Hailing from Dublin, Ireland and best known for their classic rock anthem "The Boys Are Back In Town," Thin Lizzy has a loyal & passionate fan base, but at the same time they are one of the most overlooked and underrated bands in rock history. Thin Lizzy left behind a catalog of music that spans 12 studio albums from 1971 to 1983. Led by charismatic singer, bassist and chief songwriter Phil Lynott, Thin Lizzy definitely left their mark on the music world, but they should have been huge.
I thought I would take a quick look at the five albums that I think best tell the story of Thin Lizzy and give those who are just casually familiar with their music a reason to look deeper.
1. Thin Lizzy (1971)
The Irish rockers first album was released in April of 1971. The band was a trio at this point with Phil Lynott on bass & lead vocals, Brian Downey on drums, and Eric Bell on guitar. Many die-hard Thin Lizzy fans site this record as one of their best....if not their best, but it is only a glimpse of what the band would eventually become. The album is deeply rooted in heavy blues- rock and it would take a few more records before Thin Lizzy would develop their own signature sound. Several great tracks are on the record, including "Honesty Is No Excuse" which was recently covered by Aimee Mann's new band The Both. This line up of Thin Lizzy would record two more records and scored their first major hit with a rock version of the traditional Irish song "Whiskey In The Jar." Phil Lynott was very proud of his Irish heritage and it can be heard in his early lyrics, most notably in a non-album track from this period entitled "Dublin," Although not loaded with the "hits," Thin Lizzy's debut album is essential listening.
2. Fighting (1975)
Guitarist Eric Bell left Thin Lizzy at the end of 1973 due to health issues and was briefly replaced by Gary Moore. After Gary Moore left, Phil Lynott decided to expand the band to two guitars: eventually Brian Robertson & Scott Gorham joined and this would become what is considered to be the classic line-up of Thin Lizzy. This line-up's first album was 1974's "Nightlife" but the band really began to hit their stride with the following years' "Fighting." "Fighting" begins with an amped-up version of Bob Seger's "Rosalie" and also features some of the bands strongest material to date, including "Suicide," "Wild One," "Fighting My Way Back," "Freedom Song" and "For Those Who Love To Live". The twin guitar harmony sound that the band is known for began with this record and Phil Lynott's poetic lyrics took a leap forward. With "Fighting" Thin Lizzy finally nailed down their own unique sound and in some ways this album feels like a proper debut album.
3. Jailbreak (1976)
1976's "Jailbreak" became the band's international breakthrough album and would forever cement their place in the history of rock music. "Jailbreak" blends all the elements that make Thin Lizzy special and presents them flawlessly. The album plays like a greatest hits album, not a bad song in the bunch. "The Boys Are Back In Town" became the band's biggest hit and propelled them to arena rock status. The album also features other Thin Lizzy classics, including the title track, along with "The Cowboy Song" and "Emerald." Unfortunately the band was not able to fully capitalize on the success of "Jailbreak" and its follow-up "Johnny The Fox" as they had to cancel tours due to Phil Lynott's poor health. And to make matters worse, Brian Robertson suffered a hand injury preventing him from playing for a time too. Guitarist Gary Moore was brought in and the band would tour the States with Queen at the beginning of 1977. Robertson would eventually return to the band on a limited basis and the classic Thin Lizzy line- up would release one last studio album - "Bad Reputation" - before officially splitting with Robertson for good. The band would never match the success of "Jailbreak" but continued to tour and made several more great albums along the way.
4. Black Rose: A Rock Legend (1979)
I would hate to pick just one Thin Lizzy album to own, but if it came down to that I would choose "Black Rose: A Rock Legend" over any of them. By 1979 guitarist Gary Moore had become an official member of the band and "Black Rose" was the first time he was completely involved with a Thin Lizzy record. Gary's presence on this project is evident and made for a very exciting return to form for the band. Opening with pounding drums and Thin Lizzy's signature dual lead guitars, "Do Anything You Want To" begins "Black Rose" in grand fashion. Next up, another classic Thin Lizzy tune "Toughest Street In Town" featuring great soloing from Moore and Gorham. By this time Phil Lynott's lyrics had mostly moved away from his earlier Celtic flavored themes and became much more personal. One of his more personal songs on this record is "My Sarah" which was written for his daughter and the second song he had written with the name Sarah in the title. The first was "Sarah": written for Lynott's grandmother, which appeared on Thin Lizzy's second album - "Shades of a Blue Orphanage." With Lynott's health issues & drug/alcohol use very public the song "Got To Give It Up" hits very close to home, it's almost like self-intervention. Other highlights include "Waiting On An Alibi," "Get Out Of Here," "With Love," and the epic closing track "Roisin Dubh (Black Rose): A Rock Legend," which harkens back to Lynott's love of Celtic themes and is one of Thin Lizzy's most majestic-sounding tunes. This is the first Thin Lizzy album I ever owned and if any of their albums deserves five stars it is this one.
5. Thunder and Lightning (1983)
"Thunder and Lightning" is the final studio record from Thin Lizzy and the only one to feature guitarist John Sykes. Sykes joined the band after most of the material had been written for the record and replaced guitarist Snowy White, who had replaced Gary Moore in 1980. Most fans consider this to be Thin Lizzy's heavy-metal record and that is mainly because of Sykes' guitar style. Thin Lizzy had expanded to a five piece by this time with the addition of keyboard player Darren Wharton, who had joined on the previous year's "Renegade" album. Heavy on soaring guitar solos and well-written melodic songs "Thunder and Lightning" ends Thin Lizzy's recording history on a high note. Stand out tracks include "Cold Sweat," "This Is The One," "The Holy War," "Baby Please Don't Go," "Bad Habits," and of course the title track. The band would embark on a farewell tour after the album's release and went their separate ways by the end of 1983. Sadly, not long after the final tour, Phil Lynott became very ill from years of drug & alcohol abuse and died at the age of 36, in January of 1986. Lynott had hoped to do one more Thin Lizzy record and even had booked studio time for the project. It wasn't meant to be. "Thunder and Lightning" would be the final chapter.
Check out the YouTube links below for some of my favorite Thin Lizzy tunes from the records above. Also check out the link for the Thin Lizzy "Behind The Music" episode, very sad and one of the best in the series.
Once Colin G. gets Cheap Trick inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I may have to persuade him to start a new band: "Why Isn't Thin Lizzy In The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame" has a nice ring to it......
Scott Carr is a guitarist who plays in the Columbus, OH bands Radio Tramps and Returning April. Scott is also an avid collector of vinyl records and works at Lost Weekend Records. So...if you are looking for Scott....you'll either find him in a dimly lit bar playing his guitar or in a record store digging for the holy grail.