While I wouldn’t call myself an all-out Thin Lizzy fan, I dig many of the Irish rock band’s songs I know and definitely feel they would have deserved getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Also, how many rock bands can you name that were fronted by a kick-ass black bassist and lead vocalist? Wikipedia calls Phil Lynott the “first black Irishman to achieve commercial success in the field of rock music.” While I’m not sure how many other black rock artists come from Ireland, Thin Lizzy were more than just a multi-cultural band. They also transcended religious division, featuring both Catholic and Protestant members during the period of the Northern Ireland conflict. Before getting to some of Thin Lizzy’s music, a few words about their history are in order.
Thin Lizzy were founded in December 1969, when former Them members guitarist Eric Bell and keyboard player Eric Wrixon met drummer Brian Downey and vocalist and songwriter Phil Lynott in a Dublin pub. Downey and Lynott were performing there with their band Orphanage. Wrixon exited before Thin Lizzy released their debut single The Farmer. After the band (then a trio) had signed with Decca Records at the end of 1970, they recorded their eponymous debut album that appeared in April 1971. Subsequently, except for Lynott and Downey, the band had many different members that notably included guitarist Gary Moore from 1974 to 1977 and 1978 to 1979.
In November 1972, Thin Lizzy scored their first hit with the non-album single Whiskey in the Jar, an Irish traditional song that had first been popularized in 1968 by Irish folk band The Dubliners. I still remember that song received a good deal of radio play in Germany during the ’70s and for a long time was the only Thin Lizzy tune I knew. After their initial success, the band lost momentum, and it took them three more years to have their first charting album in the UK, Fighting, released in September 1975. The follow-on Jailbreak from March 1976 finally brought commercial breakthrough and chart success in both the U.K. and the U.S. where the album peaked at no. 18 on the Billboard 200.
Until their breakup in August 1983, Thin Lizzy recorded six more studio albums. Lynott who had released two solo records in 1980 and 1982 went on to form rock band Grand Slam. They didn’t manage to secure a recording contract and folded in late 1984. On January 4, 1986, Lynott passed away at the age of 36 from pneumonia and heart failure due to septicemia. In 1996, John Sykes, one of the guitarists in Thin Lizzy’s final lineup, decided to revive the band as a tribute. They conducted various tours over the years until Sykes’ departure in June 2009. Shortly thereafter, Scott Gorham who had played guitar with Thin Lizzy since 1974, started putting together another lineup. In 2012, Thin Lizzy offspring Black Star Riders was formed to record new material. Thin Lizzy has continued to gig occasionally, most recently last summer. Time for some music!
Let’s kick it off with Whiskey in the Jar. The song’s great twin lead guitar parts were one of the features that attracted me to Thin Lizzy. I still dig that sound. Apparently, the band wasn’t happy about Decca’s release of their cover of the tune, feeling it did not represent their sound.
Here’s a nice rocker appropriately titled The Rocker. Co-written by Bell, Downey and Lynott, the song was included on Vagabonds of the Western World, Thin Lizzy’s third studio album that came out in November 1973 in the wake of the Whiskey in the Jar single. Unlike that tune, The Rocker only charted in Ireland where it went to no. 14.
Next up: Rosalie, the great opener to Thin Lizzy’s fifth studio album Fighting. The track was written by Bob Seger who first recorded it on his 1973 album Back in ’72.
The follow-on album Jailbreak became Thin Lizzy’s best-selling record and also their highest-charting in the U.S. Undoubtedly, that performance was fueled by the classic The Boys Are Back in Town, which remain a staple on classic rock rock to this day. Written by Lynott, the band’s most successful single is another beautiful example of their seductive twin lead guitar sound.
The soulful Dancing in the Moonlight (It’s Caught Me in Its Spotlight) is another Lynott tune I dig. It appeared on Thin Lizzy’s eighth studio album Bad Reputation from September 1977. The saxophone part was played by Supertramp saxophonist John Helliwell. Call me crazy, I can hear some influence from Irish fellow artist Van Morrison.
Black Rose: A Rock Legend, released in April 1979, was the only Thin Lizzy album featuring Gary Moore despite his two stints with the band. Here’s opener and lead single Waiting for an Alibi written by Lynott. I like the tune’s driving bass line, and these twin lead guitar parts never get boring. It became one of the band’s most successful singles, reaching no. 9 in the UK and no. 6 in Ireland.
How about two more songs? First is Killer on the Loose, another Lynott composition released in September 1980, just ahead of Thin Lizzy’s 10th studio album Chinatown that appeared the following month. Perhaps not surprisingly, the song’s lyrics and video, in which Lynott took the persona of a Jack-the-Ripper-type serial killer, created controversy. It probably didn’t help that the single coincided with a string of murders by an English serial killer called the Yorkshire Ripper. But one thing is for sure – chart performance didn’t suffer. The band scored another top 10 hit in the UK and a no. 5 in Ireland.
The last tune I’d like to call out is Cold Sweat. Co-written by Lynott and Lizzy guitarist John Sykes, it was included in the band’s final studio record Thunder and Lightning from March 1983. Here’s a clip from Thin Lizzy’s supporting farewell tour.
Sources: Wikipedia; Thin Lizzy website; YouTube