Sunday, 13 September 2015

Overkill Over Analysed

A wise man once said of rock music,
          "Don't analyse it, man. Don't try to understand it, just enjoy it at face value". 

That man was Lemmy of the mighty Motorhead, a band famed for having released possibly the greatest and most well known Heavy Metal track of the last 30 years: The Ace Of Spades. It is a song that has been used to sell things from cars to snack food, a song referenced as a go-to 'look at the long hairs!' sting, and a song they consistently play as the second to last track at each of their shows. It is a great song, but it has overshadowed the song they consistently end on: I refer to the lesser known, often overlooked, and the literally show stopping Overkill.


But why is it such a great song and what is it about it that makes it such a perfect way to end an hour and a half of concert? I wanted to put this into words, because whilst it may look and sound very simple, there is a hell of a lot going on that deserves closer inspection.

First, the intro. Starting on a solid, speedy, hammering drum rift which essentially stays the same through the whole song, we have 16 bars of pure, primal pounding. Nothing flash, kick drums and cymbals laying down a 4/4.  Then the first guitar kicks in for another 16 bars, a bass riff sounding more like a rhythm guitar and made of two notes being hammered away with more boogie than you can find in some pop-'funk' albums. Next spirals in the lead guitar, diving down and joining the bass for another 16 bars of raw rock and roll with a similarly limited set of notes in perfect accompaniment: simplicity given form and drive, an announcement of the power trio in it's most on target glory. To paraphrase Sun Ra: anyone can play it, only a genius can write it. The tune continues, almost without variation, through the first verse and chorus.

"The only way to feel the noise is when it's good and loud"
A straightforward observation on the live music experience, but the usage of "noise" bringing a truth to the levels involved at a Motorhead performance and of the oeuvre of Heavy metal as a whole. Also "when it's good and loud" carries the mixed meaning of the music being of a high standard and the pure quantity of output having a positive quality all of it's own. This is not simple language, this is simple words used as poetry.

"So good I can't believe it, screaming with the crowd"
A line that captures the duality of the concert goer in that you experience it as an individual whilst feeding off everyone else there. It also gives permission to let it all go, to just express emotion in an incoherent level, a rock and roll tradition from the bobby-sock era reborn and given validity. The usage of "I" is important though, as it also bridges the gap between the performer and the audience, bringing them in as a whole. This is a unified experience, the singer working with the people who have come to listen and be an active part of what is happening. The line is critical, as it binds everyone together.

"Overkill, Overkill, Overkill"
A word by itself, perfectly expressing a multitude. Excessive, over what is required, but carrying a certainty of completion with it. Could everything until this point have been laid down quieter, slower, and with more complication? Yes, but it would not have been as good.

Under a minute in and it's time for the first bridge. The backline keeps things as before, but the guitar jazzes things up a bit - however, importantly, not too much. The core sound is still there, the tempo and attack has not restrained or reset itself. It's the musical equivalent of a minute's straight dash, exhausting but exhilarating. And then the second round begins.

"On your feet you feel the beat, it goes straight through your spine"
Motorhead have, on many occasion, held the official title of "worlds loudest band" so this is quite possibly a literal statement of what the audience is experiencing on a purely acoustic level. But the second section also expresses the release and euphoria many feel at such times. The tendency to foot tap to a beat, the urge to do things when highly motivational music comes on, and the endorphins release associated with music as a whole.

"Shake your head"
A clear reference to headbanging, the hallmark of heavy metal fan appreciation, and an extension of the original 'rocking out' that accompanied the earlier hard rock and heavy rock from which Motorhead came (and were the source of the term, as per the "Motorheadbangers" collective noun for their fans).

"You must be dead, if it don't make you fly"
Testament again to the euphoria gained from the live experience, but with more of the synthesis of the event. What will make you fly? Both the music and the engagement with the music. Also a brag as to the uplifting and inclusive nature of what is going on. Only the dead won't be excited by this song, but it is an un-rarefied experience open to all.

"Don't sweat it, Give it back to you"
There is no need to worry, the band will give unto the audience as well as the audience giving unto them. Again, the experience is not one way, or even two way. This is a group effort - a social event.

"Don't sweat it, Give it back to you"
Seriously guys, we're all going to have a great time.

"Overkill, Overkill, Overkill"
Further restatement of the overall impact of what is happening, and the set up to the second bridge. This time the lead guitar is a bit more wild, a bit more free. But still the backline is locked in tight, unbreaking at the minute and a half mark - then be rejoined at the two minute point for another couple of rounds of the main hook, before the final set of lyrics

"Know your body's made to move. Feel it in your guts"
No instruction on how you should move, but pure license to move in any manner you want. By now you should be lifted, you should be elated, and on a primal level you will be acting how you see fit. Action is the key, to what end is down to the individual.

"Rock 'n' roll ain't worth the name, if it don't make you strut"
A key line, possibly the most important and certainly worthy as the finishing statement. This is Rock & Roll, pure and simple. This is Blues, bubbled through fifty years and mutated through a Marshall stack, but it's rock and roll - and it needs to make you feel good. This is a gauntlet thrown down to others, this is a testament to everything you have heard in the show and it is the final closing endorsement of all previous markers highlighted in the song. Right here, right now, this is how rock and roll makes you. Anything else is a shame - accept no substitutes.

"Don't sweat it, get it back to you
Don't sweat it, get it back to you
OVERKILL, OVERKILL, OVERKILL"
A re-enforcement of the above, a final sing along of passion, a final one word chant that carries volumes with efficiency.

Lyrics sung, we have the finale. The guitarist is let loose, unrestrained but still running with the pack, darting around the unstoppable force of the drums and bass. They have done so little but it has filled vast voids, given the six-stringer the backing needed to highlight and carry it's work. Then the first tempo change, the first deviation from the last 180 seconds of breakneck rocking. Things slow, the notes are fewer, the cymbals are pounded in the classic marker that it is all done. Slightly over the regulation 3 minutes for a pop-song, but still on form for a classic.

But wait, it was a ruse! The drums start again, the same loop and the same pressure. We are literally back to the start of the song, as all the parts fill in again for another round. A second rush of steam, although with a more intense guitar lead from the off. Unleashed, unbound, unburdened by needs for words. You know everything there is to know about what will happen now, there is no need for communication as all there is is understanding. The band are off, the audience are off, it's pell-mell to the real finishing line! One last huzzah, one more minute of life at it's best. Then over, done, spent.

...Not really. It's called "Overkill", not "just enough". The pounding starts again, the engine now running on empty. The band gave it their all, the listener gave it their all, how can anything else be dragged up? Well, it is rock and roll so we best get going with it even if we are running on fumes. The bass and the lead are more urgent, still working the core tune like sirens going off. Rabid and exhausted, the song almost doubled in length from anything that previously seemed the requirement. And then, finally, a ridiculous five minutes after it all began, the actual conclusion of the song that has left you shattered and unable to go any further.

Although, with the live version - it does. The band leaves the stage, but their instruments continue though strength of pure feedback, the music no longer needing to be anything but literal force and presence. The wash over the crowd is total, nothing can be heard other than the aftermath of what has come before, a post orgasmic chill that can continue under its own existence, an adrenaline rush given musical form. You have survived, you have experienced - and you are going to have it ringing in your ears for days, as the concert, the rock and roll explosion, continues to be a part of your life from there on.

Ace of Spades is the classic, it's is the jab that startles and delights, but like all "one, two" combos, it is the second blow that floors you - and that does the real work.
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