The Boys Are Back in Town, the opening track on Universal’s new Thin Lizzy Greatest Hits compilation typifies the Thin Lizzy sound: Phil Lynott’s gruff, surprisingly soulful vocals, the dual guitar riffs and the catchy hooks. One of the best bands to come out of Ireland, Thin Lizzy’s songs have stood the test of time since Lynott’s untimely death in 1986 and have emerged as Rock classics.
Capable of producing some of the heaviest rock songs around, Thin Lizzy’s musical repertoire was broader than most bands of the period. Dancing in the Moonlight (It’s Caught Me in Its Spotlight) from the Tony Visconti produced album Bad Reputation could be Daryl Hall and John Oates, while Sarah from the classic album Black Rose is in a league of its own, with touches of Jazz legend Pat Metheny in the playing of Scott Gorham and Gary Moore.
Thin Lizzy was blessed with a succession of brilliant guitarists who complimented Phil Lynott’s songwriting. From original guitarist Eric Bell through Lizzy mainstay Scott Gorham to Brian Robertson, Gary Moore, Snowy White and John Sykes, each guitarist brought something unique and melodic to the Thin Lizzy sound.
It takes two CDs in the Greatest Hits compilation to cover the Thin Lizzy ouvre, with very little filler. There are a couple of Lynott’s solo tracks included, such as Yellow Pearl from his 1980 album Solo in Soho, which later became the theme music for Top of the Pops. This collaboration with Ultravox’s Midge Ure (who temporarily played guitar with Thin Lizzy for a brief period) has dated badly, but demonstrates Lynott’s broad musical taste and desire to experiment beyond rock.
I saw Thin Lizzy play live in 1983 when they toured their last album, Thunder and Lightning. Younger bands, such as Iron Maiden and Saxon, were nipping at the band’s heels as part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and Thunder and Lightning was their answer. With former Tygers of Pan Tang guitarist John Sykes (later in Whitesnake and Blue Murder) teaming up with Gorham, Lizzy steamrollered over the young upstarts with the mammoth title track and single Cold Sweat. The album wasn’t completely devoid of soul as the beautiful Sun Goes Down demonstrates.
As a live band, Thin Lizzy’s classic line-up of Lynott on bass and vocals, drummer Brian Downey, and Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson on dual lead guitars was captured on the 1978 album, Live and Dangerous. Bizarrely, none of the tracks from that classic album appear on the Greatest Hits, but are instead replaced by a handful of other excellent live tracks: Rosalie, Hollywood (Down On Your Luck) and previously unreleased versions of Cowboy Song and The Boys Are Back In Town.
The band split in 1983 shortly after I saw them play live, and two and half years later Phil Lynott died in January 1986 after losing a battle with drug addiction. His legacy was a catalogue of rock songs that sound as fresh now as they did when Thin Lizzy originally released them.
Greatest Hits (2004)
Record Label: Universal