THIN LIZZY: (Final) Ode to a Black Man
Twenty years ago (or 21 years this coming January), at the age of 36, Phil Lynott overdosed on heroin.
Lynott was born in England to parents who split up three weeks after his birth. While he was raised in Ireland by his grandmother, his mother frequently visited him as he grew up, and it was Philomena Lynott who discovered her sick son (and learned of his addictions to heroin and alcohol) over the Christmas holiday in 1986. He was taken to a hospital, where he died less than two weeks later of kidney, liver and heart failure.
An unattributed quote from a 1987 Metal Gear article on the demise of Lizzy and Lynott has the man writing his own epitaph: "When I die, I think my final report will say: 'Did better than expected, but not quite as well as hoped for."
It kind of breaks my heart to know that a guy with so much talent and promise felt so sad and helpless. He had accomplished a hell of a lot in his lifetime, and left behind a great catalogue of music. Lizzy fans might argue over my picks in these past three posts, and maybe they can steer you in directions I've missed. I'm just giving you a few of my favorites in the hopes that you'll go out and try a few of the band's records (I personally recomend Jailbreak, their self titled debut, Vagabonds of the Western World, Fighting and, if you're into live records, Live and Dangerous.)
With that in mind. . .
THIN LIZZY, Pt. 3
"Rosalie": Believe it or not, there was a time many MANY years ago, before he became the Mellencamp prototype, when Bob Seger used to actually kick some ass. I'll give you a moment to let that thought sink in. Ready to move on? "Rosalie" is one of Seger's old rockers, and Lizzy covered it as the opener of Fighting. Their cover almost singlehandedly makes the case for Seger as Detroit asskicker (though if you need further proof, download "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" from his 1968 debut album). The song became a live staple, a version of which you can find right here. Thanks to reader "kelly" for suggesting the Seger cover. Kelly also highly rec's "Fighting My Way Back" from the same record.
"Cowboy Song": Another highlight from the virtually flawless Jailbreak album. I love the slow build up at the beginning into that guitar riff. Now that I mention it, I've never been a huge fan of the word "riff." I always wish there were more words to describe a guitar part. But in the case of Thin Lizzy (and a few other bands, like AC/DC), "riff" is totally the right word. So if you've seen an overabundance of the word "riff" in these past few posts, that is why.
"Southbound": If you're ever looking for that perfect soundtrack for just getting the fuck out of town and blazing a trail off into the sunset, Thin Lizzy is your band. If I had a few million dollars to spare, I'd love to make a modern Western and use only Lizzy tunes as the soundtrack. "Southbound" would probably have to be saved for the end credits. Any film directors out there want to collaborate? Quentin?
"Honesty is No Excuse": The first time I heard this, I was amazed it was from the band's debut album. Lynott's lyrics are so frank, confessional and full of regret that you'd think they were coming from a man twice his age. "Up till now my youthful stage / Was a useless rage, a torn out page, a worn out gauge / A dirty shade, a big charade, a has been made / And honesty was my only excuse."
"For Those Who Love to Live": Another track from Fighting tonight, this one a groovy little mid-tempo/uptempo rocker about living, loving and - again - running away.
"Whiskey in the Jar": The hit that put Thin Lizzy on the map wouldn't come until just before the band's third record, Vagabonds of the Western World. A cover of an old Irish folk song, "Whiskey" tells the story of a Robin Hood-esque character betrayed by his lover. (This Wikipedia entry gives some more detailed information on all of the various versions of the song.) With a hit under their belts and a newly acquired Top Ten status, Thin Lizzy were afforded more time to work on and record their music, giving them their best album to date. While "Whiskey" didn't actually appear on the Vagabonds LP, it has since been added to CD pressings of the album.
"Ode to a Black Man": Tonight's final song is actually from Phil Lynott's 1980 solo album Solo in Soho. Detroit rockers THE DIRTBOMBS do a fantastic cover of this, but unfortunately I'm nowhere near my hard drive tonight to share it with you. Perhaps in a future post. Regardless, theirs was the first I'd heard of the song, and I immediately sought out the original from a blogger at a site called Kittytext, who was doing a regular Thursday posting of Lizzy tracks. The song calls out a number of black heroes, and even calls out Stevie Wonder for turning away from his political songwriting (the lyric "I don't want no songs for plants, I want songs for me" is a reference to Wonder's disappointing Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants). Huey Lewis pops up at some point on Lynott's solo record, and I'm guessing right now that he's the one playing the harmonica here. Anyone know the answer to that one?