On Parole


Liberty / EMI, 1979


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


To the diehard Motorhead fan, On Parole is not an official album. Recorded in 1975 and originally scheduled to be released the next year, it was shelved by United Artists until 1979, when it was released to capitalize on Motorhead's popularity (albeit on a different record label).

The fact is simple: had it not been for record label politics-cum-bullshit, On Parole would have been the debut release from Lemmy Kilmister and crew, not the 1977 self-titled effort on Chiswick. As this stands, it's an interesting snapshot from the earliest days of Motorhead's career, and the only real document featuring the lineup of Kilmister on bass and vocals, Larry Wallis on guitar and vocals, and (for at least one song) Lucas Fox on drums. (Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor overdubbed the drums on most of the songs on this disc.)

The nine songs that make up the original release of this disc will be familiar to long-time Motorheadbangers, with only “Fools” and “Leaving Here” not being re-cut when they were back in the studio. One can understand why “Leaving Here” didn't make it the second time around, as this particular version is a tad slipshod, while “Fools” had been one of the only two songs featuring Wallis as lead throat. Pity, as this one is a hidden treasure in Motorhead's archives.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

As for the bulk of the album, it's far better than most Motorhead fans would want people to believe. Yes, it's a little more laid back than the balls-to-the-wall 1977 recordings. But, sometimes, this worked to Motorhead's advantage. “Iron Horse / Born To Lose” works surprisingly well as a virtual ballad, and shows off the fact that Kilmister actually had a set of pipes on him.

There is just something about On Parole that just charms me as a listener – an “X” factor, if you will, that is hard to pinpoint. Maybe it's the bluesy delivery of the title track that grabs my attention; maybe it's the loose connections to his former band Hawkwind on “Lost Johnny” and “The Watcher” that keep me interested (and makes people realize just what Dave Brock and crew lost when they fired Kilmister). Maybe it is the early styles of what would become thrash metal on “Motorhead” and “Vibrator” (the latter also sung by Wallis). Whatever the case, I freely admit that this disc is a guilty pleasure of mine.

More recent re-releases include an additional four tracks, all of which feature Fox on the drums and which were (somewhat) produced by Dave Edmunds (who left the project partway through and left production in the hands of Fritz Fryer). Do these versions add anything to the Motorhead canon? Honestly, no…but they are nice for the true completist, or for someone who wanted more than one song with the Kilmister-Wallis-Fox lineup to listen to.

I have to wonder what would have happened to Motorhead had On Parole been released when it was supposed to be in 1976. Would they have found the later fame and popularity they maintained for 40 years? Would they have been swallowed up by a music scene that, at the time, wouldn't have known what to do with them? I don't have the definitive answer – but part of me thinks that United Artists actually did Kilmister and crew a favor by sitting on this one for three years. Despite the controversy this disc continues to generate, it is well worth checking out and adding to your collection.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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