Initially issued as a 7″ vinyl single on 27 October 1980 as a preview to the album Ace of Spades and autumn tour, the song was also released by Bronze Records as a 12″ vinyl pressing in special Christmas picture sleeves, limited to 50,000 copies. The picture of the band in Santa outfits used on the cover was taken at the Aylesbury Fair, while the band were on tour.
Bronze also issued German and Spanish 7″ vinyl versions which had a different sleeves, as well as a Japanese release, with a colour picture insert with song lyrics in English and Japanese. One sided test pressings (not mis-presses, but used in the trade) escaped the pressing plant and are on the market.
The song opens with an overdriven bass intro played by Lemmy. For the lyrics, he said he “used gambling metaphors, mostly cards and dice – when it comes to that sort of thing, I’m more into the one-arm bandits actually, but you can’t really sing about spinning fruit, and the wheels coming down”.
On 6 September 1980, Lemmy was interviewed by Graham Neale on BBC Radio 1’s Rock On Saturday show, “Bomber”, “Ace of Spades” and “Love Me Like a Reptile” were played. The following month, on 6 and 20 October, the band played the song on BBC TV show Top of the Pops.
Ace of Spades is listed in the one of the most popular music rhythm games, Guitar Hero, which was distributed by Activision.
The song spent 13 weeks in the UK Singles Chart, and originally peaked at number 15 upon its initial release. At the midweek point in January 2016 it reached No. 9 and in the official Friday charts they reached number 13, following the death of frontman Lemmy in December 2015 and subsequent dissolution of the band. It has sold 208,830 digital copies as of January 2016. It reached the summit of the UK Rock & Metal Singles and Albums Charts on 9 January 2016.
The song is considered to be the definitive Motörhead anthem, which “put a choke on the English music charts and proved to all that a band could succeed without sacrificing its blunt power and speed”.
In March 2005, Q magazine placed it at No. 27 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks, stating “This song has an intro which wouldn’t be out of place ushering in the end of the world”. In 2009, it was named the 10th greatest hard rock song of all time by VH1.
In 2014, NME ranked it number 155 in their list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Lemmy – bass, lead vocals
“Fast” Eddie Clarke – lead guitar
Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor – drums