On the Trail of the Heavy Metal Umlaut

January 23, 2010

I was listening to the Word Podcast today and they had a very interesting guest: Phil Smee. Because I’m a lover of psychedelic rock I know Smee best as the owner of Bam Caruso records and the guy who compiled the fantastic Rubble compilations. I was also aware that he designed record sleeves.

What I didn’t know was that he’d designed the Motorhead logo.

If you want to hear him talk about it, you can download the podcast here. He starts talking about it after about five minutes.

Excitingly, he explains why he used the umlaut over the second O.

Back in those days you added fonts to your artwork by using Letraset. For those who don’t know, Letraset was basically a sheet of letters much like transfers. You put the plastic sheet of letters on your artwork and then rubbed a pen or pencil over it to transfer it to the paper.


Phil Smee then describes how very often you’d run out of letters, usually vowels, and this stuff was expensive so you’d have little tricks to work around it. He would use the foreign characters and then scratch off the bits he didn’t need, such as the umlauts. On this occasion he transfered the umlaut, looked at it and thought that it looked pretty good so he left it there.

Further on he says he needed to make a similar economy when he got to the H. He’d run out of Hs so he used a small L and part of a W.

So I had to have a look at this and check out the improvised h.

Here is the original logo:


Sure enough his description entirely matches up with the design.

From the next album onwards the logo looked like this:


I’ve seen this logo a million times and never thought twice about it. Now I can’t stop looking at it. Look at how bloody wonky it is. The ‘h’ looks all weird, the ‘ead’ is pointing in a hundred different directions at once. What the hell is happening with that ‘a’? And the letters are meant to be on a curve but aren’t uniform at all.

What a bloody mess.

This got me looking at some of the Motorhead album covers and I was looking at Bomber when I saw this:


Where the hell is Philthy Phil’s body meant to be? Are we to believe that Philthy Phil’s disembodied head is shooting Germans from that turret?


This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of a band whose name was altered by Letraset.

Apparently Therapy? got their question mark when the designer of their first record sleeve was using Letraset. He hadn’t spaced the characters properly which left a big gap at the end of the bands name. What else is a designer to do? He decided to add a question mark thereby changing the bands name.

Still, I don’t imagine we’ll be reading a wikipedia article about Heavy Metal Question Marks anytime soon.


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