Irish hard rock legends Thin Lizzy, who are the subject of this week’s Behind The Music: Remastered, were true badasses whose tomes of fighting and hard living were matched in real time brawls and drug abuse. And like all true tough guys beneath the rough exterior lay a sensitive heart, that of bass-wielding frontman Phil Lynott, one of rock’s most thoughtful and sophisticated song-writers.
Their driving songs featured some of the ’70s greatest guitarists weaving twin-leads around his story-songs and tales of doomed heroes and lovers. Casual listeners may only know their anthem, “The Boys Are Back In Town,” but their hardcore fans are legion and their popularity as hard rock icons is as strong as ever despite Lynott’s death in 1986. Here are 10 Crucial Moments in Thin Lizzy History.
Watch Behind The Music Remastered: Thin Lizzy on VH1 Classic.
10. Fighting Album
Often overshadowed by the following year’s Jailbreak LP, Fighting is nearly as good and is the first true musical representation of the band. It’s all there, Brain Robertson and Scott Gorham’s guitars dancing around Phil Lynott’s tales of wild ones and hardmen. And the material perfectly fit the band themselves, who were known to get into their fair share of scraps and prove that their tough guy image wasn’t a put on.
9. John Sykes & Lizzy’s Last Stand
By 1982 Thin Lizzy’s fortunes were waning thanks to years of hard living and changing musical trends though the entrance of young Tygers Of Pan Tang guitarist John Sykes gave them a crucial shot in the arm, no pun intended. The resulting final album, 1982’s Thunder and Lightning, was their strongest and most successful in years and proved that like the mythical Celtic hero Cuchulainn, Thin Lizzy would fight until the end.
In 1996 Thin Lizzy members Scott Gorham and Brian Downey and John Sykes gathered once again to pay tribute to the life and work of Phil Lynott and reunite the band. The ensuing tours were well received and resulted in the live album One Night Only. Though Sykes has since left to concentrate on his own music, the group continues to tour with new singer Ricky Warwick and recently recorded an album of new material under the name Black Star Riders.
7. Gary Moore Joins The Lizzy
For years Belfast blues shredder Gary Moore had filled in for his buddy Phil’s band every time one of his regular guitarists went missing or ended up in jail, but when Brian Robertson left for good in 1978 he became a fully fledged member of the Lizzy gang. The pairing wouldn’t last but did produce one of their best records, 1979’s Black Rose: A Rock Legend, and some legendary live shows. Though no longer bandmates, Gary and Phil remained friends with Lynott singing on Moore’s signature tune “Parisienne Walkways.”
You know you’re a true rock legend when they erect a life-size bronze statue of you in the middle of a major European city. Thin Lizzy frontman and guiding light Phil Lynott may have died in 1986 but his visage lives on in Dublin where the Lizzy faithful make the pilgrimage to see the “The Ace with the Bass,” as the statue is known to locals, and pay homage at his nearby grave.
5. Live And Dangerous Double LP
The double live album was an essential part of 70s rock culture and commerce. But where other bands pushed the limits of your attention span with album-side length jams, 1978’s Live And Dangerous was a 17-song blitzkrieg of Lizzy’s best delivered with energy and precision. Also priceless was Lynott’s between song banter including his charming and lecherous line “Is there anybody here with any Irish in them? Is there any of the girls who’d like a little more Irish in them?”
4. “The Boys Are Back In Town”
With its tales of barroom bravado and male bonding, this classic rock radio staple is the ultimate bro-down anthem and Lizzy’s most well known song. Is it about Phil Lynott’s beloved Manchester United soccer team or the band itself? Who cares. What matters is its surging chorus sounds great when 17,000 sports fans are singing along to it at a game.
3. Two Guitarist Are Better Than One
When founding guitarist Eric Bell left the group in the early ’70s, Lynott and drummer Brian Downey decided to borrow a page from the Allman Brothers and fill his slot with not one but two wailing lead guitarists, Scottish hot head Brian “Robbo” Robertson and California pretty boy Scott Gorham. Their alternately singing and stinging harmonized guitars became the group’s sonic signature and were a major influence on future hard rock and heavy metal bands.
2. “Whiskey In The Jar”
This cover of a 17th century Gaelic folk song was Thin Lizzy’s first hit record and effectively put the band and Irish rock on the map. Released as a non-LP single in 1972, its rise up the UK charts annoyed the group who felt it didn’t represent their true sound. Metallica’s near note for note cover 25 years later earned them a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance.
1. Jailbreak LP
Jailbreak is arguably the definitive Thin Lizzy album. They produced great records before and after its release, but the LP codified everything that made them great; the blend of hard rockers and thoughtful ballads, great songwriting and lyrics and excellent musicianship. It contains their biggest hit, “The Boys Are Back In Town,” and fan favorites such as the title track and “Cowboy Song” but deep cuts like “Angel From The Coast” and “Runnin’ Back” are just as good. The international popularity and long-term success of “The Boys Are Back In Town” cemented Jailbreak’s reputation as one of rock’s classic albums and Thin Lizzy as one of hard rock’s greatest bands.
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