was released in 1980. Motörhead were already an edgy gambit in the few years leading up to this release – this song would cement a young legacy.

The tale of the song’s construction is fairly simple, and told in great detail in this 2017 article by Louder Sound. Drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor and guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clark were jacking around in the studio with producer Vic Maile, who was familiar with Lemmy from the latter’s time in Hawkwind. A series of riffs had been thrown around and the band worked them up while Lemmy was out on the prowl.

The lyrics would come from Lemmy later – he truly just slammed a bunch of gambling references together. It might have been in the back of a van while speeding along a freeway as he recalls, or it might have been on the shitter, as Phil Taylor would guess. Either way, the band had their title track down.

And in the wake, one of heavy metal’s immortal songs was born. Again, there is no mentioning Motörhead without Ace Of Spades. And there isn’t a lot of what we call heavy metal without Motörhead – everyone was influenced by the speedy, punkish outfit. This blend of nasty, noisy rock would give way to thrash in just a few year’s time, and by the end of the 1980’s, extreme metal was well on its way to being more than just a footnote in history. And much of all this noise owes its presence to Motörhead and principally Ace Of Spades.

It’s fair to say that this is Motörhead’s most famous song. Hell, their second most famous song is probably a pro wrestler’s theme song that the band didn’t even write. The group never really “got their due” in terms of huge success, yet they are almost without exception mentioned as a forefront influence on the music that has come from the decades since 1980. And while the band have a hefty catalog with several worthy albums and songs to choose from, there is little doubt that Ace Of Spades is the calling card that rallies all points home. When anyone mentions Motörhead, no doubt it is this gnarly riff and Lemmy’s gruff vocal delivery about losing your ass at cards that first enters one’s mind.

Why is this an S-Tier song?

Ace Of Spades is the banner by which Motörhead flew under for decades. It is a barnstormer of a song that both used and defied the music of the time to offer a new construct upon which much of the heaviest music of the ensuing years would be based off of. Everyone knows that Lemmy and Motörhead kicked ass, and everyone knows that Ace Of Spades is the signpost for the ass kickings.

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