June 11th 2012 marks the re-release of 6 classic Thin Lizzy studio albums in box set form. All were originally put out by Vertigo between 1974 – 1979 but the box set will be out on Mercury Records via Universal Music.
Thin Lizzy were formed in Dublin 1969. Two of the founding members, Phil Lynott and Brian Downey met while still in school. The band came to be when ex – Them members guitarist Eric Bell and organist Eric Wrixon went to watch an Orphanage gig, a band featuring Brian and Phil. After the show they approached them to forming a band together and the first incarnation of Thin Lizzy came to be. Eric Wrixon left in 1970 and Eric Bell in 1973 due to ill health and frustration over poor sales of Lizzy’s first 3 studio albums.
Released on Nov.8th 1974, Nightlife was the first studio album to feature the legendary twin guitar work of Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham following the departure of Eric Bell. Main production was done by Ron Nevison for whom the band blamed his soft production for Nightlife not making it into the UK album charts. Their first 3 releases did not either but the newer material was expected to change their fortunes.
Album opener, She Knows’ gentle guitar strum intro segues into Phil Lynott’s laid back vocals which have a “swing” like feel to them as the guitars weave in and out of his words. Next up is the title track, again Phil delivers sedately, almost Broadway style over jazzy guitar chords and dare i say it, a country and western picking style guitar solo backed up by orchestral strings. Its Only Money hints at the first signs of the dual guitars of Brian and Scott as the riff kicks in with some inspired drumming by Brian Downey, still in the band to this very day. The version of Still In Love With You on Nightlife differs with the more well known version on Live And Dangerous with a different tempo and vocal delivery by Phil who is helped out on backing vocals by Frankie Miller with the main guitar solo played by Gary Moore who had briefly played live and recorded with Lizzy in 1974. In complete contrast, the stripped down song Frankie Carroll follows, a heartbreaking piano/string led number portraying alcohol fuelled domestic violence. Showdown is the first highlight of the album for me as Phil’s funky bass intro precedes chiming guitars, Phils’s vocals introducing a character called Johnny who would later feature on the Johnny The Fox album. The chorus features female backing vocals, adding soulful texture. A big riff and guitar solo midway then see the pace pick up with Phil’s driving bass and an awesome guitar solo closing the song. A beautiful instrumental follows, at only 90 seconds long Banshee seems way too short to enjoy the melodies. Philomena is dedicated to Phil’s mother with more beautiful guitar melodies to open with as Phil delivers in a heavy Irish brogue. The riff that flows through the song is bolstered by snappy militaristic drumming by Brian Downey. A very personal song for Phil highlighted by the lyrics. For example, “If you see my mother, give her all of my love, for she has a heart of gold there, as good as God above “. Sha La La, even though it has some of the best guitar work on the album is overshadowed by the pounding drumwork. Even the subdued production cant hold them back and they sound as colossal as the version off the Live And Dangerous album. Album closer Dear Heart brings the mood right down, a ballad of love lost with a beautiful guitar solo, piano and violins to end it.
Produced by Phil Lynott, the Fighting album, released Sep.12th 1975 was the first Thin Lizzy to dent the UK album charts albeit only reaching #60. A very strong album, 2 songs from which, Rosalie and Suicide, featured on the Live And Dangerous double album. Rosalie,the Bob Seger penned number opens up, sounding less manic than the live version. Slower in tempo, still with big guitars but including piano touches and backing vocals from the quirky style of Roger Chapman from Family. For Those Who Love To Live is not up to Lizzy’s usual standard, sounding like an early version of Dancing In The Moonlight but it is saved by some stunning dual guitar passages and solos. Suicide is a welcome return to form and is still played in the current set. The heavy but catchy riff is followed by a lengthy instrumental break with a wah wah solo before both guitars compete until the finish. It was originally written in 1973 but had the title Baby’s Been Messing. Another twin guitar intro for Wild One is followed by Phil’s almost like a croon like delivery over a single strumming guitar, the song ending with twin guitar solos. The improved production on Fighting makes the riff of Fighting My Way Back stand out over a determined lyric telling the tale of alcoholism. The misleading gentle intro to King’s Vengeance is followed by more big guitar riffs running throughout beside gentler passages with double tracked Lynott vocals with the obligatory twin guitars soloing. Spirit Slips Away is the darkest song on Fighting, its brooding riff announcing Phil’s morose vocals with haunting guitar solos, the song sounding like a slower Angel Of Death. In complete contrast, the more upbeat Silver Dollar has a bar room boogie beat with added piano by Ian McLagan from The Faces. Freedom Song continues in the same vein, Lynott’s lyrics telling of a man wrongly hanged with more dual guitar histrionics. Album closer Ballad Of A Hard Man doesnt do what the title says as the rolling guitar riff and rhythm section make it the heaviest track on the album!
A vast improvement in songwriting for Jailbreak, produced by John Alcock and released on March 26th 1976, saw the album reach #10 in the UK album charts and 5 out of the 9 songs on the album were included on the Live And Dangerous double live album. One of which, The Boys Are Back In Town came to be one of Lizzy’s most famous numbers!
As album openers go, you cannot get a much better start than the title track. The production is top notch as the crunching riffs of Jailbreak storm in as Phil delivers the opening line ” Tonight there’s gonna be a jailbreak, somewhere in this town, see me and the boys we don’t like it, we’re getting up and going down “. The riff breakdown and sirens midway suggest a guitar solo is on the way but strangely enough, the track does not have one! Angel Of The Coast follows, an upbeat catchy number driven by chopping guitars and snapping Brian Downey drums. Running Back runs along with what sounds like a keyboard playing the main riff over jazzy guitar chords and even some doo-wop handclaps and saxophone are thrown in. A real feel good number! Romeo And The Lonely Girl’s fine Phil vocal and razor sharp guitar solo take a back seat to yet more awesome Brian Downey drumming. More huge riffs begin Warriors and once again the production makes it sound even heavier than the version on Live And Dangerous. An o.t.t wah wah solo follows a classic Lynott lyric of ” So fate will have to wait, till time heals the scar, see my heart is ruled by Venus, my head by Mars “. The Boys Are Back In Town starts with THAT riff leading into THAT chorus. The ultimate song to merge rock with commercial appeal as it reached #8 in the UK singles chart. In complete contrast, Fight Or Fall has almost whispered vocals with washes of guitar over them with a laidback guitar solo midway. The opening lyric of ” I am just a cowboy, lonesome on the trail, the starry night, the campfire light. The coyote call and the howling winds wail, so i ride out to the old sundown ” can only mean one thing, the classic Cowboy Song. Personally i prefer the studio version as the guitars cut like a knife on the leads and harmonies. Album closer Emerald sees Lizzy firing on all cylinders as Brian Downey’s cymbal/snare intro leads into Phil’s call to arms vocal before the main riff kicks in followed by the speaker to speaker solos with Phil’s bass bobbing away behind them. A live classic from then till today.
Again produced by John Alcock, Johnny The Fox reached an impressive #11 in the UK album charts considering the writing process for it. Phil Lynott wrote some of the material in hospital on an acoustic guitar while recovering from hepatitis. It was also the last Lizzy studio album that Brian Robertson would be fully involved with after arguments arose from a bar fight which resulted in an artery/nerve in his hand being damaged, rendering him unable to play for several months.
Johnny, the opening song sees the character of the same name, (featured on Nightlife) returning as Phil tells his tale of a life of crime over a chugging riff with a horn backing section, a tasty wah wah guitar solo and inventive drum patterns by Brian Downey. Rocky follows, a tale of ” Cocky Rocky, the rock and roll star ” which was allegedly wrote about the attitude of Brian Robertson. Not a classic Lizzy song but some raucous guitar work and drums save it. Borderline has a Lynyrd Skynyrd feel to it. The acoustic intro and crashing chords around the vocal telling the tale of a troubled relationship from a bar as the song’s character drowns his sorrows while being ” Back on the borderline one more time “. Another classic Lizzy single release is next, reaching #12 in the UK singles chart, Don’t Believe A Word is a tongue in cheek rocker with a searing wah wah guitar solo midway. The spoken intro of Fool’s Gold portrays the Irish potato famine from 1845-52 when many sailed to America to try a new life by gold prospecting, the pleading vocals highlighting the struggle and the chorus of ” Fool’s gold ” backed by twin guitar chords. Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed sees the character Johnny in a gangland power struggle, the story told over a slow boogie shuffle. Old Flame is a bluesy tale of lost with a shimmering guitar solo. Massacre, a tale of wasted wartime lives also on the Live And Dangerous live album, is a heavy number with duelling guitars, aggressive bass runs and some serious pounding from Brian Downey. The tempo drops again for the lilting ballad Sweet Marie with added sitar and strings within the melancholy guitars. Album closer Boogie Woogie Dance is an uptempo rocker and sounds a lot better than the title.
Considering the growing friction between Phil Lynott and Brian Robertson, its surprising how strong an album Bad Reputation turned out and it is still my favourite Lizzy album. Due to Brian’s lack of input to the album as a result of a badly gashed hand, only Phil, Scott and Brian feature on the front cover as Brian only played on 3 of the 9 tracks. The album was produced by Tony Visconti who brought Phil’s bass higher into the final mix and it reached #4 in the UK album charts after being released on Sept.2nd 1977. Ultimately, Brian left the band in July 1978, replaced yet again by Gary Moore for live dates.
Soldier Of Fortune, album opener is another stone cold classic. Brian Downey’s crashing gong is followed by Phil’s opening lyric ” A soldier of fortune came home from war and wondered what he was fighting for “. The guitars come in like tolling bells then switch to the main riff then stabbing during the verses, a brief solo leads to a marching drum beat then back to the main riff. Possibly one of Lizzy’s finest moments! Bad Reputation is almost a drum showcase for Brian Downey as he sets his stall out from the opening beat. The song is a fine example of Phil’s bass playing as he competes with the driving guitars. Opium Trail’s trippy vocals match the subject matter of the song. An uptempo beat from Brian courses through the guitar riffs with Phil’s bass shining through yet again. The jawdropping guitars on Southbound are one of the many highlights on this timeless rock ballad as Phil sings over them ” New horizons will appear, oh i’m going South from here. Without a word, without a sound, i’ve got to leave this ghost town “. The unmistakable bass and clicked finger intro brings forth Dancing In The Moonlight with added saxophone throughout from John Helliwell. When it was played live on this tour, Graham Parker from support band The Rumour took over. Funky bass riffs and melodic guitar solos took the song to #14 in the UK singles charts. The raunchy riffs of Killer Without A Cause add the metal to another gangster inspired rocker as the lyric goes ” He’s a killer without a cause, now’s the time to settle scores “. Downtown Sundown is so laid back it’s almost horizontal! A lazy number with Phil’s double tracked vocals smoothing over his insistent bass lines with a saxophone wailing away in the background, only brought back to life by the guitar solos. The band all play the same riff for the intro and chorus to That Woman’s Gonna Break Your Heart whereas the verses have breezy riffs to them. Another song for the broken hearted. Final track is a bit of a curio. A minute’s guitar noodling leads into the spacey Dear Lord with Phil seemingly asking for absolution, ” Dear Lord, this is a prayer, just let me know if your really there “.
With the Black Rose album, a new era of Thin Lizzy began as out went Brian Robertson and in came Gary Moore . Black Rose was to be the only full length studio album he played on but he certainly left his mark. Renowned for his lightning speed, he was also a gifted blues guitarist. Black Rose was Lizzy’s highest charting studio album. Released on April 13th 1979 and again produced by Tony Visconti, it reached #2 in the UK album charts.
Black Rose is probably Lizzy’s heaviest album but also spawned 3 singles that made it in the UK charts first of which is album opener, Do Anything You Want To which got to #14. Timpani drum beats give way to rocking twin guitar flurries with some of Phil Lynott’s best wordplay, ” People that despise you, will analyze and criticize you, they’ll scandalize and tell lies until they realize you, are somebody they should of apologized to “. Toughest Street In Town sees Phil’s gangster story telling come to the fore again in this storming rocker with solos to match. The bass driven S&M with reggae chops from the guitars alongside plenty of double entendres in lyrics like ” This customer was shady, he kept a rubber hose, he liked to beat the ladies, there’s nothing wrong with that i suppose “. The gambling addiction subject of Waiting For An Alibi gave Lizzy their highest charting single from the album, peaking at #9 in the UK. Another commercial rocker with twin guitar melodies everywhere. Third and final single from the album is Sarah, wrote by Phil for his then newborn daughter, his bass in time with his personal heartfelt vocals, lilting guitars and guest Huey Lewis adding touches of harmonica. This was the second version of Sarah wrote by Phil as he dedicated the first version on the Shades Of A Blue Orphanage album to his grandmother who shared the same name. Recording sessions of Black Rose were marred by Phil and Scott’s drug problems, prompting the writing of Got To Give It Up by Phil. The poignant intro of ” I’ve got to give it up, I’ve got to give it up, that stuff, that stuff ” followed by a driving rhythm with the next vocal being ” Tell my momma and tell my pa, that their fine young son didn’t get too far “. Get Out Of Here, co written with Midge Ure is another number showing the aggression since Gary Moore joined the band with Phil’s double tracked call and response vocals calling the shots. With Love is a signature Lizzy rock ballad, the riff at the start eases into heart wrenching lead breaks over Phil’s pleading vocal with Huey Lewis again on harmonica and ex Rainbow member Jimmy Bain on bass. Album closer and fan favourite is Roisin Dubh (Black Rose), A Rock Legend. It is hard to explain the emotion in this seven minute epic as the majestic riff is followed by Phil’s opening historical couplet, ” Tell me the legends of long ago, when the kings and queens danced in the realm’s of the black rose, play me their melodies i want to know, so i can teach my children oh “. After the next few verses, the highlight of the song follows as a segment featuring excerpts from Shenandoah, Will You Go Lassie Go, Danny Boy and The Mason’s Apron come and go before the guitar duel between Gary Moore and Scott Gorham is followed by the end part of the song driven by the opening riff. For many years Gary and Phil argued over who wrote what in the instrumental part of the song which is a great shame as both are no longer with us but at least they left a fitting legacy with this song!
Nightlife album track listing :-
It’s Only Money.
Still In Love With You.
Sha La La.
Fighting album track listing :-
For Those Who Love To Live.
Fighting My Way Back.
Spirit Slips Away.
Ballad Of A Hard Man.
Jailbreak album track listing :-
Angel From The Coast.
Romeo And The Lonely Girl.
The Boys Are Back In Town.
Fight Or Fall.
Johnny The Fox album track listing :-
Don’t Believe A Word.
Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed.
Boogie Woogie Dance.
Bad Reputation album track listing :-
Soldier Of Fortune.
Dancing In The Moonlight.
Killer Without A Cause.
That Woman’s Gonna Break Your Heart.
Black Rose album track listing :-
Do Anything You Want To.
Toughest Street In Town.
Waiting For An Alibi.
Got To Give It Up.
Get Out Of Here.
Roisin Dubh (Black Rose), A Rock Legend.
Thin Lizzy band line up for first five albums :-
Phil Lynott- Vocals/Bass.
Brian Downey- Drums.
Scott Gorham- Guitars.
Brian Robertson- Guitars.
Thin Lizzy band line up for Black Rose album :-
Phil Lynott- Vocals/Bass.
Brian Downey- Drums.
Scott Gorham- Guitars.
Gary Moore- Guitars.
I award the Nightlife, Jailbreak and Johnny The Fox albums 8/10. The Jailbreak album 9/10 and the Bad Reputation and Black Rose albums 10/10.