Sunday, 10 February 2013

Thin Lizzy


I recently saw a poster advertising a “Farewell” tour by Thin Lizzy - yes, the same Thin Lizzy you thought split up thirty years ago. I assume somebody in the photo used to be in the band when Phil Lynott was the singer, but to be honest, it could just as easily have been Machine Head or Paradise Lost in that picture, it was so anonymous. It screamed “Classic Rock”.

And yet, even though Lizzy did become famous once they went into the world of ’Hard Rock’, and became regulars at the Reading Festival, they were so much more than that. Indeed, when they started, for the first few years of their career they were so far removed from the metal sound that they sometimes veered dangerously close to later on, that it’s sometimes hard to think that it was the same band who did both “The Boys Are Back In Town” and “Whisky In The Jar”.

In recent years, much of the band’s back catalogue has been reissued on CD in expanded form, which - as ever - should really be the last word on their albums, so I figured I would do a quick blog on the band, looking at what stage these reissues are up to.

Overview

Born in Birmingham in 1949, Lynott moved to Dublin as a child, and in the late 60s, Thin Lizzy were formed with two members of one band joining two others. Lynott was the singer and bass player, Eric Bell was on guitar, Eric Wrixon was on keyboards, and Brian Downey the drummer. They gigged around Ireland and were spotted by the Irish division of Parlophone Records, who offered them a deal to release a single. The result of this was the issue of the Irish only 1970 single “The Farmer”, released just after Wrixon had the left the band. With little promotion, and the band still relatively unknown outside the gig circuit, the single unsurprisingly flopped, but rather than feel disheartened, this was merely the first step on the ladder for the band. The single, famously, was accidentally credited to “Thin Lizzie”, and with less than 300 copies sold, any genuine copies appearing on the collectors market now go for a small fortune.

The remaining trio were then signed to Decca, relocated to London, and their first release outside of Ireland was their 1971 debut LP, simply titled “Thin Lizzy”. It too was something of a commercial non event, but it showcased the band’s sound perfectly. It’s difficult to describe just how early period Thin Lizzy sound, Wikipedia refers to this and the other Decca LP’s as “Celtic Rock”, which is a reasonable effort, but the band’s early material has always sounded quite complex and “prog” to me, indeed the sleeve notes to the band’s 2002 boxset “Vagabonds Kings Warriors Angels” talks about how the band loved a nice time signature change whenever the need arose. There is a real ambitiousness about this and the other early albums, that was mostly lost when they went “rock”, where they usually decided to try and capture what they wanted to within the space of three or four minutes instead. Furthermore, having titles like “The Friendly Ranger At Clontarf Castle” summons up images of Gabriel era Genesis, rather than Kiss or AC/DC.

After the release of new material in the form of the “New Day” EP later the same year, 1972 saw the release of “Shades Of A Blue Orphange”, with the commercial breakthrough still not quite happening. Thereafter, the band returned to the studio to record new material to be spread out on forthcoming singles, including their version of the traditional Irish song “Whisky In The Jar”. This six minute epic was thought of as B-side material by the band, as they were starting to develop their sound beyond their Celtic Rock roots. So when the label decided to issue it as the A-side of their next single, the band were reportedly unhappy. But for once, the record company got it right. “Whisky” gave the band a huge hit when released later that year, and suddenly put Thin Lizzy on the map. The band had already begun to garner the attention of Radio 1 DJ’s like John Peel, but when the follow up single “Randolph’s Tango” didn’t have quite the same impact, Lizzy were in danger of becoming one hit wonders - and with a hit that some thought no more than a novelty folk rock cover.

1973’s “Vagabonds Of The Western World” still didn’t turn Lizzy into superstars, but is regarded now as an early period classic. In some respects, it showcases perfectly the schizophrenic nature of the band. “The Rocker”, as it’s title suggests, was a noisy guitar stomp, a sign of things to come, whilst the album closer, “A Song For While I’m Away”, was a string-driven thing of beauty, a million miles away from the loud rampant roar of “Jailbreak”.

It was time for the next line up change, and a change of label, with Bell leaving the band. After several experimental line up changes (including the brief recruitment of Gary Moore), Bell was eventually replaced by the “twin guitar” attack of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson. The group signed to the one-time prog label Vertigo, and released their fourth LP, “Nightlife”, in 1974. Despite being given the honour of a double disc deluxe reissue in recent times, it’s always been thought of as a patchy effort, not least by some of the band themselves, caught somewhere between the psychedelic blues rock sometimes found during the Decca years, and the thunderous sound of the later records. The epic ballad that was “Still In Love with You”, complete with Moore’s (at the time) only studio contribution to the band before leaving, is seen by many as the album’s highlight, and the Allmusic review describes the slightly oddball nature of the album well - “a soulful record, smooth in ways that Thin Lizzy never were before and rarely were afterwards”.

It was on 1975’s “Fighting” that the band truly arrived. Complete with a macho front cover, the image was matched by equally primal music, and Lizzy really started to make headway not just in the UK, but worldwide. In America, their US label Mercury issued the album in a different cover and used a different mix of “Rosalie” to that which could be found on the UK version of the album. “Rosalie”, a Bob Seger cover chosen after the band had toured with him, was issued as a single to promote the album. Finally, the band’s arrival was completed with 1976’s classic “Jailbreak”, all duelling guitars, Lynott’s soulful vocals, and key changes aplenty. Lizzy were now hard rock heroes, and their Decca era past was more or less forgotten about, at least the more pastoral parts of it were. “The Rocker” was, however, fast becoming a stage favourite.

After another studio LP the same year, “Johnny The Fox”, the band returned - mostly - for 1977’s “Bad Reputation”. Due to an injury he had sustained, Brian Robertson was absent for much of the recording, and the front cover of the LP featured just the remaining trio, although all four did appear on the back of the LP sleeve. It continued the Lizzy sound - mostly guitar driven, but still with the odd melodic curveball thrown in for good measure, most notably on the Van Morrison inspired shuffle of “Dancing In The Moonlight”.

Robertson was officially in the band again full time for the following tour, and in 1978, the band issued a double live LP called “Live And Dangerous”, culled from tours supporting the two previous albums. Although cited by many as one of the finest live records ever made, it has been the subject of much controversy, with producer Tony Visconti claming that three quarters of the album consists of overdubs done in the studio - a claim denied by the band.

It was a new line up that reconvened to record 1979’s “Black Rose”, with Gary Moore coming in to replace Robertson. “Black Rose” is regarded by many as the band’s last great LP, spawning hits in the form of the guitar driven “Waiting For An Alibi” and the stunning ballad “Sarah”. The band had previously given a song on their second album the same title, but both songs were about different members of Lynott’s family (the “Black Rose” one was about his daughter). By the time of the latter single’s release, Moore had left again, and “Sarah” was issued in three different covers, one for each remaining member of the group.

Thereafter, Lizzy’s reign as purveyors of catchy guitar rock started to slip. 1980’s “Chinatown”, the first with new second guitarist Snowy White, failed to get into the Billboard Top 100 in the US, and has always been regarded as a poor follow up to “Black Rose”, as was 1981’s “Renegade”. The singles being released from these albums also started to struggle to do much in the hit parade, with “Hollywood“ from the latter LP flopping quite badly. This album saw Lizzy officially increased to a five piece with addition of keyboardist Darren Wharton, but this line up lasted no longer than one album, with White leaving before the release of the band’s next, and final studio LP, 1983’s “Thunder And Lightning”. This LP, featuring John Sykes as the second guitarist, was issued as both a double LP and long play cassette with four bonus live tracks (including a live rendition of “The Boys Are Back In Town”, presumably to try and reel the punters in), but it still failed to win over the hearts of floating fans, although critics saw it as a return to form. Various issues saw the band finally throw in the towel, bowing out with another live album, 1983’s confusingly titled “Life Live”. This LP featured, on “The Rocker”, many of the band’s old guitarists on stage together, making one final line up change before the end. Lynott, having released some solo material during the final years of the band, which seemed to be more high profile than his final outings with Lizzy, passed away in January 1986.

Compilations

Given that Lizzy - with Lynott - have not existed for the past three decades, then it is no surprise to announce that most compilation albums issued since his death have generally all covered the same ground. That has not stopped, in recent years, the authorized release of such best of’s as “Wild One” and “Greatest Hits”. But rather than trawl through all of them, I thought I would pick out the five most interesting ones.

“Remembering Part 1” was issued by Decca in 1976 to coincide with Lizzy’s sudden rush of success, and was a run through of bits and pieces of the early years. Aside from stand alone A-sides and B-sides, two other rarities were included in the form of “Little Darling” and “Sitamoia”, never before issued on a Lizzy LP, although the former had appeared as a 7” single in 1974. Despite it’s obvious “cash in” nature, the cover does look very much like a contemporary Lizzy LP from the time.

In 1979, another Decca album appeared, but this time with major input from the then line up of the group. “The Continuing Saga Of The Ageing Orphans” again dealt with the early years, but most of the songs on this 11-track LP consisted of revamped, remixed or even re-recorded versions. Three songs from “Vagabonds Of The Western World” appeared in untouched form, but the remainder were reworked by - at times - a very temporary line up of the band consisting of Lynott, Gary Moore and Midge Ure. Ure would later join the band properly as a live member when Moore left the band after “Black Rose”, and was an additional musician on the “Chinatown” LP. Lizzy have had plenty of other “live performances only” line up variations over the years.

Two songs from “Thin Lizzy” were reworked for the album, as were two from the “New Day” EP, one of which, “Things Ain’t Working Out Down At The Farm”, was issued as a single by Decca to coincide. Three songs from “Shades Of A Blue Orphange” were reworked along with “Slow Blues” from “Vagabonds”. All of these eight songs were later included on CD reissues of the band’s first three albums when they were re-released a few years ago.

Lynott’s death in 1986 brought, as expected, a new wave of compilation albums. The one I have from the period is a release on the budget label Contour, “Whisky In The Jar”, but due to the usual record company politics, it consists purely of Decca era material, although the version of “Things Ain’t Working Out” is the revamped (and edited) version from the “Ageing Orphans” LP.

If you only buy one Thin Lizzy best of, then 1991’s “Dedication” is the choice. It’s title comes from the one new song that appeared on the record, originally taped by the short lived (and never signed) post-Lizzy project fronted by Lynott, Grand Slam, this song featured additional overdubs by Gorham and Downey to make it into a “Thin Lizzy” record. The compilation cheated a bit by including solo material, including “Parisienne Walkways”, a single by Gary Moore with vocals by Lynott and one other member of Lizzy in the background, but it’s still never really been bettered by any of the other compilations that followed.

Mentioned previously is the band’s career spanning boxset “Vagabonds Kings Warriors Angels”. This is, for the most part, basically a very big best of, with little in the way of unreleased material, although most of the band’s B-sides are present and correct. Again, designed to cover Lynott’s life up to the very end, it thus includes solo material from as late as 1985. It’s main selling point is the inclusion of a non-UK b-side, “Cruising In The Lizzymobile”, a track which when originally released was called “A Ride In The Lizzymobile”. Perhaps Vertigo couldn’t face releasing it in the UK due to it’s horrible title.

Reissues

Pretty much every “proper” Lizzy LP has been reissued on CD on several occasions since the 80’s. The Vertigo ones were issued on CD during that decade, then appeared in remastered form in the 90’s, with most of them resurfacing again as expanded or deluxe editions in recent times.

The Decca ones were first reissued on CD in the early 1990’s. “Thin Lizzy” appeared in expanded form, with the four tracks from the “New Day” EP tagged on as bonus tracks. “Vagabonds Of The Western World” was expanded by including the a-sides and b-sides of the band’s two stand alone 45’s from the period, “Whisky In The Jar” and “Randolph’s Tango”, both of which had originally been issued in the months leading up to the release of the LP.

In the last couple of years, all three Decca albums have reappeared in remastered and expanded form. The debut still includes the “New Day” EP, but is now also joined by “The Farmer” (but not it’s corresponding B-side), and the four “reworkings” from the “Ageing Orphans” album. The reworked songs are “Look What The Wind Blew In” and “Honesty Is No Excuse” from the LP, and “Dublin” and the aforementioned “Things Ain’t Working Out” from the EP.

“Shades” was expanded to include both sides of the “Whisky In The Jar” 7”, and four songs from a John Peel Session. The other three bonuses are the three songs from the album that were reworked for the “Orphans” LP - “Buffalo Gal”, “Sarah” and “Brought Down”.

Given it’s classic album status, the most recent issue of “Vagabonds Of The Western World” has seen it expanded to double CD length. CD1 includes both sides of the “Randolph’s Tango” and “The Rocker” 45’s (the latter was lifted from the LP, but edited for single release, and included a non-album b-side), along with the aforementioned “Lizzymobile”, “Little Darling” and “Sitamoia”. Also included is the reworked song from the album that appeared on “Orphans” (“Slow Blues”), as well as the radio edit mixes of “Randolph’s Tango” and “Whisky In The Jar”. CD2 features a selection of BBC Radio Session material, although much of this material has since appeared on the “At The BBC” release.

All of the Vertigo era albums from “Nightlife” to “Johnny The Fox” inclusive have recently been issued as double disc releases. Again, much of the bonus material is from the BBC vaults, but each release includes at least one other rarity from the period. The “Fighting” reissue comes in the UK sleeve, but the booklet uses the American album cover image on it’s front. Some, maybe all, copies have been mispressed, and instead of playing the US mix of “Rosalie” as promised on disc 2, play the UK album mix again.

Despite it’s good reputation, “Bad Reputation” reappeared in expanded, but only single disc, form in 2011. It ends with a “sound check” version of “Me And The Boys”, the original studio version of which appeared on the B-side of the “Live” version of “Rosalie” that was issued as a single to plug the “Live And Dangerous” LP in 1978.

“Live and Dangerous” has also appeared in deluxe form, as a 3-disc release. The original LP is boosted now by two extra live tracks (from, I think, the "Killers Live EP"), whilst disc 3 is a DVD. Don’t get too excited though - it’s basically part of a separately available DVD called “Live At The Rainbow Theatre 1977”, which comes boosted with bonus features, whereas the version inside “Live And Dangerous” consists of the Rainbow Theatre gig only, but it’s a nice touch.

Both “Black Rose” and “Chinatown” have also appeared as double CD releases, but as I type this, no recent reissues have been made of either “Renegade”, “Thunder And Lightning” or “Life”, with the CD editions currently on sale being the same ones released back in the 1990’s. As regards “Thunder And Lightning”, this means the bonus tracks from the original LP + 12” release are currently AWOL.

Discography

Shown below are the main items of interest for the band in the UK and Ireland. The albums list relates to the most recent CD pressing of each studio or live album that was originally released before Lynott’s death. The 45’s list is self explanatory, whilst also detailed are the compilation records listed above - plus a few others of interest.

ALBUMS

Thin Lizzy (1971, Decca 984 447-7)
Shades Of A Blue Orphanage (1972, Decca 984 448-2)
Vagabonds Of The Western World (1973, Decca 984 194-9)
Nightlife (1974, Mercury 279 2226)
Fighting (1975, Mercury 279 2227)
Jailbreak (1976, Mercury 533 2052)
Johnny The Fox (1976, Mercury 533 2077)
Bad Reputation (1977, Mercury 277 2693)
Live And Dangerous (1978, Mercury 533 2073)
Black Rose (1979, Mercury 277 2700)
Chinatown (1980, Mercury 277 2696)
Renegade (1981, Vertigo 842 435 2)
Thunder And Lightning (1983, Vertigo 810 490-2, vinyl copies include free 12“ [LIZLP 3])
Life Live (1983, Vertigo 812 882-2)

SINGLES

For many of Lizzy’s 45’s, they were only issued on 7”, and that format forms the bulk of the list below. However, where a single was issued on some fancy extended play format, this was usually done to include some sort of extra rare material, and thus wherever a single was issued on 12”, or CD, or as a 7” doublepack, these are shown in preference to the 7” version. However, any other 7” singles of interest for the same release are listed where it is felt necessary, as are picture discs.

The Farmer/I Need You (7”, Parlophone DIP 513)
New Day EP: Dublin/Remembering Part 2/Old Moon Madness/ Things Ain’t Working Out Down At The Farm (7”, Decca F13208)
Whisky In The Jar/Black Boys On The Corner (7”, Decca F13355)
Randolph’s Tango/Broken Dream (7”, Decca F13402)
The Rocker (7” Mix)/Here I Go Again (7”, Decca F13467)
Little Darling/Buffalo Gal (7”, Decca F13507)
Philomena/Sha La La (7”, Vertigo 6059 111)
Rosalie/Half Caste (7”, Vertigo 6059 124)
Wild One/For Those Who Love To Live (7”, Vertigo 6059 129)
The Boys Are Back In Town/Emerald (7”, Vertigo 6059 139)
Jailbreak/Running Back (7”, Vertigo 6059 150)
Whiskey In The Jar/Vagabonds Of The Western World/Sitamoia (7”, Decca F13748)
Don’t Believe A Word/Old Flame (7”, Vertigo LIZZY 1)
Dancing In The Moonlight/Bad Reputation (7”, Vertigo 6059 177)
Rosalie (Live)/Me And The Boys (7”, Vertigo LIZZY 2)
Things Ain’t Working Out Down At The Farm (1977 Version)/The Rocker/Little Darling (7”, Decca THIN 1)
Waiting For An Alibi/With Love (7”, Vertigo LIZZY 3)
Do Anything You Want To/Just The Two Of Us (7”, Vertigo LIZZY 4)
Sarah/Got To Give It Up (7”, Vertigo LIZZY 5)
Chinatown/Sugar Blues (Live) (7”, Vertigo LIZZY 6)
Killer On The Loose/Don’t Play Around/Chinatown (Live, June 1980)/Got To Give It Up (Live, June 1980) (2x7”, Vertigo LIZZY 77)
Killers Live EP: Bad Reputation (Live)/Opium Trail (Live)/Are You Ready (Live)/Dear Miss Lonely Hearts (Live) (12”, Vertigo LIZZY 812)
Song For Jimmy (4 track Flexi disc, other songs by other artists, Flexipop 010)
Trouble Boys/Memory Pain (7”, Vertigo LIZZY 9)
Hollywood/The Pressure Will Blow (7”, Vertigo LIZZY 10)
Hollywood/The Pressure Will Blow (7” Picture Disc, Vertigo LIZPD 10)
Cold Sweat/Bad Habits/Angel Of Death (Live, Hammersmith Odeon 1981)/Don’t Believe A Word (Live, Hammersmith Odeon 1981) (2x7”, Vertigo LIZZY 11-22)
Cold Sweat/Bad Habits/Angel Of Death (Live, Hammersmith Odeon 1981)/Don’t Believe A Word (Live, Hammersmith Odeon 1981) (12“, Vertigo LIZZY 1112)
Thunder And Lightning/Still In Love With You (Live) (7”, Vertigo LIZZY 12)
Thunder And Lightning/Still In Love With You (live) (12”, Vertigo LIZZY 1212)
The Sun Goes Down (Remix/Edit)/Baby Please Don’t Go (7”, Vertigo LIZZY 13)
The Sun Goes Down (Extended Version)/(12 Inch Remix Version)/Baby Please Don’t Go (12”, Vertigo LIZZY 1312)
Whisky In The Jay (Live, Eire 1978) (1-sided 7”, Polydor PLYN 1, given free with solo Phil Lynott 45)
Whisky in The Jar/The Rocker/Sarah (Decca Version)/Black Boys On The Corner (12”, Castle TOF 108)
Dedication/Cold Sweat/Emerald (Live)/Sill In Love With You (Live) (CD, Vertigo LIZCD 14)
The Boys Are Back In Town (Remix)/Johnny The Fox/Black Boys On The Corner/Me And The Boys (Live) (12” with poster, Vertigo LIZZY 115)
The Boys Are Back In Town (Remix)/Johnny The Fox/Black Boys On The Corner/Me And The Boys (Live) (12” Picture Disc, Vertigo LIZP 115)
The Boys Are Back In Town (Remix)/Johnny The Fox/Black Boys On The Corner/Me And The Boys (Live) (CD, Vertigo LIZCD 15)

SELECTED COMPIlATION/POSTHUMOUS LIVE ALBUMS

Remembering Part 1 (1976, LP, Decca SKL 5249)
The Continuing Saga Of The Ageing Orphans (1979, LP, Decca SKL 5298)
The Adventures Of Thin Lizzy (1981, first “hits” album, LP, Vertigo LIZTV 1)
The Collection (1985, issued in conjunction with Castle’s “Whisky In The Jar” 12”, 2xLP, Castle CCSLP 117)
Whisky In The Jar (1986, same title reused for other later comps, LP, Contour CN 2080)
Dedication (1991, CD, Vertigo 848 192-2)
BBC Radio One Live In Concert (1992, CD, Windsong WINCD 024)
The Peel Sessions (1994, CD, Strange Fruit SFRCD 130)
Wild One (1996, initial Japanese copies included rarities disc of live recordings previously issued on 45 and EP releases, CD, Vertigo 528 113-2)
Vagabonds Kings Warriors Angels (2002, 4xCD, Mercury 556 495-2)
Greatest Hits (2007, 2xCD, Universal 984 9627)
UK Tour 75 (2008, CD, Major League MLP 16CD)
Still Dangerous (2009, “follow up” to “Live And Dangerous”, Thin Lizzy Productions TLPCD 001)
At The BBC (2011, 6xCD + DVD, Mercury 278 2155)

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