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Ace of Spades: History of Motörhead’s Single and Artwork

motorhead ace of spades Fin Costello

Ace of Spades is the fourth studio album by the band Motörhead (Photo Credit: Fin Costello)

British band Motörhead’s album Ace of Spades will long be remembered as a musical masterpiece. As their fourth album, it is arguably the one that gave them their success, coincidentally achieving No. 4 in the album charts when released in 1980.

Four months later, in the following year, it reached Gold status. Before the release of this album, the title track ‘Ace of Spades’ came out as a single on 27 October and peaked in the UK Singles Chart at No. 15, which was their first Top 20 hit. ‘Ace of Spades’ was also their debut release in the United States.

Their fierce and loud playing style captured the attention from both punk and heavy metal fans and was pioneeringly ahead of the times. In 1979, Sounds writer Geoff Barton devised the term “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” (NWOBHM). This was a way of categorising newer bands including Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, and Saxon.  

Motörhead were a band that felt negatively towards being labelled anything besides Rock ‘N’ Roll and were positioned in this newly created genre. What they may not have been aware of at the time was that this music style would go on to influence the emerging thrash metal era, including bands like Metallica. In the 2011 book Overkill: The Untold Story of Motörhead, Joel McIver quotes vocalist and bassist Lemmy:

 “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…”

Irrespective of Motörheads’ feelings towards their newly acquired ‘label’, the connotation with NWOBHM would be positive towards the increasing approval of this genre. This in turn led to the band’s most successful commercial period, in which ‘Ace of Spades’ helped to set in stone.

motorhead ace of spades

Similarly, to their song, entitled, ‘Shoot You in the Back’, the Ace of Spades artwork uses a Western theme. It was the second of the band’s studio albums which featured a band photograph on the front cover, mimicking cowboys through choice of clothing. The ‘Arizona desert-style’ pictures used on the album sleeve and tour programme were taken during a photo session at a sandpit in Barnet.

Sid Smith of BBC Music notes:

“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 during its meteoric 2 minutes and 49 seconds; a defining point that’ll be remembered long after Lemmy and co. have popped their Cuban heels […] Remarkably fresh after 25 years, this is arguably the ultimate sex, drugs and rock n’ roll album ever recorded.”

‘Ace of Spades’ publicly exposed the world to Motörhead on a mass scale. Their music is still regarded as pioneering, being one of few bands to shape the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal”.

The album is listed in musical reference book, 1001 albums you must listen to before you die.

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