Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Tuesday Top Ten: Thin Lizzy Studio Albums

As I'm nearly done with the Thin Lizzy biography I'm reading, I thought I would pay homage to Ireland's greatest rock band.

I didn't truly discovery Thin Lizzy until 2006, thanks in large part to Def Leppard's cover of "Don't Believe a Word" on their covers album, Yeah!  The song was great, so I checked out the original, liked what I heard, and checked out more Thin Lizzy and continued to like what I hear.  How had this band not been huge?

Thin Lizzy is a criminally underrated band.  Most people only know "The Boys Are Back In Town" and maybe "Jailbreak" –- both of which are fantastic songs –- but I'm guessing the vast majority of those of you reading this didn't realize that the band wasn't a two-hit wonder.  Between 1971 and 1983, the band released twelve studio albums, and they were wildly popular in the UK and their native Ireland.  Due to some bad luck (ill-timed illnesses and injuries, forcing U.S. tour cancellations), the band never caught on as much as they should have in America. 

Had lead singer and bassist Phil Lyontt not died in 1986 (several years after the band broke up), from the book I'm reading, it seems like the band may have gotten back together.  If that had happened, I see no reason why Thin Lizzy couldn't have enjoyed the same successes as the Scorpions -- European band with a great hard rock catalog in the '70s, who then burst into international stardom in the '80s.

Starting as a trio, with Phil Lynott on bass and vocals, Eric Bell on guitar, and Brian Downey on drums, the band had some mild success in Ireland and the UK in the early '70s.  Lynott's songwriting was excellent from the start.  He creates worlds and characters like Springsteen, drawing you into both his imagination and his reality, depending on the song.

Bell left after the third album and was replaced by two guitarists:  Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson.  With that, "the Thin Lizzy sound" was born, with Gorham and Robertson playing twin lead guitars, rather than the traditional one-lead-and-one-rhythm-guitarist structure.  While they were certainly not the first group to have twin lead guitars, they were the first hard rock group to do so, and I think those twin lead harmonies are more synonymous with Thin Lizzy than any other band that has had twin leads.

Guitarist Gary Moore floated in and out of the band several times, but never became an official member until the late '70s when he replaced Robertson, and even then, he only lasted one album.  His successor, Snowy White –- who, incidentally, did not do drugs, belying his name –- didn't fare much better, lasting only two albums before being quitting and being replaced by John Sykes, who played on the band's final album before joining Whitesnake.

I decided to rank all twelve of the band's studio albums, which I've listed below, along with the year the album came out, who played on each album, and YouTube clips with my two favorite songs from each album.  Go forth and discover Thin Lizzy if you haven't already.  As 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." 

Personnel:  Lynott (bass and vocals), Gorham (guitar), Robertson (guitar), Downey (drums)
This was Thin Lizzy's first album with the band's "classic" lineup, with Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson on twin lead guitar, but you wouldn't know it if you heard it.  This is a very mellow record compared to the rest of the band's catalog (and some songs almost have a loungey feel), and even the band members have expressed their displeasure with the album.  It does have a few gems, like Lizzy live staples "Sha La La" and "Still in Love With You," as well as a nice little instrumental called "Banshee" that foreshadows the twin guitar harmonies to come.  Overall, however, it's my least favorite Thin Lizzy album.
Two favorite songs:
"Sha La La"
"It's Only Money"

Personnel:  Lynott (bass and vocals), Bell (guitar), Downey (drums)
The band's debut album features some more bluesy, funky, and folk rock songs, with some lingering remnants of psychedelia mixed in.  There are also hints and flashes of hard rock, indicating the direction the band would eventually take.  The version of the album I have contains bonus songs from the band's New Day EP, which includes my favorite two songs from the album I own.  I realize that's kind of cheating, but to the extent you're going to purchase any of these albums, you're most likely going to buy the remastered ones with bonus songs.
Two favorite songs:
"Things Ain't Working Out Down At The Farm"
"Remembering Part 2 (New Day)"

Personnel:  Lynott (bass and vocals), Bell (guitar), Downey (drums)
With their second album -- named after the band members' previous band names (Shades and Blue Orphanage) –- the band continued to improve, getting a little harder with their sound, even if the album is a little incohesive.
Two favorite songs:
"Baby Face"
"Call The Police"

Personnel:  Lynott (bass and vocals), Gorham (guitar), White (guitar), Downey (drums), Wharton (keyboards)
I don't have anything against synthesizers per se, but there is a time and a place for them.  Sure, 1981 might have been the time for synthesizers, but a Thin Lizzy album was not the place.  Nonetheless, Darren Wharton was added as a full-fledged fifth member of the band for Renegade.  Some of the songs on Renegade sound a little cheesy and dated as a result of the synthesizer.  That's not to say there aren't some good rockers on the album.  "Hollywood (Down On Your Luck)" is a great, high-energy song, the title track starts slow, but gains steam, "The Pressure Will Blow" sounds like a classic Lizzy song and would have fit in well on any of the band's previous four albums, and "Leave This Town" is a nice foot-stomper.
Two favorite songs:
"Hollywood (Down On Your Luck)"
"The Pressure Will Blow"

Personnel:  Lynott (bass and vocals), Bell (guitar), Downey (drums)
The band's third album –- their last as a trio and their last with original guitarist Eric Bell –- was another step in the right direction.  It was more focused than their first two albums, and a bit more rocking.  The reissue features "Whiskey in the Jar," which had been released as a single a year earlier, spending 17 weeks at the top of the Irish charts and going Top 10 in the UK.  You know I love that song.
Two favorite songs:
"Whiskey in the Jar"
"The Rocker"

Personnel:  Lynott (bass and vocals), Gorham (guitar), White (guitar), Downey (drums)
Thin Lizzy's first album of the '80s and first with Snowy White on guitar was a pretty solid rocker.  Members of the band and media have described the second side of the album as mostly filler, but I think they are all pretty good songs.  All in all, though, I'd say the album is very good from start to finish.  Highlights for me include the title track, "We Will Be Strong," "Sweetheart," "Killer On The Loose," "Having a Good Time," and "Hey You."
Two favorite songs:
"We Will Be Strong"
"Having a Good Time"

Personnel:  Lynott (bass and vocals), Gorham (guitar), Robertson (guitar on three tracks), Downey (drums)
Before Bad Reputation was made, guitarist Brian Robertson left the band, although he came back to play on several of the album tracks.  Bad Reputation is a solid hard rock album.  The title track was featured in Guitar Hero II, and it is a nice ballsy rocker.  Other highlights on the album include the frenetic "Opium Trail" (one of Lynott's several songs addressing his drug dependency), the catchy, leaving-home likeability of "Southbound," the funky "Dancing in the Moonlight," and rocker "Killer Without a Cause."
Two favorite songs:
"Opium Trail"

Personnel:  Lynott (bass and vocals), Gorham (guitar), Sykes (guitar), Downey (drums), Wharton (keyboards)
Thin Lizzy went out with a bang.  After getting John Sykes to replace Snowy White, the group turned their sound from hard to harder.  Sometimes referred to as the "Thin Lizzy metal album," Thunder & Lightning is a fast-paced album befitting of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (the genre from which Sykes came).  I really like this album.  There may be a couple of ill-fitting keyboard solos here and there, but all in all, it is a pretty damn good metal record, and an appropriate coda for a band that influenced so many hard rock and metal bands that followed them.  It's also bittersweet listening to the album -- especially the last song, "Heart Attack," in which Lynott sings "mama, I'm dying of a heart attack" –- knowing that a mere three years later, Lynott would be dead as a result of heart failure and pneumonia brought on by years of heavy drug use.
Two favorite songs:
"Cold Sweat"
"Heart Attack"

Personnel:  Lynott (bass and vocals), Gorham (guitar), Robertson (guitar), Downey (drums)
After the success of Jailbreak (see #1 below), the band put out another great album in the same year.  Johnny the Fox picks up where Jailbreak left off, with a great mix of hard rockers, with a couple more poppy songs tossed in for good measure.  "Johnny," "Rocky," "Massacre," and "Boogie Woogie Dance" are legit hard rock songs.  "Fool's Gold" is a great song about the Irish Potato Famine and subsequent flight of many Irish to America.  I have always loved "Don't Believe a Word," which is barely over two minutes, but provides a hell of a lot of food for thought, as Lynott is basically telling the subject of the song "don't believe me if I tell you I love you or if I tell you I wrote this song about you because words are just words."  It's a brilliant display of non-commitment, allowing the song's narrator to back out of the relationship because he is an admitted liar, but at the same time shielding himself from getting hurt because if she rebuffs him, he can always say, "well I told you not to believe me anyway, so when I said I loved you, I was just kidding."
Two favorite songs:
"Don't Believe a Word"

Personnel:  Lynott (bass and vocals), Gorham (guitar), Robertson (guitar), Downey (drums)
Now this was more like it.  The band's second album with their "classic" lineup was their strongest to date.  Kicking off with their brilliant cover of Bob Seger's "Rosalie," the album was decidedly more hard rocking than any of their previous four albums.  Songs like "Suicide," "Fighting My Way Back," "Freedom Song," and "Ballad Of a Hard Man" showed the world that Thin Lizzy had arrived, foreshadowing the mix of hard rock and Irish-inspired pop rock that made the band so great.
Two favorite songs:
"Fighting My Way Back"

Personnel:  Lynott (bass and vocals), Gorham (guitar), Moore (guitar), Downey (drums)
For me, it was a very tough decision between Black Rose and Jailbreak for #1, but I ended up going with Jailbreak because it is the more popular and recognizable album.  Consider Black Rose a near #1 in my mind.  Top to bottom, it's as strong as any Lizzy album.  From intro of "Do Anything You Want To" to the bombast of "Róisín Dubh (Black Rose): A Rock Legend," Gorham and Moore's twin harmony guitars are wonderful, and Lynott paints his honest and gritty picture of life on the streets and life as a drug addict.  More important is that this album was made in 1979, at the height of disco and just after the height of punk.  Rather than trying to change their sound, Thin Lizzy put out a straightforward hard rock album that featured tales of empowerment ("Do Anything You Want To," "Get Out Of Here "), sex ("S&M"), drugs ("Got To Give It Up"), and crime and violence ("Toughest Street in Town," "S&M," "Waiting For An Alibi"), an epic ode to Irish folklore and literature ("Róisín Dubh (Black Rose): A Rock Legend"), and a seemingly misplaced tender ballad dedicated to his daughter ("Sarah").
Two favorite songs:
"Toughest Street in Town"
"Róisín Dubh (Black Rose): A Rock Legend"

Personnel:  Lynott (bass and vocals), Gorham (guitar), Robertson (guitar), Downey (drums)
If you only buy one Thin Lizzy album, it should be Jailbreak.  It was the first Lizzy album I bought, and it is their masterpiece and their centerpiece.  It features their two biggest hits, "The Boys Are Back In Town" and the title track.  On top of that, there are other Lizzy stalwarts that should have been bigger hits (in my opinion, anyway), like "Cowboy Song" and "Emerald."
Two favorite songs:
"Cowboy Song"

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