The Song That Broke Up Motörhead

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How an ill-fated collaboration between Lemmy and Wendy O. Williams caused Motörhead’s classic line-up to shatter.

By 1982, Motörhead were at the peak of their success – the dirty, loud, fast three piece formed by ex-Hawkwind bassist Lemmy had, against all odds, broken through to the mainstream. They were the long haired metal band that punks loved, the long haired metal band that the press (allegedly) loved. And of course, actual long haired metal fans adored them. With live album No Sleep Til Hammersmith hitting the number one slot, regular appearances of Top of the Pops with hit singles like Ace of Spades and hugely successful tours, the future looked bright for the band. But one single, driven by Little Lemmy, would break up the classic line-up, and while Motörhead would carry on with other members for decades, fans would always look back at this moment with regret.

In 1981, the band had a hit single in collaboration with Girlschool, the pioneering all-girl metal band who Motörhead had taken under their wing as touring partners and label mates – their motivations for doing this remain questionable, but the EP issued as The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, with lead single Please Don’t Touch, had been a big success and didn’t seem to dent the Motörhead legend at all. But in 1982, lightning definitely didn’t strike twice when Lemmy decided to team up with Plasmatics singer Wendy O. Williams for another single.

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The Plasmatics were LA punk legends, noted as much for their on-stage theatrics and former porn star Wendy’s penchant for bare breasts as anything, and on paper, they might not have been a bad pairing with Lemmy’s bunch of outcasts.

However, Lemmy seems to have been motivated by desires beyond the merely musical. As band employee Krusher has stated, Lemmy agreed to make the record because he wanted to fuck Wendy, and the collaboration was either the excuse or the price. Records led by the penis are rarely memorable, and to make things worse, the song that was chosen for the pair wasn’t even a rock number – it was Tammy Wynette’s country classic Stand By Your Man. A fine song, of course, but in this context, it immediately put the single into novelty record territory.

None of this made guitarist Fast Eddie Clarke in the least bit happy. Eddie was proud of Motörhead’s legacy, and he felt that this was an insult to the band and their fans. Worse still, while he was producing the record, he wasn’t playing on it – guitar duties went to the Plasmatics’ Richie Stotts.

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As Lemmy explained in his autobiography White Line Fever:

“Eddie was supposed to produce the tracks for us, and unfortunately he had (producer) Will Reid Dick — whom I generally refer to as Evil Red Dick — in tow again. The session was problematic to say the least. Wendy took a long time to get in tune, and it wound Eddie up. She tried her parts a few times and sounded terrible, I will say that. You’d think she was never going to get it, but I knew she would if I just worked with her.”

In any case. Lemmy and Eddie got into an argument during the recording, and the guitarist decided there and then to leave the band. In an interview in Eon Music, Eddie explained:

“At that session, at about seven in the evening, I said; ‘lets break for something to eat’, and I went to the nearest off licence – which is not easy in Canada – and I went back to the hotel and got drunk. I couldn’t do it. So they came into my room, and I said; ‘It’s terrible; we’re Motörhead, and I don’t want us to do it’. And they said; ‘well, we’re doing it’. I said; ‘you can’t, it’s fucking rubbish’, but they insisted on it, and I said; ‘if you keep insisting, I’ll have no choice but to leave the band’. They said; ‘all right then, fuck off’.”

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As it was, the final record was credted to Lemmy and Wendy rather than their bands, and under different circumstances could have been dismissed as a mad solo folly. The band even suggested that Eddie could’ve publicly slagged the song off and that would’ve been fine. But in truth, tensions had been rising since the last album, Iron Fist (which Clarke had produced and which Lemmy though had a substandard sound), and Stand By Your Man was the final straw. Eddie maintained until his death that he was sacked rather than quit, but either way, it seems this one song was the point of no return.

Of course, the single wasn’t a hit, was hated by fans of both bands and now lies as one of the strange diversions that Lemmy would go on during his career – if you think Wendy O. Williams was odd, we must tell you about his collaboration with wholesome singing group the Nolans and his unreleased duets with Samantha Fox at some point. What Fast Eddie made of that, I can hardly imagine. Of course, all members of the classic Motörhead line-up, along with Wendy, are no longer with us, and in a world of bands like Me Too and the Gimme Gimmes doing punked up covers of unlikely songs, the track itself no longer seems that outrageous.

DAVID FLINT