My Playlist: Thin Lizzy

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.

Thin Lizzy with Gary Moore
Thin Lizzy’s 1979 lineup with Gary Moore (from left): Brian Downey, Scott Gorham, Phil Lynott and Moore

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

When Bs Should Have Been As

While I suspect most folks can tell an anecdote where they feel a teacher or professor did them wrong, you probably figured this post isn’t about academic grades, though it is somewhat related to grading. I’m talking about the good old-fashioned single from the last Century. Yep, it’s hard to believe that in the age of online streaming and digital downloads there was once was a time when music artists would release singles on vinyl and people would actually buy them!

The most common format of the vinyl single was the 7-inch 45 rpm, which according to Wikipedia was introduced by RCA Victor in March 1949 as a more durable and higher-fidelity replacement for 78 rpm shellac discs. Historically, singles had an A-side and a B-side, and placing a song on the A-side implied it was better than the tune on the flip side. In December 1965, The Beatles disrupted this tradition when they released the first so-called double-A side: We Can Work It Out and Day Tripper. The 70s saw yet another type called double-B, where you had one song on the A-side and two tunes on the B-side. Also known as maxi singles, the initial format was 7 inches and, starting from the mid-70s, 12 inches.

Do singles even matter you might ask. At the end of the day, it’s all music, so who cares how it’s called. Well, I guess I’m a bit of a music nerd, so I get excited about it. That being said, I never got much into buying 45 rpms myself. In retrospect, that’s a good thing, since the handful I ended up were all pretty awful.  Three I can still remember include I Was Made For Loving You (Kiss), Heart of Glass (Blondie) and How Could This Go Wrong (Exile) – indeed, how could things have gone so wrong? Well, to my defense it was the disco era and, perhaps more significantly, I was like 12 or 13 years old and slightly less mature!:-)

Before I go any further with this post, I have to give credit where credit is due. The initial inspiration for the topic came from a story on Ultimate Classic Rock about B-sides that became big hits. Then I also remembered that fellow blogger Aphoristic Album Reviews has a recurring feature called Great B-sides. Both together made me curious to do some research and there you have it: a playlist of tunes that initially were released as B-sides, which in my opinion would have deserved an A-side placement or perhaps double-A side status. This doesn’t necessarily mean I feel the corresponding A-sides were inferior. With that being said, let’s get to it!

What better artist to kick off a rock playlist than with Mr. Rock & Roll, Chuck Berry. In September 1956, he released Brown Eyed Handsome Man, a single from his debut album After School Session. The B-side was Too Much Monkey Business, which I personally prefer over the A-side. Both tunes were written by Berry. Like many of his songs, Too Much Monkey Business was widely covered by others like The Beatles, The Kinks and The Yardbirds. Naming them all would be, well, too much monkey business!

Another 1950s artist I dig is Buddy Holly, a true rock & roll and guitar pioneer who during his short recording career released such amazing music. Here’s Not Fade Away, the B-side to Oh, Boy!, a single that appeared in October 1957 under the name of Holly’s band The Crickets. Not Fade Away was credited to Charles Hardin, Holly’s real name, and Norman Petty. In February 1964, The Rolling Stones released a great cover of the tune, their first U.S. single and one of their first hits.

In November 1964, Them fronted by 19-year-old Van Morrison released a cover of Baby, Please Don’t Go, a traditional that had first been popularized by delta blues artist Big Joe Williams in 1935. While Them’s take was a great rendition, it was the B-side, Morrison’s Gloria, which became the band’s first hit, peaking at no. 10 on the British singles charts. Following the song’s big success, apparently, Gloria was re-released as a single in 1965, with the garage rocker getting its well-deserved A-side placement. G.L.O.R.I.A., Gloria, G.L.O.R.I.A., Gloria – love this tune!

Another great B-side is I’ll Feel A Lot Better by The Byrds, which they put on the flip side of their second single All I Really Want To Do from June 1965. It was written by founding member Gene Clark, the band’s main writer of original songs between 1964 and early 1966. Like the Bob Dylan tune All I Really Want To Do, I’ll Feel A Lot Better appeared on The Byrds’ debut album Mr. Tambourine Man. I’m a huge fan of Roger McGuinn’s Rickenbacker jingle-jangle guitar sound. Another reason I’ve always liked The Byrds is because of their great harmony singing. It’s the kind of true music craftsmanship you hardly hear any longer these days.

My next selection won’t come as a shock to frequent readers of the blog: I’m The Walrus by The Beatles. Other than the fact that The Fab Four are my all-time favorite band, there’s another valid reason I included them in this playlist. You can file this one under ‘what were they thinking relegating the tune to the B-side and giving the A-side to Hello Goodbye.’ Hello? According to The Beatles Bible, not only was John Lennon’s push to make Walrus the A-side overturned by Paul McCartney and George Martin, who both felt Hello Goodbye would be more commercially successful, but it created real resentment from Lennon. And frankly who can blame him! After the band’s breakup, he complained “I got sick and tired of being Paul’s backup band.” Yes, Hello Goodbye ended up peaking at no. 1 but also as one of the worst Beatles singles!

Next up: Born On The Bayou by Creedence Clearwater Revival, the B-side to Proud Mary, a single released in January 1969. Unlike the previous case, I think this is a great example of two killer tunes that are each A-side material. Written by John Fogerty, both songs appeared on CCR’s second studio album Bayou Country that also came out in January 1969.

In October 1969, Led Zeppelin issued Led Zeppelin II, only nine months after their debut, and one of their best albums, in my opinion. The opening track Whole Lotta Love was released as a single in November that year. The B-side was Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman). It may not be quite on par with Whole Lotta Love, but it sure as heck is an excellent tune with a great riff. The song was co-written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

The Needle And The Damage Done is one of my favorite songs from one of my all-time favorite artists: Neil Young. It became the B-side to Old Man, which Young released as a single in April 1972 off Harvest, his excellent fourth studio album that had appeared in February that year.

Also in April 1972, David Bowie came out with Starman, the lead single from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, his fifth studio album and my favorite Bowie record. The B-side was Suffragette City, a kick-ass glam rocker. Like all tracks on Ziggy Stardust, it was written by Bowie.

Of course, this playlist wouldn’t be complete without featuring a tune from one of my other all-time favorite bands, The Rolling Stones. I decided to go with When The Whip Comes Down, the B-side to Beast Of Burden, which was released as a single in September 1978. As usually co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, both tunes appeared on Some Girls, the Stones’ 14th British and 16th U.S. studio album from June that year. That’s according to Wikipedia – I didn’t count them myself!

Sources: Wikipedia, Ultimate Classic Rock, Radio X, Smooth Radio, Forgotten Hits, The Beatles Bible, YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: January 23

Even though I’ve already done numerous installments for this recurrent feature, many of the 365 dates remain to be explored. Let’s take a look at some of the events on January 23 in rock & roll history.

1956: Cleveland, Ohio banned rock & roll fans under the age of 18 from dancing in public unless accompanied by an adult, after the Ohio police had re-introduced a law dating back to 1931. Music bans rarely work, and there was no way young people could be kept away from rock & roll. Ironically, 27 years later, the very same city saw the founding of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The times they are a-changin’.

50s dance ban

1965: Petula Clark hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with Downtown, the first female singer from the U.K. to reach the top of the U.S. chart since Vera Lynn in 1952. The tune, which peaked at no. 2 in the U.K., was written by Tony Hatch, who also produced it for Clark. The song’s recording session on October 16, 1964 at Pye Studios in London was attended by a popular studio guitarist. His name: Jimmy Page. That same year, his session work also included As Tears Go By (Marianne Faithfull), Heart Of Stone (The Rolling Stones) and Baby, Please Don’t Go (Them), among others.

1969: The Beatles were working at Abbey Road Studios as part of the Get Back/Let It Be sessions. They spent a great deal of time on Get Back, recording an impressive 43 takes of the Paul McCartney tune, none of which was officially released. Their efforts eventually would pay off during their rooftop concert. And, yes, they passed the audition!

1971: George Harrison reached no. 1 on the Official Singles Chart in the U.K. with My Sweet Lord, becoming the first former member of The Beatles to top the charts as a solo artist. The tune appeared on All Things Must Pass, Harrison’s first solo album following the band’s breakup. My Sweet Lord peaked at no. 1 in many other countries as well, including the U.S., Canada and Australia. It also made Harrison the first and only ex-Beatle to find himself embroiled in major copyright infringement litigation. The lawsuit alleged My Sweet Lord plagiarized He’s So Fine, a tune Ronnie Mack had written for The Chiffons, giving them a no. 1 single in the U.S. in 1963. In September 1976, a New York judge ruled that Harrison had “subconsciously copied” Mack’s tune. Subsequent litigation over damages dragged on until 1998.

1976: David Bowie released his 10th studio album Station To Station. It became his highest-charting record in the U.S. during the ’70s, climbing to no. 3 on the Billboard 200. The record also catapulted the Thin White Duke into the top 10 in various other countries, including the U.K. (no. 5), Australia (no. 8), The Netherlands (no. 3), Norway (no. 8) and New Zealand (no. 9). In 2012, Rolling Stone ranked Station To Station at no. 324 on their list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Here’s the closer Wild Is The Wind, which like all tracks was written by Bowie.

1978: Terry Kath, best known as a founding member of Chicago, accidentally shot himself dead. Following a party, he started playing around with guns, held a pistol he thought was empty to his temple and pulled the trigger. The freak accident happened only a few days prior to what would have been his 32nd birthday. Referring to Kath, Jimi Hendrix reportedly once told Chicago’s saxophone player Walter Parazaider that “your guitar player is better than me.” Regardless whether Hendrix meant it or not, there’s no question that Kath was an ace guitarist. Here’s I Don’t Want Your Money, which was co-written by him and Robert Lamm, and appeared on Chicago’s third studio album Chicago III from January 1971.

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day in Music.com, The Beatles Bible, YouTube

Well, If You Ever Plan To Motor West…

Just take my way, it’s the highway, it’s the best…

Get your kicks on Route 66. These lines of course are the beginning of the opening verse from the well-known R&B standard composed by American songwriter Bobby Troup in 1946. Frequent readers of the blog may notice it’s not the first time I write about this tune. So what’s going on here?

To me Route 66 simply is one of the best car songs I know, along with Highway Star, Born To Be Wild (wait, isn’t that from a famous picture about bikers?) and Radar Love, to name a few others. And, yes, I also enjoy driving and believe a road trip is the best way to explore the U.S., even though it sounds so 20th century! Heck, most of the music I like is from that period as well, so I guess I’m living in the wrong century!

Now that my slight obsession with Route 66 and car travel is out of the way, I thought it would be fun to put together a playlist of different versions of the song. The tune has been covered by numerous artists over the decades. In fact, if I would look long enough, it might even be possible to find 66 versions. While perhaps that may be clever, it would be a bit of overkill, even for a Route 66 fan like me. Therefore, I’d like to keep this post to six versions.

Let’s kick things off from the beginning with the first recording of the tune by the King Cole Trio. BTW, the song’s full title is (Get Your Kicks) On Route 66. This first recorded version was released in 1946, some 72 years ago! I love that jazz groove and how relaxed the musicians are playing in this clip. It shows that great music stands the test of time.

Next up is the excellent cover by Chuck Berry. He included it on his fifth studio LP from March 1961 New Juke Box Hits. Unlike many of his other tunes he had released before then, it didn’t become a hit. Neither did the record, which came out while Berry was in legal trouble that led to 1.5 years of incarceration starting in 1962 – not good for PR!

Perhaps one of the best known covers is the version by The Rolling Stones, which appears on both their 1964 UK and US debut records The Rolling Stones and The Rolling Stones (England’s Newest Hit Makers), respectively. Instead, I’m highlighting the 1965 cover by Them from that band’s debut The Angry Young Them. I like this take even better than the Stones, and I say this as a Stones fan. The musicians are giving a killer performance here, including great piano and guitar solos, while Van Morrison’s voice is a bit reminiscent of Mick Jagger. They don’t call him Van the Man for nothing!

Another cool hard-charging cover of Route 66 is by British pub rockers Dr. Feelgood. They included the tune on their 1975 debut Down By The Jetty. I’d go see these guys in a bar!

And how about a largely a cappella version by The Manhattan Transfer? If I see it correctly, the jazz vocal group first recorded Route 66 for their eighth studio album Bop Doo-Wopp, released in 1984. The clip below apparently was captured during a 2008 live performance. There is just something special about a vocal band, particularly if they can sing like these guys!

The last Route 66 cover I’m including here is another nice jazzy version by an unexpected artist: Glenn Frey. I also like the touch of country created by the pedal steel guitar. This version appears on Frey’s final studio album After Hours from May 2012, a collection of tunes from the Great American Songbook. It proves what a versatile artist Frey was. Here’s the official video – makes me want to snip my fingers right along with the groove.

While I understand there is very little left of the Mother Road, one of these years, I’d like to take that California trip from Chicago to LA, more than 2,000 miles all the way – according to Wikipedia, the original Route 66 covered a total of 2,448 miles. Maybe something for my 66th birthday? Okay, I guess I’m starting to overthink it now!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube