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Music / Thin Lizzy

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One of the many, many lineups of Thin Lizzy. Back, l-r: Brian Downey, Gary Moore, Scott Gorham. Front: Phil Lynott

"He's just a boy, that has lost his way
He's a rebel that has fallen down
He's a fool, been blown away
To you and me, he's a renegade"
— "Renegade", from the 1981 album of the same name

Thin Lizzy are a (mostly) Irish rock band originating in 1969, Led by co-founder, bass player/singer and main songwriter Phil Lynott. The name was lifted from The Dandy comic's character "Tin Lizzie", with an alteration of spelling (Dubliners pronounce "th" as "t").

The core members were Lynott and Drummer Brian Downey, with guitar spots filled by a long list of ever changing names, the longest serving of which is Californian guitarist Scott Gorham, who moved to the UK to fill a guitar spot in Supertramp, but was unsuccessful.

When he joined the band in 1974, the original guitarist Eric Bell had been and gone, recording the hit single "Whiskey in the Jar", Thin Lizzy's first major success. Joining Scott in the other guitar role was Glaswegian Brian Robertson, a hot-headed Scottish guitar prodigy, and between them they developed the ground-breaking distinctive twin lead guitar attack which characterizes Thin Lizzy's sound.

They finally found international recognition with 1976's Jailbreak, and Thin Lizzy's other hit, "The Boys Are Back in Town". The band led a career that lasted until 1983, when the band split, and all hopes of recording more original material were crushed forever when Phil Lynott died in 1986, aged just 36. The band regrouped in 1996 without Lynott, but are essentially now just a live tribute to his life and work with no new material recorded or released. The current lineup only performs as Thin Lizzy occasionally, instead opting to record and tour as Black Star Riders.

Thin Lizzy was a unique combination of hard rocking songs about fighting & cool characters, epic guitar parts & harmonies, and sensitive, thoughtful and wide-ranging songwriting. Thin Lizzy are unfortunately still under-appreciated and lesser known compared to their world-famous '70's and '80's contemporaries (they're still mainly only known for two songs, "Whiskey In The Jar" and "The Boys Are Back In Town"), but in their heyday they developed a reputation for being one of the best live bands in the world and once played to a gigantic crowd on the steps of the Sydney Opera House; their Live Album Live and Dangerous is widely regarded as one of the best live albums ever recorded. They were also one of the few '70s rock bands who weren't dismissed by Punk Rock bands; the punks appreciated Lizzy's directness and grit.


  • Lineup 1 (Phil Lynott on bass & vocals, Brian Downey on drums. With Eric Bell on guitars):
    Thin Lizzy (1971), Shades of a Blue Orphanage (1972), Vagabonds of the Western World (1973)

  • Lineup 2 (with Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham on guitars):
    Nightlife (1974), Fighting (1975), Jailbreak (1976), Johnny the Fox (1976), Bad Reputation (1977), Live and Dangerous [live album] (1978)

  • Lineup 3 (with Gary Moore & Scott Gorham on guitars):
    Black Rose: A Rock Legend (1978)

  • Lineup 4 (with 'Snowy White' & Scott Gorham on guitars & Darren Wharton on keyboards):
    Chinatown (1980), Renegade (1981)

  • Lineup 5 (with John Sykes & Scott Gorham on guitars and Darren Wharton on keyboards):
    Thunder and Lightning (1983)

"The tropes are back in town":

  • Abusive Parents: "Frankie Carroll" is about an alcoholic man who beats his kids.
  • Album Filler:
    • Those who don't like Thin Lizzy's ballads consider them this, although there are some who think that the ballads are even better than the more up-tempo numbers.
    • There is a 1972 song called "I Don't Want to Forget How to Jive" from Shades of a Blue Orphanage, which doesn't even clock the two-minute mark.
    • Nightlife is basically "Thin Lizzy makes a soul album", and so diehard hard rock fans regard the preponderance of softer tracks as this. However, other people appreciate the album's diversity.
  • Album Title Drop: There is a title track (or a track whose name includes the album title) on most Thin Lizzy albums.
  • All Drummers Are Animals: Inverted; Downey was "the quiet one", the others... not so much.
  • Anti-Christmas Song: Phil Lynott got together with some ex-Sex Pistols and recorded a medley of Christmas tunes in a hard rocking style that comes off very ironic. Oh, and they were called "The Greedy Bastards".
  • Ascended Extra: Huey Lewis's original band Clover were Thin Lizzy's support band back on some of the 70s tours, and Huey Lewis plays harmonica on "Baby Drives Me Crazy" on Live and Dangerous,
  • Audience Participation Song: The band were well known for this, and some songs were massively extended in concert for those call-and-response games. Other songs were written specifically for gigs and never recorded.
  • Autobots, Rock Out!: "Emerald": the show piece is a "battle" between the lead guitarists.
    • "Black Rose" features several call-and-response sections between the guitars, but they are simply repeating each other.
  • Blatant Lies: "Killer on the Loose", a song sung from the point of view of a serial killer of women, contains the lines "Now I'm not trying to be nasty / And I'm not trying to make you scared..."
  • Blues Rock: Like a lot of bands who formed in the 60s, they started playing blues covers. They would go on to record a number of songs in the style as well, such as "Broken Dreams", "Slow Blues", "Suicide" (especially the Eric Bell era versions), "Sugar Blues" and "Memory Pain" (a Percy Mayfield cover).
  • Break Up Break Out: Done dozens of times over their history, and now that Lynott's gone, nobody knowns for sure who's going to be in the band for the next gig.
  • Break-Up Song: "Still in Love with You", "Borderline", "Didn't I", etc.
  • The Bus Came Back: "The Boys Are Back in Town" is about a group of friends returning to their hometown after being away for many years.
  • Call-and-Response Song: Thin Lizzy did this with many a Audience Participation Song.
  • Canon Discontinuity: In order to record their first single "The Farmer", the band were required to record the song "I Need You", written by the owner of the studio. The band reluctantly did so, but never considered it part of their canon. As a result, the song has never been reissued since its original 7" vinyl single release (though it has been bootlegged on CD). As a result the original single is very valuable.
  • Captain Obvious: Phil during a live performance of Rosalie:
    Audience: *clapping along with the beat*
    Phil: "Hey, you clappin' your hands!"
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Musically as opposed to personally, Scott Gorham. His guitar style, especially when soloing, is very strange, being almost devoid of the usual clichés, and relies on imagination and quirky phrasing rather than speed. This is why he was usually not the star guitarist in the band, but also why he was more essential than those who were; he was also, after founders Lynott and Downey, its third-longest-serving member. Robertson commented that when he and Gorham joined, he was stunned by the oddness of Gorham's guitar style, which was in part a result of how recently he had started playing (he'd originally been a bassist), and that the reason why minor-key songs such as "Sha-La-La" have major key solos is due to the fact that Gorham, at the time, had difficulties taking solos in minor keys.
    • He's the only guitarist for most of Bad Reputation, one of the band's best albums.
  • Common Meter, Common Time: with only a few exceptions.
  • Concept Album: Jailbreak and Johnny the Fox were attempts at this.
  • Cover Version: Thin Lizzy covered Bob Seger's song "Rosalie" on the Fighting album.
  • The Cover Changes the Meaning: Thin Lizzy's version of the popular Irish folk drinking song, "Whiskey in the Jar"
  • Darker and Edgier: Johnny the Fox was considered at the time to be angrier and heavier than their previous album - the typical sophomore album effect due to the success of Jailbreak - the reasoning was that Phil was ill at the time he wrote it and therefore not in the best of minds. This is much more evident on the eighties albums Chinatown and Thunder and Lightning.
  • Design Student's Orgasm: All of Thin Lizzy's most memorable album covers, beginning with Vagabonds of the Western World and finishing with Chinatown, were designed by artist Jim Fitzpatrick. Their other album covers (including some in between, such as Fighting and Bad Reputation) are much more generic.
  • Drunk with Power: The story of "It's Getting Dangerous".
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble:
    • Phil Lynott: Choleric
    • Gary Moore/Brian Robertson/John Sykes: Sanguine
    • Scott Gorham: Melancholic
    • Brian Downey: Phlegmatic
  • Genre Roulette: They were rooted in hard rock, folk and ballads, and their albums always featured a mixture. Their albums Shades of a Blue Orphanage and Nightlife are the most overt examples, the former having the tracklist of:
    • The Rise and Dear Demise of the Funky Nomadic Tribes (Funk Rock)
    • Buffalo Gal (Country Ballad)
    • I Don't Want to Forget How to Jive (Rockabilly)
    • Sarah (Easy Listening)
    • Brought Down (Power Ballad)
    • Baby Face (Hard Rock)
    • Chatting Today (Folk)
    • Call the Police (Funk Rock)
    • Shades of a Blue Orphanage (Easy Listening)
  • Great Escape: "Jailbreak"
  • Greatest Hits Album: Hardly a year goes by when a new one of these doesn't get released. Sometimes if you're lucky, you'll get one with rare b-sides or unused tracks (such as the Vagabonds Kings Warriors Angels box set).
  • Hard Rock
  • Heavy Meta: The song "The Rocker", which is supposed to be a satire of the stereotypical "rocker" image that was around in the early seventies (as in Mods & Rockers).
  • Heavy Metal: While not universally considered to be a heavy metal band themselvesnote , certain elements of their sound, such as dueling lead guitars, would be adopted by future metal bands.
  • I Am the Band: Pretty much any band that Lynott was in became Thin Lizzy, with the exceptions of when he toured in release of one of his solo records.
    • Subverted in that the current lineup of Thin Lizzy doesn't contain Lynott at all (due, obviously, to his death).
  • International Pop Song English: Lynott mostly sang in a neutral, somewhat transatlantic accent, with some notable exceptions like on "Philomena".
  • Last Note Nightmare: The end of "Heart Attack", which is the last song on their last album, is Phil Lynott saying the song title while being accompanied by the last couple of power chords. Not really all that scary, but it's pretty damn eerie when one takes into account that this was basically the band's swan song and Lynott would die from heart failure just under three years later.
  • Lonely Piano Piece: The original "Sarah", "Frankie Carroll".
  • Long Song, Short Scene: Two parts of "Dancing in the Moonlight" were mercilessly spliced together for a cider advert.
  • Lead Bassist: Phil was both Types B and C.
  • Money Song: "It's Only Money".
  • Morality Ballad: Lots of them, because of Lynott's love of songs that tell stories. "Suicide" is about a murder that goes reported as a suicide due to lazy and incompetent police work. Case number 81 remains unsolved, presumably forever.
    • "Frankie Carroll" tells what effect alcohol can have on a man with little morals.
    • "S&M" tries to be this about BDSM, but it makes the male protagonist a violent sleazebag who gets aroused by sexual violence, so it's either a Clueless Aesop or just stealth satire.
  • Murder Ballad: A lot of Thin Lizzy songs are about death. "Killer on the Loose", "Warrior", "Emerald", "Angel of Death", etc.
  • Murphy's Bullet: Heavily implied in "Mexican Blood". All we know is that a cowboy's son is looking for trouble, the Mexican boy tries to gun him down, and when the smoke clears, the Mexican's girlfriend lies dead on the ground.
  • Myspeld Rökband: In a sense. It's a pun on "Tin Lizzie", a robot character from the British comic the Dandy, but with "tin" misspelled as "thin", a joke on how Dubliners would pronounce "thin" as "tin".
  • New Sound Album: The most significant of these was Fighting, despite actually being the second album recorded by the classic lineup, as it signalled the beginning of their most well-regarded period.
    • Thunder and Lightning is Lizzy trying to be a conventional Eighties heavy metal band.
  • Obligatory Bondage Song: Averted with "S&M" from Black Rose, which isn't about a relationship between consensual partners but about a guy who gets sexually aroused by beating up women.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted; the classic line-up had Brian Downey on drums and Brian Roberston on guitar, although the latter is generally called "Robbo" by the fandom (in fact, the nickname originated because Phil wanted a way to easily distinguish the two Brians in general conversation).
    • The band's first line-up also averted this with Eric Bell on guitar and Eric Wrixon on keyboards.
  • One-Woman Song: "Philomena" (Phil Lynott's mother), "Rosalie" (a Bob Seger song), "Sarah" (Lynott's grandmother) and "(My) Sarah" (Lynott's daughter).
  • Parental Love Song: "Philomena", Phil's song about how much he loves his mam. He also sings it in his natural (albeit perhaps slightly exaggerated) Dublin accent.
  • Pep-Talk Song: "Do Anything You Want To", a rare example in hard rock.
  • Playing Card Motifs: The artwork for Bad Reputation had the band members represented by the four card suits (spades for Phil, clubs for Brian Downey, hearts for Scott Gorham, and diamonds for Brian Robertson). This was later deployed on the Live and Dangerous gatefold sleeve as well as reissues of the classic-era albums.
  • Rearrange the Song: The group wrote a blues song called "Suicide" in the Eric Bell era, between their second and third albums, Shades Of A Blue Orphanage and Vagabonds Of The Western World. Aside from a few radio sessions and live recordings from 1972-1973, the band seemed to have all given up on the song. However, during the Fighting sessions in 1975, the song was resurrected, and Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson came up with a new, galloping bridge that was deemed so good the song made it onto the album.
    • Whilst "Banshee" is a short instrumental on Nightlife, it was originally written and demoed as a full song with lyrics (this demo eventually appearing on the "Rock Legends" box set). Some of the lyrics ended up in later songs.
  • Recycled Lyrics: The first verse of Fighting outtake "Leaving Town" was reused in "Running Back" from the next album "Jailbreak".
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: The band's famed dual-guitar teams were structured like this, with a Blue Oni (Scott Gorham) whose style was smoother, cleaner and softer, contrasting with a Red Oni (variously Brian Robertson, Gary Moore or John Sykes) who was louder, faster and more aggressive.
    • One of the reasons that the Snowy White era is held in lower regard by many fans of the group is because White, despite being a highly accomplished player, had a style that was even more clean and melodic than Gorham's, which essentially forced Gorham to play the Red Oni—a role to which he wasn't naturally inclined—in order to compensate.
  • Reunion Show: Life was this, with former guitarists joining the band for their showcase numbers.
    • "Emerald" featured Brian Robertson.
    • "Black Rose" featured Gary Moore.
    • "The Rocker" featured Eric Bell, with Robertson and Moore joining in partway through, making for an awesome moment when all five guitarists (Bell, Robertson, Moore, Gorham and Sykes) are playing the same lick over and over again in unison.
  • Revolving Door Band: The group has thus far gone through 21 members, most of them guitarists and occasionally keyboardists. Nowadays, it's also reached Theseus' Ship Paradox levels, as neither Lynott nor Downey (the two stable members during their heyday) are in the band anymore.
  • Rock Star Song: Apart from the satirical "The Rocker", there is also "Rocky," which is about Robertson ("cocky Rocky the rock and roll star").
    • "Angel From The Coast" was apparently going to be about Scott Gorham (because he came from Los Angeles—get it?) but Phil ultimately decided to go in a different direction with the lyrics.
  • Self-Titled Album: Their debut.
  • Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: What many of their songs are about, but also the eventually deadly lifestyle of Lynott himself.
  • Shout-Out: In addition to the traditional songs it riffs on, "Róisín Dubh: Black Rose" gives nods to fellow Irishmen James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Brendan Behan, George Best, J. M. Synge and Van Morrison.
    • Add "Fats", a homage to legendary jazz musician Fats Waller (not Fats Domino). Also contains a Take That! to Sigmund Freud, who (allegedly) is the only one who doesn't like Fats.
    • "Angel of Death" has one to Nostradamus.
    • "Killer on the Loose" contains the line "Standing in the shadows of love", which was a 1966 hit for The Four Tops.
    • "Angel from the Coast" is probably a reference to Bob Dylan's "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues", which contains the lines:
      "Now, all the authorities, they just stand around and boast
      How they blackmailed the sergeant-at-arms into leaving his post
      And picking up Angel, who just arrived here from the coast
      Who looked so fine at first, but left looking just like a ghost."
  • Siamese Twin Songs: Many live performances of "Cowboy Song" (such as the one on "Live & Dangerous") segue directly into "The Boys Are Back In Town" via its last power chord. Similarly, the performance of "Warriors" on "Life" segues directly into "Are You Ready".
    • In live performances, the band finished "Rosalie" with a reprise (or prequel, since it often came first in the set list) of the middle of "Cowboy Song," now called "Cowgirl's Song."
  • The Sixth Ranger: Gary Moore, who never fully committed to the band but drifted in and out of their orbit. He played in Phil's first band Skid Row in the late 60s, briefly joined Thin Lizzy in 1974 in which he played as a replacement for Eric Bell on their tour as well as the studio tracks "Little Darling" and "Still In Love With You", rejoined for part of the 1977 tour to fill in for an injured Brian Robertson, left again but returned in 1978 to record his only album with the band on 1978's Black Rose, and left in 1979. Despite his leaving the band, he and Phil would contribute to each others solo projects, with Moore playing on Phil's 1980 track "Jamaican Rum" and Phil singing on Moore's famous hits "Parisienne Walkways" (1978) and "Out In The Fields" (1985), which are often considered ersatz Lizzy singles.
  • Something Blues: "Slow Blues" and "Sugar Blues"
  • The Something Song: "Cowboy Song"
  • Song of Song Titles: The sub-titles of the mini-epic "Roisin Dubh: Black Rose (A Rock Legend)" reference the original folk melodies the track contains. Well, kind of. The track listing gives the tunes as "Shenandoah" (actually an American folk song), "Will You Go Lassie Go" (of Scottish origin), "Danny Boy" and "The Mason's Apron". What they actually play is slightly different. The band plays, and Phil sings, most of the first verse of "Shenandoah", followed by a line from "Go Lassie Go", then the twin guitars play a soaring instrumental version of the second half of the verse of "Danny Boy". The first of the really fast guitar part is not, by any stretch of the imagination, "The Mason's Apron". The second half of it is one of the best-known reels in Irish traditional music, "Rakish Paddy".
  • Spoken Word in Music: A couple; the intro to "Fool's Gold" and "The Friendly Ranger at Clondarf Castle".
  • Subdued Section: More common in the band's earlier period.
  • Super Group: Technically whilst Gary Moore was in the band in 1979, as he had already cemented himself as a solo act by this point. Somewhat of a subversion in that he not only had been briefly part of the band in 1974, but he also was part of Lynott's previous band Skid Row (not to be confused with the American band of the same name).
    • Towards the end of their existence, the band briefly featured Midge Ure, first on guitar, then later on keyboards. He played with the band live, as well as played on and co-wrote a handful of recordings. He would soon after join Ultravox as their new vocalist (including their biggest hit Vienna) and also co-organised Live Aid with Bob Geldof- to which Thin Lizzy weren't invited, much to Lynott's disappointment.
  • Take That!: "Bad Reputation" was either a "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Brian Robertson (who had just been thrown out following his involvement in a bar fight, which was the last straw in a long series of incidents and general clashes with the rest of the band) or a Take That Me to Lynott himself based on his own wild lifestyle and self-destructive nature, and it very well may have been both.
  • Title-Only Chorus: "Look What the Wind Blew In", "Things Ain't Working Out Down on the Farm", "Call the Police", "The Boys Are Back in Town", "Rosalie", and "Get Out of Here".
  • Triumphant Reprise: The end of "Róisín Dubh: Black Rose (A Rock Legend)".
  • The Troubles: "Out in the Fields".
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Phil sings "Philomena" in a strong Dublin accent, as the song was written for his mother. This qualifies because the accent he uses in the song sounds nothing like his normal singing voice, and it's nothing like his natural speaking voice either (which had amore neutral Dublin accent). In a strange subversion, it was released as a single; it flopped, but if it hadn't, people might have bought the album and been confused that his accent was different. It's probably the only song where he actually sounds like he was raised in Crumlin, but to people outside Ireland, it probably sounds nothing like what they think an "Irish accent" is.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Subverted in the last few verses of "Black Rose", the random phrases that are sung are in fact multiple Shout Outs to famous Irish figures (mostly writers, as well as one musician and a footballer).