Lemmy’s 5 greatest Motörhead basslines

Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead performs at the House Of Blues in Chicago, Illinois on AUGUST 30, 2009
(Image credit: (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

As one of the greatest bassists in the history of metal and hard rock, Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister, who died on December 28th 2015, played bass with more attitude than anybody else, and with a sound that was completely unique. “Lemmy’s bass playing with Motörhead was just so insane,” said Guns N’ Roses’ Duff McKagan. “His tone was so huge that you can’t talk about distorted bass guitar without mentioning him.”

Talking to BP, Lemmy once said that his technique “was based on guitar. I found out about drone strings, where you let the A or the D string ring and play the melody on the G. It falls in very well behind the guitar.” 

No one can stick it to the man like Lemmy. He truly embodied the spirit of rock 'n' roll. Here we dig into his 5 greatest basslines.

1. Motörhead (Motörhead, 1977)

Lemmy wrote Motörhead for English space-rockers Hawkwind, before they fired him in May 1975 following his arrest for drug possession on the Canadian border. Re-recorded and released on Motörhead’s 1977 debut album, the new version helped Motörhead become known as the band both punks and metalheads could unite behind. Lemmy's bassline is heavy metal perfection.

2. Stay Clean (Overkill, 1979)

When you think of great bass guitar soloists, Lemmy might not be the first person who springs to mind, but go grab a copy of Motörhead’s 1979 album, Overkill and hit play on the second track - Stay Clean. In fact, no less than six of the albums ten original songs remained on the setlist right up until the end, with four of them included at Motörhead's final show in December 2015.

3. Ace Of Spades (Ace Of Spades, 1980)

As well as having one of the best intro riffs ever, Ace Of Spades is without doubt Motörhead’s best known and most successful song. Lemmy’s bass perfectly matched his sandpapery voice, and the furious pace was captured perfectly at ear-splitting volume by producer Vic Maile. Never had Motörhead sounded so together and yet so raw. Turn up the gain and go for it.

4. Over Your Shoulder (Sacrifice, 1995)

Motörhead took on a new lease of life with their twelfth studio album, Sacrifice, which was capable of matching, and probably beating their classic cut, Ace of Spades. Lemmy wrote in the album notes: “Put it in your system and your girlfriend's clothes fall off.” The album insert also offered a year’s supply of whiskey as a competition prize. Detune everything to Eb and crank things up good and loud.

5. Overnight Sensation (Overnight Sensation, 1996)

The intro to Overnight Sensation shows just how crushing Lemmy’s bass tone was, with a massive combination of chords and distortion. As well as having one of the best bass intros in rock, there’s a breakdown where Lemmy plays a short solo as he bends notes and backs up his own lead line to keep the riff going. 

The new song from Motörhead, Greedy Bastards, is one of two previously unreleased songs (the other being Bullet in Your Brain) taken from Motörhead’s upcoming reissue of their 2015 studio album Bad Magic. Titled Bad Magic: Seriously Bad Magic, the reissue is due out on February 24, and will also feature a cover of Heroes by David Bowie, as well as a recording of Motörhead’s set at the 2015 Fuji Rock festival. Natalia Jonderko Śmiechowicz produced an animated video for the track.

Motörhead release a reissue of their final studio album Bad Magic on February 24th. Bad Magic: Seriously Bad Magic is available to pre-order in all formats.

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Nick Wells

Nick Wells was the Editor of Bass Guitar magazine from 2009 to 2011, before making strides into the world of Artist Relations with Sheldon Dingwall and Dingwall Guitars. He's also the producer of bass-centric documentaries, Walking the Changes and Beneath the Bassline, as well as Production Manager and Artist Liaison for ScottsBassLessons. In his free time, you'll find him jumping around his bedroom to Kool & The Gang while hammering the life out of his P-Bass.