Lynott was the hard-rock poet. His way with words and images is something that few people in hard rock have been able to duplicate, and it cements Thin Lizzy's importance in the world of rock. Songs like "Cowboy Song" paint vivid pictures like a movie script, and "Emerald" tells a harrowing war story. "Johnny The Fox" is a story about a 1920's Italian Chicago gangster, while "the Boys Are Back in Town" is about getting the guys together for a night out.
Thin Lizzy released 11 studio albums between 1971 - 1983 and a double live album in 1979 "Live And Dangerous" which reached multi-platinum status.
It was pretty consuming for me as a kid to hear one of my favorite rock bands put such effort into their lyrics-not always a strength in hard rock and metal. Soon after, when I heard "The Boys Are Back in Town," I realised that Thin Lizzy had another great signature: the playing of not just one great guitarist but two, who, in most cases, traded off solos and rhythms and played in harmony unlike any other band l'd ever heard. I was inspired to explore their whole catalog and excited to find that they'd released a number of albums before Jailbreak. Though Jailbreak is known as their definitive record, there are plenty of other great ones to check out. I wouldn't say every one of them is a masterpiece, but Thin Lizzy has enough great moments to justify being included in this book, not to mention their obvious influence and impact on so many bands over the decades.
In an interview I did with him for the 2009 release, Still Dangerous.' Live at Tower Theatre Philadelphia, 1977, I spoke with guitarist Scott Gorham about why he feels America has been so stubborn when it comes to learning about Thin Lizzy's catalog. He attributed this lack of attention to bad timing, saying that whenever they started to gain momentum through U.S. touring, they had to stop and go back to England. They were also crippled by Phil Lynott's drug addiction and related illnesses while on tour. They had to cancel several shows over the years, and when they did play, Scott said, they weren't always as good as people expected them to be. Drug abuse and the excesses of the time really took their toll on the band, as did a nonstop work schedule. He also never felt the production of many of the band's albums was at the level it should be and expressed an interest to me in completely remixing the catalog someday to give the songs the kick he thought they lacked on the records.
Regardless, Thin Lizzy has written some incredible songs and albums throughout their history. Their dual-guitar playing style had such a significant influence on hard rock and heavy metal of the late '70s and early '80s that it can be heard in bands from Iron Maiden to Metallica. Many of the bands that were influenced by them have actually helped Lizzy gain some new stature in America. Metallica's cover of "Whiskey in the Jar" was much more popular than Lizzy's version. Anthrax covered "Cowboy Song," Def Leppard did "Don't Believe a Word," and Bon Jovi was one of many bands that covered "The Boys Are Back in Town."
If "The Boys Are Back in Town" is all you've heard from this great band, you should know that there's much more to discover, right up to the band's final studio statement, the 1983 release, Thunder and Lightning. It's one of my favorites. Metal fans should take note that this is their hardest-rocking album, which is mostly due to the arrival of young hotshot guitarist John Sykes, who breathed new life into the band. He also inspired them to get out on the road to do one more tour. The more than fifteen years of hard living had started to weigh on Phil, who was looking to shelve the band for a while, but Sykes came with a new energy and helped keep the band alive for a bit longer. Some say Lizzy with Sykes was "too metal," but to me it was perfect!
The band's final tour with Phil was in '1983. By this point, many in the group were battling addiction, none more seriously than Phil, who by then was a full-blown heroin addict. He recorded a few albums in the years after Lizzy broke up, but he was considered too much of a risk and could not score a proper record deal. Tragically, on January 4,1986, Phil died from organ failure and pneumonia, all brought on by drugs. He was just thirty-six years old.
[extract from Eddie Trunk's Essential Hard Rock And Heavy Metal, Abrams Image, 2011. p212-213]
The international success of Thin Lizzy's 'Jailbreak' album in the Summer of '1976 provoked a massive excess of both work and play. The band was still young and fresh and able to enjoy this new star status. But Phil Lynnot and his pals were also aware of the fickle ways of popularity. After all, an early line-up of Thin Lizzy had scored a chart hit in '71 with a novel version of the folk song "Whisky In The Jar". This gave a warped image of the group and also tagged them as one-hit-wonders for a frustrating period.
So Phil was determined not to squander a chance again. Lizzy were touring, constantly in America, hopping from the back of one band's tour onto another - lashing it out for three months. The bands asking price was spiralling upwards, much to the relief of management at home, which was struggling with cash flow problems. So Lizzy slugged it out manfully, winning the States in the old-fashioned way while partying plenty.
"As a band on those tours," guitarist Scott Gorham remembers, "we were smokin'. Every time we hit the stage, we were crushing all opposition."
Yet these boastful schemes were banjaxed just before a gig, at Columbus, Ohio, when Phil became sick. His eyes had turned banana yellow. He had infexious hepatitis. The medics that diagnosed him were already preparing a bed when management rushed him out of the country - via Detroit and New York - to place Phil in a hospital bed near his mother's hotel in Manchester. "Even when he was in hospital," Scott remembers, "he just wanted to get out there. He really was like a man possessed."
"It does hit you after a while," Lynott said afterwards, "that the night life is maybe a bit of a wild life. You're chasing the wrong things. That was the idea behind "Fool's Gold". I wouldn't have written that or "Massacre" without having, been ill".
There was certainly a more reflective side to the body of songs that Phil was now writing - the makings of the 'Johnny The Fox' album. The song "Massacre" had been prompted by a hospital visit from a Protestant clergyman. He was a nice guy, but Phil's Catholic upbringing made him defensive and uptight towards the Reverend. Later, Phil realised he had been stupid, and so wrote a lyric that condemned religious prejudice and holy wars. "If God is in his heaven," Phil decided, "how could this occur?"
|Robertson & Lynott|
Certainly, 'Johnny The Fox' (released in October '76) was a showcase for the band's guitar power - a vital balance to Phil's more dreamy aspects.
Robbo's attitude was justified by the fact that in the mid-'8Os, hip hop acts constantly stole guitar breaks off Thin Lizzy's sixth album, loving the tone and the energy of the record. 1976 was a mighty year for this band. They worked like Troians. They had fun. The singer was critically ill. And they released both 'Jailbreak' and 'Johnny The Fox'. Could you ever ask for a more phenomenal time of it?
[Liner Notes: by Stuart Bailie, New Musical Express]
This post consists of FLACs ripped from my CD copy (I owned the album as a teenager but alas stupidly traded it in for some other LP) and the usual supporting artwork and label scans.
Although not quite up to the standard of Jailbreak, this album still stands solid in my collection and I'm happy I've at least got it on CD, cause it's hard to find. To sweeten the deal, I've chosen to rip my prized 45 for you "The Boys Are Back In Town" / "Emerald" and add them as bonus tracks.
01 Johnny 4:23
02 Rocky 3:41
03 Borderline 4:32
04 Don't Believe A Word 2:18
05 Fool's Gold 3:51
06 Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed 3:42
07 Old Flame 3:08
08 Massacre 2:58
09 Sweet Marie 3:55
10 Boogie Woogie Dance 3:08
11 The Boys Are Back In Town 3:10
12 Emerald 4:02
Thin Lizzy were:
Phil Lynott - Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Lead Vocals
Brian Downey - Drums, Percussion
Brian Robertson - Guitar
Scott Gorham - Lead Guitar
Phil Collins - Additional Percussion
Kim Beacon - Backing Vocals
Thin Lizzy Link (293Mb)