Forgotten Classic Album: Thin Lizzy’s ‘Jailbreak’

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You know, perhaps, the most beautiful thing about music is how it can trigger so many memories that became intertwined with a particular song. The opening chords of a song can trigger a flood of memories. My wife and I were going out the other night, and a local radio station was having its weekly “Eighties Weekend”, when back-to-back songs came on that got us reminiscing about when we were dating and when our older son was just a toddler. And, my wife then mentioned, “Isn’t it cool how music does that?” Absolutely!

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Either this morning, I felt as though I needed a dose of Thin Lizzy. So, I threw on their American breakthrough album Jailbreak. Sure, the album was released in the Spring of 1976, but I really did not stumble across the album until that summer, when their classic song, “The Boys Are Back in Town” finally hit the airwaves on the local radio stations. I loved that song, not for the sheer energy of the song but I loved the lyrics. The wordplay was unique and fresh to the ears of my 13-year-old self. I can remember hearing that song, along with Kiss Destroyer all summer long. Those two will always take me back to the summer that I transitioned from a runner who was staying in shape for basketball into a “real” distance runner with a summer training regime.

Still, it wasn’t until college when I finally bought Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak album. And, at the time, I never understood why it took me five years to finally purchase this album. In retrospect, for some reason, I was always a little reluctant to buy an album that was not popular with my friends, especially in middle school. But, I played Jailbreak enough by college to be able to recognize Thin Lizzy’s influences and understand why the band was held in high regard in the United Kingdom, even after punk scorched the earth over there.

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In the States, Thin Lizzy has always been lumped with the hard rock crowd. However, once you listen to Jailbreak, you can catch large doses of R&B and the blues, as well as some pop and heartland rock that you would never expect from an Irish band. Or, should we?

Then, you have to factor in the lyrics, written by the late, great Phil Lynott, the vocalist/bassist/leader/visionary of the band. The man was a poet. Period. He just might be the most underrated lyricist in the history of rock music. Which might be appropriate, since Thin Lizzy might be the most underrated band in the history of rock music. Lynott’s lyrics sit nicely next to Bob Dylan’s, Robbie Robertson’s, Van Morrison’s and Bruce Springsteen’s, all of whom are acknowledged geniuses. Yet, Lynott is unfairly known for one song, “The Boys Are Back in Town”, which most songwriters would give their firstborn child to have written. But, there is much more to Thin Lizzy than that song.

Thin Lizzy is a significant in that they popularized the use of a twin lead guitar attack, that had not been employed by many groups up to the mid-Seventies, but would be used by metal gods like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, to name a few. By the mid-Eighties, Lizzy songs became “cool” cover songs to be recorded by metal bands. Still, Jailbreak is the band’s finest statement.

The album is supposed to be some science fiction-type rock opera, but I really don’t hear it that way. What I do hear is a collection of nine great, diverse songs all played under the same banner of this most underrated band. The album kicks off with the AOR hit album title song, a rocker with the rarest of rare intelligent lyrics NOT about fairies and demons.

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Song after song, Lynott’s songs romanticize a man breaking free of his chains in order to face down his destiny, whether a crook is running away in “Angel from the Coast”, or the great old rock adage of equating a musician with a cowboy, as Lynott does to great effect in his classic “Cowboy Song”. But, if I were given truth serum, I would say that I prefer the more R&B-influenced songs than the songs that appeal to the metalheads all over. I love Lynott’s heart-on-a-sleeve songs such as “Running Back”, since Thin Lizzy is never afraid to employ a sax solo to give their songs some soul.

As you listen to the album, the Springsteen comparisons can really begin to be obvious. I caught Springsteen in Lizzy’s great “Romeo and the Lonely Girl”, which could have been recorded for Born to Run, just as Lizzy’s “Cowboy Song” and “Emerald” could as well. Like I said, Lynott is so underrated that it is no longer funny to me.

While Jailbreak is widely considered to be Thin Lizzy’s best album, do not be afraid to dive in deeper into their catalog. The band’s Johnny the Fox, Bad Reputation, Black Rose, Live and Dangerous and Still Dangerous albums are all classic albums in their own right. If you enjoy Jailbreak, then go seek these out as well.

Now, I need to find a “It’s Time to Put Thin Lizzy in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame” Facebook group to join. This band is way too good to be left out of the enshrined immortals. Cheers to Thin Lizzy!

Author: ifmyalbumscouldtalk

I am just a long-time music fan who used to be a high school science teacher and a varsity coach of several high school athletic teams. Before that, I worked as a medical technologist at three hospitals in their labs, mainly as a microbiologist. I am retired/disabled (Failed Back Surgery Syndrome), and this is my attempt to remain a human. Additionally, I am a serious vinyl aficionado, with a CD addiction and a love of reading about rock history. Finally, I am a fan of Prince, Cheap Trick, Tom Petty, R.E.M., Hall & Oates, Springsteen, Paul Weller & his bands and Power Pop music.

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