Motorhead were known for being loud live, which is why they needed to make a live album. No disrespect to their recorded output, but live was where the true Motorhead experience was. At this point, they had been on the road for six years relentlessly and had released a series of classic albums most notably Ace of Spades which had been released a year previously, so they had to document it on record. The three albums before that had not been as commercially successful but nevertheless contained several classics. Motorhead during the late 70’s/early 80’s were truly one of the finest metal bands of the era producing what many agree to be their best work. This live album is no exception.
As it turned out, their decision to release a live album was not an unwise one. When No Sleep ’til Hammersmith was released in 1981 it went straight to number 1 on the UK album charts. This made it their biggest ever commercial success and deserved it in every way possible, as it is a truly energetic, loud and very LIVE sounding live album. A truly relentless recording, the adrenaline never stops from beginning to end. By the end of it you will need a very long lie down. There are so many live albums where you just think “what’s the point?” as they just don’t capture the experience or the atmosphere. The aim of a live album is that your are hearing it without actually seeing the band performing, making its purpose different from that of a live video. No Sleep ’til Hammersmith archives this as soon as the opening riff from Ace of Spades kicks off the album, the recording itself being very crisp and capturing every note, making the live show easy for the listener to envisage.
The other thing that makes this record so great is the actual performance itself. The band where clearly in their element, as the tracks here achieve the seemingly impossible task of outdoing their studio counterparts in terms of sheer velocity. This line-up at this point was the classic trio of Lemmy, Fast Eddie Clarke and Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor; a true power trio, playing with every ounce of energy that they have. A true rock n’roll experience, the album, despite being fast, gives you your money’s worth by clocking in at a rather lengthy 50 minutes.
Most of the albums content comes from the Overkill, Bomber and Ace of Spades albums with only two tracks from their self titled debut, making it something of a live best-of compilation for this era of the band. Having their most well known song open the album is a good decision as it sets the energy off from the get-go.
Making a live album is something a lot of bands decide to do at some point in their career. Different bands have different reasons for doing it but you assume they are wanting to capture a particular concert on record that serves as a document of what they are like as a live band. As previously stated, many bands do not succeed in doing this. No Sleep ’til Hammersmith succeeds as both a historical document and because it gives a live experience without actually being live that very few other live albums have delivered. It is not completely perfect, there are some classic songs not included here and the production is a little dated sounding in places. However, in the grand scheme of things, those things do not matter, as a live recording of Motorhead at their absolute peak is a very wonderful thing indeed. It is fair to say that there was not many other bands at this time playing with this level of intensity, making it an important footnote in the history of extreme music.
Despite the title, the album was not recorded at London’s Hammersmith Palais, it was in fact recorded at two shows in Newcastle and one in Leeds. So although it is not all taken from one recording, it still flows well. This is probably why it succeeds, if it was just a recording of one full length show it might have sounded somewhat flat, but the compilation of different shows give the listener an understanding how they were performing as a whole at the time.