In 1990, Motörhead vocalist and bassist Lemmy Kilmister moved from England to the U.S., settling in West Hollywood within walking distance of the Rainbow Bar and Grill. With Phil Carson managing the band, the sessions for what would become the album 1916 began with Ed Stasium, who was best known for producing Living Colour. In the studio the band recorded four songs with the producer before deciding he had to go. When Lemmy listened to one of the mixes of the Going to Brazil, he asked for him to turn up four tracks, and on doing so heard claves and tambourines Stasium had added without the band's knowledge. Stasium was fired and Pete Solley was hired as producer. The story, according to Stasium, was Lemmy's drug and alcohol intake had far exceeded the limitations of Stasium's patience so he quit.
1916 was Motörhead's first studio album in nearly four years, and their first release on WTG after their legal battle with GWR Records was resolved. Some of the songs on 1916 – including The One to Sing the Blues, I'm So Bad (Baby I Don't Care), No Voices in the Sky, Going to Brazil and Shut You Down – were originally performed live on Motörhead's 1989 and 1990 tours. The title track, an uncharacteristically slow ballad in which Lemmy's singing is only lightly accompanied, is a tribute to and reflection on young soldiers who fell in battle during World War I. In his 2002 memoir, Lemmy reveals that the song was inspired by the Battle of the Somme:
Nightmare/The Dreamtime and 1916 both relied heavily on keyboards, which was very different for Motörhead – or any heavy band in 1990. I wrote the words before the music. It's about the Battle of the Somme in World War I...Nineteen thousand Englishmen were killed before noon, a whole generation destroyed, in three hours – think about that! It was terrible – there were three or four towns in northern Lancashire and south Yorkshire where that whole generation of men were completely wiped out.
Although songs like the ballad Love Me Forever and Angel City (which includes a saxophone) were stylistic departures for the band, the album still contained Motörhead's ear-splitting brand of rock 'n' roll, including I'm So Bad (Baby I Don't Care) and R.A.M.O.N.E.S, a tribute to punk band the Ramones, and later recorded by the Ramones. Both bands have been cited as iconoclast groups that ignored musical trends, remaining loyal to their fan base by touring relentlessly. In the 2002 book Hey Ho Let's Go: The Story of the Ramones, Everett True quotes singer Joey Ramone saying, "It was the ultimate honor – like John Lennon wrote a song for you".
In the album's liner notes, the band says "...to the people we left behind – we didn't want to leave ya, but we really had to go! This album is the better for it. Stale and on a treadmill in our career, a change was needed". Due to an unintentional oversight, the French, Bulgarian, Russian, Serbian and Portuguese flags were not featured on the album artwork.
1916 reached number 24 in UK charts and number 142 in the US. The single "The One to Sing the Blues" peaked at #45. 1916 was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance at the 1992 Grammys, but lost to Metallica's Metallica, which was released approximately six months later. The LP received mostly positive reviews. Allmusic's Alex Henderson gave it three stars out of five, and said that "the band's sound hadn't changed much, and time hadn't made its sledgehammer approach any less appealing". He also added, "Whether the subject matter is humorously fun or more serious, Motörhead is as inspired as ever on 1916".Robert Christgau gave the album an A-, calling the album "Sonically retrograde and philosophically advanced"Entertainment Weekly awarded the album an A+. In the Motörhead documentary The Guts and the Glory, Lemmy states, "That was really the renaissance album for Motörhead, 1916...It got great reviews, which Rock 'n' Roll didn't get".