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. . .


"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?

R.I.P., Phil.


Kelly said...

I would add to that list Bad Reputation and Black Rose....two Lp's that got lost in the Live and Dangerous era shuffle, the former because Brian Robertson had quit touring, and the latter because Gary Moore quit on them halfway through a world tour. Bad Reputation excellent because Lynott stepped away from album length theme songwriting, and got back to short and tough, and Black Rose because of it's return to Irish themes and Moore's incendiary playing. The Australian tour video Boys Are Back In Town documents the Moore/Black Rose tour down under.

Dylan Gaughan said...

kelly, you should be writing a Thin Lizzy post. do you have a blog? want to do a guest post here?

josh said...


thank you. thank you for actually posting music (and a ton of it) of the bands I like. that makes you one of the better bloggers out there. thank you for giving me something to consistantly look forward to. when i find tens of pages that have the same new songs and say the same things, you always mine out the good fucking old stuff. and for that, i say thank you.

Liz said...

Once again, thanks Dylan
I would add one fave song
Running back from Jailbreak

Anonymous said...

Megan Reilly does a STUNNING version of "Little Girl in Bloom" on her album "let your ghost go".

the title track is an original song she wrote for Phil.

D_Green said...

Good work writing about a very talented man and an incredible band.


robp said...

Trying to get Lynott's Ode To A Black Man after hearing a clip of it on last.fm; (a friend had turned me on to some excellent Dirtbombs songs, and their cover of Ode was supposed to be the best song on their all-covers lp) it doesn't seem to be here any longer, and I'm pretty sure I don't want this whole album, just certain tracks. I'd happily pay for individual tracks but I HATE the Itunes store, so if you know anywhere else these songs are available I'd appreciate it.

Love your site, thanks.

Anonymous said...

for an ACCURATE account of Philip Lynotts life and death (NOT an overdose!!) visit his OFFICIAL site