Motörhead, "On Parole" Album Review
Motörhead, On Parole
Original Release: United Artists Records, 1979
The late, great Lemmy Kilmister and Motörhead have been recognized as hard rock Godhead for so many years that it's hard to believe that they almost didn't make it off the launch pad.
When Lemmy was fired from psychedelic space-rockers Hawkwind in 1975, he immediately formed a new group, which he originally wanted to call "Bastard." When told that they'd never get radio play with that name, they became "Motörhead," named after the last song Lemmy had written for Hawkwind.
The first Motörhead lineup consisted of Lemmy on bass and vocals, guitarist Larry Wallis (formerly of British psych outfit Pink Fairies) and drummer Lucas Fox. The new combo headed into the studio in late '75 to cut nine songs for United Artists Records (Hawkwind's label), replacing Fox with new drummer Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor mid-way through the sessions. However, when United Artists heard the finished product, they decided that the band had "no commercial potential" and canceled the album's release.
Stung by the rejection, but determined to push on, the band replaced Wallis with guitarist "Fast Eddie" Clarke and scored a new deal with Chiswick Records. The Lemmy/Clarke/Taylor lineup's "official" self-titled Motörhead debut was released in 1977, consisting mainly of re-recordings of tracks from the shelved United Artists album. Motörhead was an immediate underground success, and soon the band was riding high on the U.K. charts with subsequent albums like 1979's Overkill and Bomber. At that point, United Artists Records suddenly decided that those 1975 recordings might have "commercial potential" after all, and released them in '79 as On Parole. Lemmy, as you might expect, was less than pleased.
"Yeah, they cashed in on us. Record companies are a hindrance to rock 'n' roll, not a help."— Lemmy Kilmister
On Parole was one of the last CDs I added to my Motörhead collection. For a long time I didn't see the point of it, since I already owned the band's self-titled debut and I wasn't terribly interested in hearing what were essentially "rough drafts" of the same songs. Lemmy's perennial dismissal of On Parole as a "bootleg" likely added to my reluctance to pick it up. However, my completist, gotta-have-everything nature won out eventually, and I'm glad it did. From a historical perspective, On Parole is a fascinating listen, especially if you play it back-to-back with the official Motörhead debut. The Lemmy/Fast Eddie/Philthy Taylor lineup is iconic, of course, but the On Parole version of the band sounds like it was a pretty solid combo too.
The main difference between the On Parole tracks and and the versions on Motörhead is the guitar sound. Fast Eddie Clarke definitely pushed the band in a harder direction on Motörhead. Larry Wallis' guitar work on the On Parole versions of tracks like "Vibrator" and "City Kids" shows some embryonic, bluesy Motör-raunchiness, but it also sounds a bit "spacier" and more laid back than the Motörhead renditions. Lemmy was apparently still developing his vocal style too, as his singing on On Parole wasn't as gruff or gritty as expected. It was an additional surprise to learn that Larry Wallis sang lead vocals on two On Parole tracks, the hilarious "Vibrator" (an ode to self-love, told from the point of view of a marital aid) and the album-closing indictment of the music business, "Fools."
Of the nine On Parole tracks, six were re-recorded for the Motörhead album, and two of the three leftovers resurfaced elsewhere later on. A 1977 re-recording of "Leaving Here" was released as a single by Stiff Records, and an updated "On Parole" appeared on 1980's Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers EP. "Fools" is the only song that remains "exclusive" to On Parole.
Additional trivia: "Lost Johnny" (a cover of a Hawkwind song from 1974's Hall of the Mountain Grill) is the only song on On Parole that still features Lucas Fox's drumming, as Phil Taylor re-recorded the rest of the drum tracks when he joined the band.
Issues and Re-Issues and Re-Releases...
On Parole has been remastered, re-issued and re-released countless times on seemingly dozens of record labels (with almost as many different album covers!) around the world since it first came out in '79. I honestly have no idea which version of On Parole is considered the "definitive" edition, but the CD I own, which was released by EMI in 1997, seems to be the easiest to find at a decent price these days. It also happens to feature four bonus tracks ("alternate takes" of "On Parole," "City Kids," "Motorhead," and "Leaving Here") so I'm fine with that.
Summing It Up
It may have taken me a while to get around to it, but On Parole turned out to be a pretty sweet addition to my now-complete collection of Motörhead studio albums, and it gets almost as many spins around my house nowadays as the classic debut.
As any good Motör-banger knows, all Head is good Head, so pick this one up and play it loud. Long live Lemmy!
© 2020 Keith Abt