Vagabonds of the Western World
by Thin Lizzy

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Vagabonds of the Western World by Thin LizzyThe 1973 release Vagabonds of the Western World, the third studio album by Thin Lizzy, is a cohesive collection of original style and substance by this group from Ireland. The songs are presented in a range of rock sub-styles from British style blues-rock to their own style of Irish folk rock with some slight psychedelic and jazz tinged numbers. The album would prove to be the high water mark for the original trio of Phil Lycott (bass, vocals), Eric Bell (guitars) and Brian Downey (drums, percussion).

Lynott and Downey knew each other since school in the early 1960s and they played together in the Dublin area band, The Black Eagles, through 1967. After heading out in differing music adventures for a few years, they came back together and formed Thin Lizzy with Bell in 1969. The following year they signed with Decca Records and relocated to London where they recorded their self-titled debut album in early 1971. TShades of a Blue Orphanage followed a year later but neither of these first two albums charted or sold very well. Later in 1972, the band released a single of their original rock arrangement of the Traditional Irish folk song “Whiskey In the Jar”. Led by Bell’s excitable lead guitar and Lynott’s steady, matter-of fact vocal delivery, this song became a a UK Top Ten hit,

The surprise success of the “Whiskey In the Jar” single gave Thin Lizzy a larger recording budget and studio time to record Vagabonds of the Western World. The album was recorded in London during the summer of 1973 and was co-produced by Lynott and Nick Tauber.


Vagabonds of the Western World by Thin Lizzy
Released: September 21, 1973 (Decca)
Produced by: Nick Tauber & Phil Lynott
Recorded: AIR Studios and Decca 4, London, July 1973
Side One Side Two
Mama Nature Said
The Hero and the Madman
Slow Blues
The Rocker
Vagabond of the Western World
Little Girl in Bloom
Gonna Creep Up on You
A Song for While I’m Away
Group Musicians
Philip Lynott – Lead Vocals, Bass
Eric Bell – Guitars
Brian Downey – Drums, Percussion

The album starts with the excited slide guitar over thumping rhythms on “Mama Nature Said”. Here Lynott’s raspy vocals add a further sonic level to this fun stomp with an obvious environmental lyrical overtone. “The Hero and the Madman” begins with an odd spoken intro provided by guest Kid Jensen over the music built on bass and drums rhythm along with Bell’s guitar finely floating in a wah-wah like haze before exploding into an astronomical closing guitar lead. “Slow Blues” is an aptly titled track by Downey and Lynott with several distinct sections, including a funk-based verse and a folksy/psychedelic mid-section.

“The Rocker” is the only track on the original album credited to all three group members and this thematic track may be the record’s most indelible. Here, the guitar and bass lock in for a fine series of riffs and pretty much all of the final three minutes of the song are reserved for an extended guitar lead. The title song begin’s with the traditional Irish greeting “Tora Lora Lora” over Downey’s floor tom beat. Eventually, “Vagabond of the Western World” breaks into moderate but dramatic verse and more straightforward choruses.

Thin Lizzy in 1973

“Little Girl in Bloom” features cool, odd beats and some overlapping vocals and fine harmonies, all provided by Lynott. The song is built mainly on pairs of bass notes that make it simple but very original until about three minutes in when the complete rhythm kicks in with a bit of guitar harmonizing, a preview the sound of Thin Lizzy in future years. “Gonna Creep Up on You” is another basic but interesting rocker, leading to the album’s original closer, “A Song for While I’m Away”. This unique track is vocally like a sixties pop ballad complete with strings and orchestration but with strong drum rhythms that are much harder rocking and give it a duplicate sound. When the album was later released for CD, four additional tracks were added including, “Whiskey In the Jar”, the Zeppelin-esque riff-driven blues rocker “Black Boys on the Corner”, the rock/reggae/bosa nova fusion of “Randolph’s Tango”, and the heavy blues rocker “Broken Dreams”.

Just a few months after the release of Vagabonds of the Western World, Bell abruptly left the band citing ill-health and disillusionment with the music industry. Thin Lizzy used several guitarists in the subsequent years before forging their signature dual-lead sound that brought them to even higher fame in the mid 1970s.

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1973 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1973 albums.

 

Jailbreak by Thin Lizzy

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Jailbreak by Thin LizzyAfter a long musical journey which included style shifts, various lineup changes and five less-than-commercially successful albums, Thin Lizzy finally broke through in 1976 with Jailbreak. This quasi-concept record has an overlying theme about a figure simply known as “The Warrior” breaking away from the despotic “Overmaster” to lead the oppressed masses in a dystopian-shattering revolution. But the real beauty of this album is tilted far more towards its sound than its lyrics, as Thin Lizzy had fully mastered the the crisp, harmonized guitar attack with much rhythmic movement to complement the distinctive, barked-out lead vocals of composer and front-man Phil Lynott.

Thin Lizzy was founded in Dublin in 1969 when Lynott and drummer Brian Downey left their group Orphanage to form a new band with musicians formally from the band Them. In 1971, the group relocated to London but the musical style remained distinctly Celtic with lyrics strongly referencing Dublin and surrounding areas. In 1972, Thin Lizzy’s version of a traditional Irish ballad, “Whiskey in the Jar” was a smash hit in their native Ireland and reached the Top 10 in the UK. However, album sales did not follow suit and after, the departures of several guitarists, Lynott decided to morph the group’s sound towards harder rock and recruited Scott Gorham and then-18-year-old Brian Robertson for a double lead-guitar attack starting with the 1975 album, Fighting.

However, the record label was growing impatient with lackluster sales and gave Thin Lizzy one final chance to produce a commercially successful album. With producer John Alcock, the band extensively composed, rehearsed and recorded tracks over the winter of 1975-76, developing a tight arrangement on each of Jailbreak‘s nine track.

 


Jailbreak by Thin Lizzy
Released: March 26, 1976 (Vertigo)
Produced by: John Alcock
Recorded: Ramport Studios, London, December 1975–February 1976
Side One Side Two
Jailbreak
Angel From the Coast
Running Back
Romeo and the Lonely Girl
Warriors
The Boys Are Back in Town
Fight or Fall
Cowboy Song
Emerald
Group Musicians
Phil Lynott – Lead Vocals, Bass
Scott Gorham – Guitars
Brian Robertson – Guitars
Brian Downey – Drums, Percussion

 

The opening title track, “Jailbreak”, is a pure hard rock song of action with timeless theme of escape. It musically builds tension a bit during verses, setting up a satisfying chorus release, and contains other cool distinctions ranging from the corny alarm section under the bridge to the cool lyrical nod to Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound on My Trail”. Co-written by Robertson, “Angel From the Coast” picks up where the opener left off and accelerates with much movement in the hyper-funk lead riff and rhythm. This song features exceptional drumming by Downey with great rudiments throughout by the entire band and the soaring, harmonized lead precedes a rapid funk chord effect by the two guitars in an extended bridge jam.

“Running Back” was the album’s most controversial track, internally. Intended as the lead single from the album, Lynott and Alcock brought in session keyboardist Tim Hinkley to add more “pop” elements. This was done against the objections of Robertson, who had played a large role in the original arrangement, including his own additions of piano and bottleneck guitar, and Robertson ultimately did not play on the album version of this song. Although a bit tacky lyrically, “Romeo and the Lonely Girl” features a pleasant music mix with acoustic backing the blues/jazz electric guitar, animated drums and a later piercing guitar lead. The dramatic “Warriors” was co-written by Gorham and is the hardest rocker on the album, employing some mid seventies-style heavy metal with just a tad of punk, adding to the overall sonic diversity of the album.

Thin Lizzy in 1976

The original second side of Jailbreak is where the true musical gems are found. “The Boys Are Back in Town” is, by far, the most distinctive Thin Lizzy song. It features interesting chord progressions during the verses, a brilliantly simple chorus hook and one of the most indelible rock riffs ever put to record as Gorham and Robertson perfectly harmonize their guitars during the post-chorus breaks. Lyrically, the song originated as a tribute to a returning vet from Vietnam but later morphed as a sort of party anthem dedicated to any number of traveling heroes. Although the song was not a tremendous charting hit upon its original release, it has been used countless times at sporting events, in movies, on television and as a permanent fixture on classic rock radio all over the world. In contrast to the preceding popular upbeat number, “Fight Or Fall” is quite mellow and laid back with acoustic guitar and subtle electric overtones, but with a still steady and upbeat rhythm by Lynott and Downey. This fine track is divided by slight rudimentary breaks between the verses and features a bit of American soul added to the ending section.

“Cowboy Song” starts as a subtle, Western ballad with Lynott’s bass imitating a trotting horse. But soon breaks into a riff-driven hard rocker, especially with the infectious riff which builds to triple harmonized guitars, post lead section. The final verse cools with just bass and drums, before this all explodes into a blistering, blues/rock guitar lead later in the song. The album concludes with “Emerald”, a strong rocker in tribute to Irish heritage and one more thematic “fight” against invaders, with dueling guitars to nicely symbolize the battle and rebellion. This closing track is also notable as the only composition on this album credited to all four band members.

Jailbreak was the group’s first Gold album and it set them up for subsequent success in the years that followed. However, a bit of the commercial tailcoats were severed when both Lynott and Robertson suffered ailments and injuries which caused large parts of the 1976 tours to be cancelled and expedited the production of the group’s follow-up album, Johnny the Fox.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1976 albums.

 

Black Rose by Thin Lizzy

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Black Rose by Thin LizzyPerhaps the last great classic album by Thin Lizzy, the 1979 release Black Rose: A Rock Legend, peaked at number 2 on the U.K. album charts, making it the band’s most successful album commercially. Produced by Tony Visconti, the rich sound established on the group’s previous albums continues and is built upon by the eclectic songwriting of lead vocalist and bassist Phil Lynott. Thin Lizzy has been hailed as the first true rock band from Ireland, and Lynott took this privilege seriously by composing several songs through their career which were rooted in Irish tradition, starting with the famous Irish traditional folk song, “Whiskey in the Jar”,  which was Thin Lizzy’s first charting hit in 1972. On Black Rose, the closing title song contains a seamless medley of Irish standards and Celtic mythology, presented within a top-notch rock arrangement that makes this album one of a kind.

Thin Lizzy recorded their commercial breakthrough, Jailbreak, in 1976. On this album, the group established their signature twin guitar sound with guitarists Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham and the success of the album saw the group touring alongside bands Like Aerosmith and Rush. However, Lynott contracted hepatitis and the tour had to be cancelled. The following tour was again cancelled, this time when Robertson got a hand injury resulting from a drunken brawl, which ultimately resulted in artery and nerve damage. The 1977 album, Bad Reputation, was recorded as a trio, but Robertson did rejoin the band for the critically acclaimed Live and Dangerous in 1978. However, the strain between Robertson and Lynott ultimately resulted in the guitarist being replaced by blues-inspired journeyman Gary Moore.

Lynott and Moore had played together in a band called Skid Row in the late sixties right before Lynott formed Thin Lizzy. In 1974 Moore briefly joined Thin Lizzy during a tour in 1974 and was a replacement for Robertson during a tour in 1977. Black Rose saw the first actual recording to feature Moore, who offered a shredding contrast to Gorham’s more traditional style, but advanced the dual guitar sound to a level not seen by the band before or after.


Black Rose: A Rock Legend by Thin Lizzy
Released: April 13, 1979 (Vertigo)
Produced by: Tony Visconti
Recorded: Paris and London, December 1978–February 1979
Side One Side Two
Do Anything You Want To
Toughest Street in Town
S & M
Waiting For an Alibi
Sarah
Got to Give It Up
Get Out of Here
With Love
Róisín Dubh (Black Rose):
A Rock Legend
Group Musicians
Phil Lynott – Lead Vocals, Bass
Scott Gorham – Guitars, Vocals
Gary Moore – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Downey – Drums, Percussion

The album commences with the thundering rhythms by Lynott and drummer Brian Downey before the two guitarists break into the first of many harmonized guitar riffs. Recorded in Paris, the song uses rapidly rhyming lyrics during the verse which yield to a more traditionally constructed chorus. Above the outro thumps, Lynott adds some distant vocals stating “Elvis is dead” and the brief start of “Blue Suede Shoes” before it completely fades out. the collaborative “Toughest Street in Town” leans more towards early eighties style hard rock as it massages the band’s “tough guy image” in a rather trite fashion with a chanting hook but still some slightly interesting lyrics,

Like a rat in a pack it attacks from the back through a crack in a track and you take a smack…”

A long drum roll introduces the unique composition “S & M”, which is driven by flange-drenched rapid funk music and starkly brutal lyrics. This track was co-written by drummer Downey, who provides a consistent shuffle throughout and also adds a slight drum solo later. “Waiting for an Alibi” is pure upbeat rock and probably the best constructed pop/rock track on the first side. The first single released from Black Rose, the song features further harmonized guitars by Moore and Gorham and well-crafted, poetic lyrics by Lynott. “Sarah” completes side one as a ballad with slightly Latin rhythms dedicated to Lynott’s then-newborn first daughter. This song sounds different than anything else on the album due to the instrumental arrangement and additional session musicians, including a pre-fame journeyman harmonica player called Huey Lewis. Moore’s fine, sharply contrasting lead guitar after the second verse/chorus temporarily brings the song back into the hard rock realm.

A bluesy intro by Gorham introduces “Got to Give It Up” before the song rockets into another strong rock song with more great lead guitars. Apparently glimpsing his own dire fate, Lynott wrote the song about resolving to get on the wagon but failing to do so. Almost as a response to the previous song, “Get Out of Here” offers a more rigid counterpoint. This song was co-written by Midge Ure, who would later join the band as a full member. A bit corny, but still a fun listen musically, the song is filled with pessimistic lyrics;

I used to be a dreamer but I realized that it’s not my style at all / In fact it becomes clearer that a dreamer doesn’t stand a chance at all…”

“With Love” is a desperate song with a dark feel overall where guest bassist Jimmy Bain supplies a boogie bass pattern under the dualing lead guitars. The closing “Róisín Dubh (Black Rose): A Rock Legend” is a wild Irish rock odyssey by Lynott and Moore where everyone in the band is at the top of their game performance-wise. Consisting of a blend of traditional songs fused together by original riffs, Rolling Stone recently called this “the best Irish rock song of all time”. Completing the tribute to the Emerald Isle, Lynott name-drops some famous Irish artists during the improvised outro, including James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and Van Morrison.

While Black Rose was a critical and commercial success, Thin Lizzy could never quite ride the success as their bad luck continued when Moore abruptly left the band later in 1979. The band recorded three more studio albums to mediocre receptions before  Thin Lizzy’s breakup in 1983. Tragically, Lynott died three years later due to complications from substance abuse, solidifying this album as the group’s final masterpiece.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1979 albums.