This song was written about and dedicated to Motörhead, with whom Saxon toured back in 1979/80. The title comes from something Lemmy used to say on stage every night: "We are Motörhead, and we play rock and roll!"
A clip of him saying that is included in the song.
In a Songfacts interview with Saxon frontman Biff Byford, he said: "The very first tour we ever did was in 1979 and it was with Motörhead. We were a new band, just got our first album out and were about to release our second album, Wheels Of Steel, which went ballistic in sales over here. So, that tour for Saxon was a pivotal point in our very early career.
We became friends with Motörhead - Lemmy, Eddie and Phil. In those days we used to hang out with them, used to stay at their house. But it was a very massive thing we did back then, so I wanted to write a song about it."
The lyric video contains footage from that famous Saxon/Motörhead tour, but also includes scenes that depict the civil unrest that was going on in England at the time. "It's a lyric video but it's not the normal lyric video," Byford said. "It's just letting people know what it was like in 1979/1980 in England, especially in the working class, north of England. It was chaos at that time and we came out of that and so did Motörhead."
Some of the references in the lyrics:
"When the bomber flew" - Motörhead's 1979 album was called Bomber
, and their tour that year with Saxon was The Bomber Tour.
"The tour rolled on to Hammersmith" - Motörhead recorded their live album No Sleep 'til Hammersmith
on this tour.
"Dealing the ace" - Motörhead's hit "Ace of Spades
Biff Byford got the idea for this song before Lemmy died in 2015. When Motörhead guitarist "Fast" Eddie Clarke passed away on January 10, 2018, the Thunderbolt album was ready to go and the title track had been released as the first single. "They Played Rock And Roll" was slated for the second single, but Saxon wasn't sure if it would be in good taste. When they posed the question on social media, fans overwhelmingly voted to release the track on schedule, seeing it as a fitting tribute to Clarke and his band.
Byford asked Saxon bassist Nibbs Carter to write him some music that was like Motörhead. "So it sounds very Motörhead-ish, but not Motörhead, if you know what I mean," the vocalist said.
When we asked Byford what Saxon learned from Motörhead, he said they "showed us what Jack Daniel's tastes like," and also introduced them to bullet belts. But big lesson came in how Motörhead treated fans. "Lemmy said, 'Never forget your fans,'" Byford explained. "If people have paid money, if they're waiting outside in the snow and in the cold, then bring them in the venue and sign the autographs in there."