Lemmy’s Brainchild: The Origin Story of Motörhead’s Name

The story of "Motorhead" captures the essence of the band it would come to name—a relentless pursuit of fast, loud, and raucous rock'n'roll.

Larry Wallis, Lemmy and Lucas Fox (1975)
Larry Wallis, Lemmy and Lucas Fox (1975)
Key Takeaways
  • Lemmy Kilmister initially wanted to name his band “Bastard”, but changed it to “Motörhead” after advice that the original name would limit mainstream opportunities.
  • The name “Motörhead” is derived from the last song Lemmy wrote for Hawkwind, his previous band, and it encapsulates the essence of “loud, fast, raucous” rock ‘n’ roll.
  • The term “Motörhead” is borrowed from American slang, where a “motorhead” is someone who can’t stop talking, fitting for a band that made a loud statement in the music world.

How “Bastard” Became Motörhead

Lemmy Kilmister, the undisputed godfather of loud, fast rock’n’roll, found himself at a crossroads in 1975. Freshly booted from Hawkwind after a drug-related arrest in Canada, Lemmy knew he had to keep the amps cranked. So, he huddled up with his bass guitar and his insatiable desire to create music that could wake up the dead.

A friend wisely pointed out that a band with such a name might find doors like “Top Of The Pops” permanently shut.

Lemmy’s first inclination? Call the band “Bastard”. It was as blunt and unapologetic as the man himself. But even in the realm of rock, there are limits—or at least considerations. A friend wisely pointed out that a band with such a name might find doors like “Top Of The Pops” permanently shut. Lemmy took the advice to heart but certainly didn’t dial down the intensity. He opted for “Motörhead”, a term that not only evoked speed and power but was also the title of the swan song he penned for Hawkwind.

In choosing “Motörhead”, Lemmy captured the essence of what he wanted his new venture to be: “loud, fast, raucous, arrogant, paranoid, speed-freak rock’n’roll”. To bring this vision to life, he joined forces with guitarist Larry Wallis and drummer Lucas Fox. The trio was hell-bent on delivering music that was “fast and vicious”, channelling the raw energy of bands like MC5.

The name “Motörhead” wasn’t just a label; it was a declaration of intent, a war cry from a man who had rock’n’roll coursing through his veins. And so, Motörhead was born, revving its engines and ready to take on the world.

Whiskey, Speed, and “Motörhead”

If ever there was a song that encapsulated a night of reckless abandon, it’s “Motörhead”. The tune was conceived in 1974 during an all-night bender in Los Angeles, while Lemmy was still pounding the bass for Hawkwind. Armed with an Ovation acoustic guitar borrowed from Roy Wood of Wizzard, Lemmy holed up on the balcony of his room at the Continental Hyatt House—better known as the Riot House—on Sunset Boulevard. With whisky and speed as his muses, he penned the lyrics, essentially a play-by-play of that wild night.

But what’s in a name? For Lemmy, “Motörhead” was more than just a catchy title. He borrowed the term from American slang, where a “motorhead” is someone who just can’t stop talking. Lemmy found it fitting for a song that itself wouldn’t shut up about the exploits of one raucous evening. Originally, the track saw the light of day as the B-side for Hawkwind’s single “Kings Of Speed”.

Fast forward to 1977, and “Motörhead” would be resurrected by the classic Motörhead lineup—Lemmy, ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke, and Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor. Living up to their fast and furious reputation, the entire crew, including their producer ‘Speedy’ Keen, were buzzing on amphetamines during the recording session.

The song “Motörhead” wasn’t just a hit; it was a statement. It set the tone for the band that would eventually take its name, embodying the fast-living, devil-may-care attitude that would come to define Motörhead for generations.