Ace of Spades (album)

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Ace of Spades
Ace of Spades Motorhead album cover.jpg
Studio album by Motörhead
Released 8 November 1980
Recorded 4 August – 15 September 1980
Jackson's Studios,
Rickmansworth, England, UK
Genre Heavy metal, speed metal, hard rock
Length 36:42
Producer Vic Maile
Motörhead chronology
The Golden Years (EP)
Ace of Spades
Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers (EP)
DVD cover
2005 DVD release Classic Albums
Singles from Ace of Spades
  1. "Ace of Spades"
    Released: 27 October 1980

Ace of Spades is the fourth album by English rock band Motörhead, released in November 1980. It peaked at No. 4 on the UK Albums Chart and reached Gold status by March 1981.[1] It was preceded by the release of the title track as a single on 27 October, which peaked in the UK Singles Chart at No. 15 in early November.[2] It was the band's debut release in the United States, with Mercury Records handling distribution in the region.


By 1979, Motörhead released two successful albums, Overkill and Bomber, and had gained a loyal fan following by constant touring and television appearances. Their ferocious, loud proto-thrash playing style appealed equally to punks and heavy metal fans, but in 1979 Sounds writer Geoff Barton coined the term New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) to classify a slew of newer bands such as Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, and Saxon. Motörhead — a band that resented being labeled anything other than rock 'n' roll — was placed in this new genre, which would go on to influence the emerging thrash metal movement that would include bands like Metallica and Megadeth. In the 2011 book Overkill: The Untold Story of Motörhead, Joel McIver quotes vocalist and bassist Lemmy: "I like Iron Maiden and Saxon out of the new mob, and that's about it, really...We were too late for the first metal movement and early for the next one...Motörhead don't fit into any category, really. We're not straight heavy metal, because we're a rock 'n' roll band, which no-one knows how to market anymore." Regardless, the association with NWOBHM would be another positive element in the gathering momentum that would lead to the band's most successful commercial period at the dawn of the new decade. In fact, United Artists decided to finally released the band's "lost" first album at this time under the title On Parole, which had originally been recorded in 1975 but shelved because it was deemed commercially unviable. Next, the Big Beat label, which had taken over Chiswick's catalogue, released Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers (EP), packaging four extra tracks that the band had laid down for their debut album. Further evidence of Motörhead's nascent mainstream success was the release of the EP The Golden Years in May 1980 on Bronze Records, which became their highest charting release to date, peaking at #8.

Recording and composition[edit]

Motörhead recorded Ace of Spades with Vic Maile at Jackson's Studios in Rickmansworth in August and September of 1980. Maile, who had worked with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and the Who, had crossed paths with Lemmy when he was a member of Hawkwind. "He used to own a mobile studio — Hawkwind hired it out to do Space Ritual and he came with it", the bassist recalls in his 2002 memoir White Line Fever. "Vic was a great man and a great producer, really brilliant...Those were good times; we were winning, we were younger, and we believed it." As Steffan Chirazi observes in the liner notes to the 1996 reissue of Ace of Spades, "Vic Maille at the production helm used an expert ear to translate the monstrous live sound and feel of the band to vinyl."

The LP includes some of the band's most popular songs, including "The Chase Is Better Than the Catch," "(We Are) The Road Crew," and the hit single "Ace of Spades," which rose to #15 on the UK Singles Chart. In his autobiography, Lemmy speaks at length about the tune:

I used gambling metaphors, mostly cards and dice — when it comes to that sort of thing, I'm more into the slot machines actually, but you can't really sing about spinning fruit, and the wheels coming down. Most of the song's just poker, really: "I know you've got to see me read 'em and weep, Dead man's hand again, aces and eights" — that was Wild Bill Hickock's hand when he got shot. To be honest, although "Ace of Spades" is a good song, I'm sick to death of it now. Two decades on, when people think of Motörhead, they think "Ace of Spades." We didn't become fossilized after that record, you know. We've had quite a few good releases since then. But the fans want to hear it so we still play it every night. For myself, I've had enough of that song.

In 2011, Lemmy admitted to James McNair of Mojo, "I'm glad we got famous for that rather than for some turkey, but I sang 'The eight of spades' for two years and nobody noticed."

The song "(We Are) The Road Crew" was written as a tribute to the band's roadies. In the 2004 Classic Albums documentary on the making of the album, guitarist "Fast" Eddie Clarke declares, "They were a good crew, and they were proud of how good they were. I would put them up against any crew in the world." In the same film, Lemmy, who worked as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix and the Nice, recalls that he wrote the song "in ten minutes" and that when roadie Ian "Eagle" Dobbie heard the song "he had a tear in his eye". Many of the songs, such as "Love Me Like a Reptile." "The Chase Is Better Than the Catch," and "Jailbait." blatantly reference sex, which drew the ire of some critics and feminists. "We only thought of ourselves as a good time rock 'n' roll band, really" Clarke explained to Classic Albums in 2005. "But we weren't trying to get a message across, apart from have a good time, you know: get pissed, get stoned, and fuck a chick. And that'll do."

Maille, who was affectionately nicknamed "Turtle" by the band (for his resemblance to the reptile), was critical in giving Motörhead a sleeker sound on record without sacrificing its raw power. Diminutive and soft-spoken, Maille was well equipped to deal with the trio, who were notorious for in-fighting and general unmanageability. In the documentary The Guts and the Glory, drummer Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor remembers, "Even if he was angry, he was angry like this: (assumes soft-spoken tone) 'You're not supposed to do it like that,' or 'Stop that boys .'" Lemmy Concurs, "Vic was great. He was the first one who told us we were all cunts and work harder. He had a very dry personae: 'Is that really the best shot you've got?' " In 2015 Clarke recalled to John Robinson of Uncut, "He didn't drink, he didn't smoke, and he was very delicate because he was diabetic. He had to have his Ryvita at six o'clock. We couldn't get heavy with him, couldn't fucking shake him, you know what I mean? He might die! So we had to listen to him." Whereas the band had previously had an input at the mixing stage, Maile took sole responsibility here, Clarke explaining that the result was that "you can finally hear everything that's going on."[3] Of the performances, Lemmy claimed that "Vic got me singing instead of just shouting all the time," while Taylor added "and he got me playing more solid."[3]

Motörhead appeared on Top of the Pops twice in October to promote the single "Ace of Spades", and were guests on the ITV children's morning show Tiswas on 8 November. The band undertook a UK tour from 22 October through to 2 December under the banner Ace Up Your Sleeve, with support from Girlschool and Vardis. After the Belfast show on 2 December, hijinks resulted in Taylor breaking his neck forcing him to wear a neck-brace and curtailing any further band activity. The other members of the band took the opportunity to collaborate with Girlschool for the St. Valentine's Day Massacre EP.


Like the song "Shoot You in the Back," the Ace of Spades artwork employs a classic wild west motif. It was the second of the band's studio albums to feature a photograph of them on the front cover, dressed as cowboys. The 'Arizona desert-style' pictures used on the album sleeve and tour programme were taken during a photo session at a sandpit in Barnet.[4]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars[5]
Robert Christgau B[6]
Sounds 5/5 stars[7]

The album has been described as "one of the best metal albums by any band, ever"[8] and has become a significantly influential 'hard rock classic.'[9] AllMusic calls it "rock-solid, boasting several superlative standouts" and insists it "rightly deserves its legacy as a classic. There's no debating that." Sid Smith of BBC Music enthused in 2007, "When Lemmy sings the lyrics to '(We Are) The Road Crew' it’s the sound of a grizzled veteran who has been there, done that and gone back for second helpings...If ever a piece of music was a manifesto for the mad, bad and dangerous to know party then the title track is it. Unrepentant and full of hell, there’s not one note out of place..."  Despite the band always referring to their music as rock 'n roll,[10] the album, and particularly its title track have been considered amongst the most influential in the development of thrash metal.[11] The title track is, for many, the definitive Motörhead anthem.[12] The album is listed in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

Classic albums documentary[edit]

On 28 March 2005 the documentary about the album (a part of the Classic Albums series) was released on DVD by Eagle Vision. The in-depth look at the making of the album includes interviews with and performances by Lemmy, Phil Taylor and Eddie Clarke.[13]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks composed by Ian Kilmister, Phil Taylor, Eddie Clarke except where noted.

Side A
No. Title Length
1. "Ace of Spades"   2:49
2. "Love Me Like a Reptile"   3:23
3. "Shoot You in the Back"   2:39
4. "Live to Win"   3:37
5. "Fast and Loose"   3:23
6. "(We Are) The Road Crew"   3:13
Side B
No. Title Length
7. "Fire, Fire"   2:44
8. "Jailbait"   3:33
9. "Dance"   2:38
10. "Bite the Bullet"   1:38
11. "The Chase Is Better Than the Catch"   4:18
12. "The Hammer"   2:48
Deluxe Edition (Sanctuary Records 2005 Reissue): Disc 2
No. Title Length
1. "Dirty Love"   2:55
2. "Ace of Spades" (Alternate version) 3:03
3. "Love Me Like a Reptile" (Alternate version) 4:16
4. "Love Me Like a Reptile" (Alternate version) 3:31
5. "Shoot You in the Back" (Alternate version) 3:11
6. "Fast and Loose" (Alternate version) 3:06
7. "(We Are) The Roadcrew" (Alternate version) 3:24
8. "Fire Fire" (Alternate version) 2:41
9. "Jailbait" (Alternate version) 3:33
10. "The Hammer" (Alternate version) 3:11
11. "Dirty Love" (Alternate version) 1:02
12. "Dirty Love" (Alternate version) 3:51
13. "Fast and Loose" (BBC Session) 4:18
14. "Live to Win" (BBC Session) 3:33
15. "Bite the Bullet/The Chase Is Better Than the Catch" (BBC Session) 6:05

The 2CD version does not include the Girlschool St. Valentine's Day Massacre tracks that are on the single-disc remaster.


  • Recorded 4 August – 15 September 1980 at Jackson's Studios, Rickmansworth, UK
  • Produced by Vic Maile
  • Sleeve photography by Alan Ballard
  • Design by Martin Poole

Release history and variations[edit]

Date Region Label Catalogue Format Notes
8 November 1980 United Kingdom Bronze BRON531 7" Peaked at #4 in the UK Albums Chart.
8 November 1980 United Kingdom Bronze BRONG531 7"
8 November 1980 Italy Bronze BROL 34531 7"
8 November 1980 Germany Bronze 202 876-270 7" Some mispressed with side 1 on both sides.
8 November 1980 United States Mercury SRM-1-4011 7" Different track running order
1986 United Kingdom GWR GWLP6 7"
1986 United Kingdom Legacy LLMCD 3013 CD
1988 United States Profile PCD-3243 CD
1988 United States Profile PRO-3243 7"
1991 United Kingdom Castle CLACD 240 CD Liner notes by Mörat from Kerrang!
1996 United Kingdom
  • Essential
  • Castle
ESM CD 312 CD 3 bonus tracks
2003 Italy Earmark 41003 7"
28 January 2003 United Kingdom Silverline 2881339 DVD-Audio[14] Surround Sound format
2005 United States Sanctuary 06076-86408-2 2xCD
  • The labels on the 1986 GWR re-issue had the GWR logo and "A" on one side, and side two on the other. The tracks were also erroneously listed in the order of the US release.

Use in popular culture[edit]

The band performed the title track on the episode "Bambi" from the second season of the BBC TV comedy "The Young Ones" during the interlude where the boys rush to the train station to get to "University Challenge" on time. The guitar solos were shot backwards so that while Wurzel played the camera was on Wizzo and vice versa. The episode is famous not only for the first performance of the song on UK TV, but also for appearances by Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie, and Stephen Fry.

  • The title track was used in the video game Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3.
  • The title track was also used in the 1997 film Grosse Pointe Blank during a shootout at a convenience store between rival hitmen Martin Blank (John Cusack) and Felix La PuBelle (Benny Urquidez).
  • "(We Are) The Road Crew" was used in the video game Brütal Legend, in which Lemmy also voiced the "Kill Master".
  • "Fast and Loose" was featured in the The Walking Dead third season episode, "This Sorrowful Life", on the car radio while Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker) is sitting in the driver's seat of a car drinking whiskey, both attracting and teasing "walkers", and before finally turning up the song and driving off with the walkers following his car.


  1. ^ Burridge, Alan Illustrated Collector's Guide to Motörhead Published: 1995, Collector's Guide Publishing p70. ISBN 0-9695736-2-6.
  2. ^ Burridge, Alan (April 1991). "Motörhead". Record Collector (140): 18–19. 
  3. ^ a b Ace of Spades official tour programme. Motörhead interviewed by Giovanni Dadomo
  4. ^ "Dr Rock VS Lemmy interview 19 July 2004". PlayLouder article. Archived from the original on 1996-01-01. Retrieved 2007-02-27. 
  5. ^ Birchmeier, Jason. "Review Ace of Spades". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-08-07. 
  6. ^ Christgau, Robert. "Review Ace of Spades". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 2009-08-07. 
  7. ^ Bushell, Garry (25 October 1980). "Motörhead: Ace Of Spades (Bronze)". Sounds. 
  8. ^ "Motorhead". BNR Metal Pages. Archived from the original on 2007-04-05. Retrieved 2007-04-11. 
  9. ^ "Classic Albums: Motörhead – Ace of Spades". Allmovie review. Retrieved 2007-02-28. [dead link]
  10. ^ "An Interview with Lemmy Kilmister". Classic Rock Revisited article. Archived from the original on 2008-02-02. Retrieved 2007-04-04. 
  11. ^ "Reviews for Motörhead's Ace of Spades 4 December 2004". Encyclopaedia Metallum. Archived from the original on 19 February 2007. Retrieved 2007-02-27. 
  12. ^ Konow, David (2002). Bang Your Head. Three Rivers Press, c2002. p. 226 has "Motorhead's signature song, Ace of Spades". ISBN 0-609-80732-3. 
  13. ^ "Motörhead: Ace of Spades Classic Albums Series DVD". Eagle Rock Entertainment site. Retrieved 2007-02-28. 
  14. ^ "Motörhead: Albums". VH1 site. Retrieved 2007-02-28. 

External links[edit]