The first rock concert I ever attended when I was 15 years old was Thin Lizzy and Queen in 1977 at Madison Square Garden in the heart of New York City. On a very cold February night in 1977, Thin Lizzy took the stage at Madison Square Garden opening with their song “Jailbreak.” We all have those moments during our teen years when we are first hit with the power of rock and roll square in the face. Watching Phil Lynott step to the mic center stage and begin to sing those opening lines, “Tonight there’s going to be a jailbreak,” was the moment for me.
Thin Lizzy was originally formed in Dublin, Ireland in the year 1969. The founding members Phil Lynott and Brian Downey knew each from their school years. The band would release their first album in 1971 entitled Thin Lizzy. From that point on Thin Lizzy would continue to release records until their final album Thunder and Lightning with Phil Lynott was released in 1983. Phil Lynott went on to record some solo albums and worked with other musicians up until his death in 1986. He was only 36 years old when he passed away.
When you see a famous rock and roll band at a very young age, you become a fan for life. Every album Phil released with Thin Lizzy contained a gold mine of rock and roll treasures. Passionate filled lyrics of substance surrounded by emotional hard-driving guitar, bass, and drums all centered around Phil’s dynamic vocal performances made for rock and roll in its most organic form and identity. This was great music that we have now seen as becoming timeless. Our 11 essential Thin Lizzy Songs list is simply a tribute to some of our favorite Thin Lizzy Songs.
# 11 – Killer on the Loose
One of our favorite Thin Lizzy albums was the record Chinatown . The album Chinatown was released in 1980. The song opening up our Essential Thin Lizzy Songs list closed out side two of the Chinatown album. The song “Killer on the Loose,” was released as a single of the album Chinatown . The song was a top 10 hit in both Ireland and the U.K. There is a certain rhythmic pulse on this track that clearly emanates from the changes rock music was going through at the turn of the decade in 1980. It’s not very evident at first, but it’s there.
# 10 – Sweetheart
The song “Sweetheart,” has long been a favorite of Thin Lizzy fans. The song “Sweetheart,” appeared on the great Chinatown album. How could you not love the opening guitar lines in between the power chords at the song’s opening. Phil’s great vocals delivers the song’s verses into a killer hook that is carried away by the mutual guitar and keyboard lick that carried the song away into vintage Thin Lizzy land on a new set of sails.
The keyboard work that was recorded on the Chinatown album was performed by a very young 17-year-old musician named Darren Wharton. The young keyboardist would become a permanent member of the band until the group’s final recording Thunder and Lightning in 1983. Wharton would go on to form his own band called Dare in 1985. He would join the Thin Lizzy reunion tour in 2010 . He performed on the new album the band recorded in 2013 which was eventually released under the name Black Star Riders.
# 9 – Southbound
The song “Southbound,” was the closing number on side one of Thin Lizzy’s phenomenal Bad Reputation album. The song opens up with some very sweet melodic guitar lines that set the tone for Phil’s iconic vocal line. The song’s chorus echos the traveling troubadour, the lone traveler, cascading along the lines of Van Morrison Domino style melody. Simply one of those great sing along songs. Thin Lizzy’s Bad Reputation album was released in 1977.
The song “Dancing in the Moonlight,” was released as the album’s only single. The album’s front cover only featured Phil Lynott, Brian Downey and Scott Gorham because long time guitarist Brian Robertson had injured his hand in a bar fight. However, Brian Robertson did perform on three cuts on the record and eventually joined the band despite Phil Lynott’s frustration with the guitarist’s behavior.
# 8 – Hollywood (Down On Your Luck)
” Hollywood (Down on your Luck),” was released on Thin Lizzy’s album Renegade. The record was released in 1981 and was the band’s eleventh studio album. The song ” Hollywood (Down on your Luck),” opened up side two of the Renegade. album. The song Hollywood (Down on your Luck) was also released as a single in March of 1982. The remastered 2013 edition of the album Renegade. featured a couple of cover songs including a version of Percy Mayfield’s “Memory Pain” which was released as a non album single by the band back in 1981 along with the song “Trouble Boys.”
# 7 – The Boys Are Back In Town
For many people who are not avid classic rock fans or simply just born within the past 20 to 30 years, Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town,” may be the only Thin Lizzy song recognizable to that particular audience. And that’s a shame, because any Thin Lizzy fan recognizes that the band put out a wealth of material during the 1970’s into the early 1980’s that was brilliant. The fact that we choose not to list this as the band’s number one song is not an argument against the song’s greatness, but rather a tribute to the songs that were not recognized by popular culture as much as they should have been. Even the band seemed to acknowledge that the song should not be the ultimate representation of who they were.
The placement of the song in their nightly set-list in the 4th or 5th position instead of the closing number or encore seems to provide evidence that the band may have been saying , yes we know its our biggest hit, but it’s not our best work. Billy Joel used to play “Piano Man,” early in his set also so he could get that one out-of-the-way and go on an perform the rest of his brilliant catalog. It must be frustrating for artists who have recorded a wealth of material they are immeasurably proud of, yet a large portion of mass culture may only know of them because of one song.
The song was released on their 1976 Jailbreak album and easily become the groups biggest hit of their career. According to the liner noted of the deluxe edition of the Jailbreak album, it was what their record company was waiting for. There was immense pressure on the band to come up with a hit single. It was make or break time for the band. And well, they delivered big time. “The Boys Are Back In Town,” was their highest charted single ever in the United States peaking at Number 12 on the Billboard music charts. The song reached the number 8 spot in the U.K. In Ireland, the single “The Boys Are Back in Town,” easily hit the Number One position.
# 6 – Cowboy Song
Thin Lizzy’s “Cowboy Song,” was just another great track issued on their 1976 Jailbreak album. The song was composed by Thin Lizzy members Phil Lynott and Brian Downey. The songs’ brilliant transition from intro through verse to chorus depicted just how melodically memorable some of Thin Lizzy’s greatest recordings were. Sadly the song’s single edit cut two minutes of the album’s track time from 5:16 to 3:17. The liner notes of Jailbreak defined Phil Lynott’s love of American pop culture. Phil Lynott was very much inspired by American Western movies which served as the premise for his “Cowboy Song.”
# 5 – Whiskey in the Jar
The great solo blues guitar opening of “Whiskey in the Jar,” set the song apart a bit from other Thin Lizzy songs. The acoustic guitar riff that followed the slow blues guitar lead was quite a surprise at first. It felt as of the songs had been headed in quite a different direction than it had done so. And yet, it was so brilliant. Phil Lynott’s vocal line sounded a little different on this one. His vocals were recorded with a bit of flange and plate that created a fresh sound that perfectly matched the song’s Celtic rock feel. This one was unique and simply one of their best. “Whiskey in a Jar,” was not written by Thin Lizzy. The song is a traditional Irish ballad that the band released as a single in 1970.
# 4 – Chinatown
For whatever reason, the words Chinatown and Thin Lizzy just looked pretty awesome on that iconic album cover. Chinatown will easily go down as one of our favorite Thin Lizzy albums and one of our favorite Thin Lizzy songs here at ClassicRockHistory.com. There was a big change in the band on the Chinatown album as Snowy White replaced Gary Moore on guitar for the record. One can hear a definite difference in the song’s opening guitar lick. While any change in a band’s lineup will lead to fan discussion on the impact of band personal changes, all we can say is we simply love the groove and intensity of the Chinatown track. It is one of our favorite Thin Lizzy Songs by far.
# 3 – Johnny the Fox
When a band celebrates such a major hit like Thin Lizzy scored with “The Boys Are Back In Town,” the conversation immediately turns to a discussion on how the band will follow-up their success. Some artist like Bruce Springsteen and Joan Osborne who scored career changing hit singles and albums with Born In The U.S.A. and One of Us (Relish)will retreats into the mystic and release non-commercial records. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s an artistic choice that bleeds respect.
Thin Lizzy’s follow-up to the Jailbreak album seemed to follow the band’s career path of just releasing great rock records without any need to compromise for the sake of chart pleasing singles. While the album Johnny The Fox contained no hits, the record was abundantly filled with great Thin Lizzy compositions that left no Thin Lizzy fan disappointed. How could you not love the opening line “Johnny the Fox,” he called to Jimmy The Weed.” This is simply such a killer song that was an awesome follow-up to “The Boys Are Back In Town.” It doesn’t have to be a hit to rock
# 2 – Got To Give It Up
Sometimes it just becomes so difficult to describe works of art. In 1979, Thin Lizzy had been three years removed from scoring their biggest hit of their career with “The Boys Are Back In Town.” Yet, the band continued to release great rock and roll records on a consistent basis year after year. Thin Lizzy’s 1970 release Black Rose stood out not just because of all the great music on the recording, but because it defied the musical trends developing at the end of the decade. While artists like The Ramones, The Police, Patti Smith, and Blondie were riding the new wave punk movements (which we also loved and celebrated)
This Lizzy continued to stay true to their hard-edged classic sound.Yes, of course there may have been some elements of the time period present in the music, especially in the rhythm track. However, their sound was still vintage early to mid 1970’s. The Black Rose album was a fantastic record that has proven to become a timeless classic work of art recording. The amazing song “Got To Give It Up,” is simply the perfect representation of an album of great rock and roll.
# 1 – Cold Sweat
“Cold Sweat” is the song that defines the Thin Lizzy sound in all its rebellious Celtic hard rocking glory. The song “Cold Sweat” was released on their final album Thunder and Lightning in 1983. The song’s dark minor chord opening guitar licks, the intensity of the opening drum grooves, and Lynott’s powerful rhythmic deep vocal line sets up a Thin Lizzy song for the ages.
The band’s heavier sound on the Thunder and Lightning album was produced by the replacement of Snowy White on guitar by guitarist John Sykes. The song “Cold Sweat” was written by Phil Lynott and John Sykes. It was released as single and landed in the top 30 on the UK and Ireland music charts. The song has become a metal music classic and has been covered by many bands including Megadeath in 2013.
It’s a shame that Thunder and Lightning became the band’s last album. The addition of John Sykes to the band brought an even more intense sound that seemed perfectly matched to the emotional vocal performances of Phil Lynott. “Cold Sweat,” was the ultimate finale to a band that is now viewed as one of the most inspirational heavy rock bands in classic rock history.
Updated Nov 9, 2020