Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rocktober Album #13: Thin Lizzy - Jailbreak (1976)

Before 1976, Ireland's Thin Lizzy was not well-known outside of the UK. But that all changed with the release of their sixth studio album, Jailbreak. It was their first album that charted in America, rising as high as #18 on the Billboard album charts, and it was the first of five albums in a row that hit the Top 100 in America.

For anyone looking to get into Thin Lizzy, this is the album I would suggest as the first purchase. Not only does it have the band's two biggest and most-recognizable songs ("The Boys Are Back In Town" and "Jailbreak"), but it features everything that mad the band great: great riffs, lyrics that tell stories, twin lead guitars, and tight rock songs.

In case I haven't mentioned it before, I think Thin Lizzy is one of the most underrated bands in rock and roll history. Phil Lynott – lead singer, bassist, and main songwriter – had a way with words, writing great rock songs with interesting lyrics. The band went through several lineup changes and had several what I would consider classic line-ups, including the line-up on Jailbreak, which, in addition to Lynott, featured Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson on twin lead guitars and Brian Downey on drums. As I've previously noted, Henry Rollins (a huge Thin Lizzy fan) once said, "If you like big rock music with great vocals and tremendous guitar, there's at least five Thin Lizzy albums which you need to run out and get, like right now." This is definitely one of those albums.

Unfortunately, only four songs from the album are on Playlist.com, but in my view, they are the best four songs on the album, so enjoy.

1. Jailbreak
What a great barroom song. The song teems with mischief. The riff is gritty. There are wah-wah pedals in use. The drum breaks invite curiosity. The lyrics are dangerous and a bit dirty. Overall, it's simply a fantastic hard rock song. VH1 rated "Jailbreak" as the 73rd best hard rock song of all-time. I probably would have put it higher, but they didn't ask me.

2. Angel From the Coast
The band keeps the energy going with the second song, "Angel From the Coast," which has kind of a staccato feel to it, which makes some of the more melodic guitar parts stand out.

3. Running Back
Walter Payton had only played one NFL season when this song came out. That's neither here nor there, as this song is apparently not about American football. It's a lighthearted love song, about a guy who plays music for a living, but comes running back to his love. Of course, it doesn't end well. Originally, the song was more bluesy, but, against Brian Robertson's wishes, they brought in a keyboardist to play on the song, which lightened it up and made Robertson unhappy with the finished product. I don't think it's that bad, although I'd like to hear the original version.

4. Romeo and The Lonely Girl
This is another, for sake of a better term, less rocking song. That's not to say it's bad because it's actually quite catchy. It's just more poppy than most of their songs.

5. Warriors
"Warriors" has a dark feel and an edge to it. That's all I got right now.

6. The Boys Are Back In Town
As soon the opening chord is struck, you immediately recognize this song. Far and away the band's most recognizable and successful song (at least in the US, where it went to #12 on the Billboard charts), "The Boys Are Back In Town" is a hard rock classic. It's about guys returning to their hometown from fighting in a war and the resulting celebratory mayhem. It's one of those songs that allows you to plant yourself inside it and view this little world that Lynott created. I love the opening to the first verse after the bridge: "Friday night they'll be dressed to kill / Down and Dino's bar and grill / Drink will flow and blood will spill / And if the boys wanna fight, you better let 'em." And of course, the twin guitar solo is a trademark.

7. Fight or Fall
This is another slower song with kind of a soul feel to it. I'm not a huge fan, but that's okay.

8. Cowboy Song
How a half-black Irishman could capture the spirit of the American old west so well is beyond me, but that's why Phil Lynott was such a great songwriter. If you didn't know any better, you would think he was from Texas when you heard this song about coyotes howling, busting broncs, and Southern girls. Regardless, this is a great rock song. It starts off slow and a cappella, then kicks into gear. Lynott wails. There is a great guitar solo.

9. Emerald
This song was the only one on the album written by all four members of the band, and it is nice and ballsy. The guitars really crank on this one, and Lynott seems to snarl most of the lyrics. The song is about an army plundering a foreign land and killing its inhabitants in search of "the Emerald." One can only assume it's about what the English did to Ireland.

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