Tag Archives: Thin Lizzy

Rocks In The Attic #582: Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band – ‘The Distance’ (1982)

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I know almost nothing about Bob Seger, aside from Phil Lynott’s namecheck on Thin Lizzy’s Live & Dangerous record. He definitely belongs in the same bucket as Bruce Springsteen, especially on the big opening number Even Now. In fact, it would be hard for a mid-paced rock song from the late ‘70s / early ‘80s with piano and saxophone to not sound like Springsteen.

This is album number twelve for Seger and his band, and while I’m sure it’s not his best, it serves as a decent introduction for me. I’ll definitely be checking out his earlier records as soon as I can.

There’s an amusing entry in the Wikipedia page for this record which serves as a great indicator of the type of person who likes Seger:

‘Capitol Records had stopped manufacturing albums in the 8 track tape cartridge format by the time this album was released. However, Seger asked the label to include that format for this album, knowing that many of his fans still used 8 track players.’

Hit: Shame On The Moon

Hidden Gem: Even Now

Rocks In The Attic #569: Thin Lizzy – ‘Thin Lizzy’ (1971)

rita569From small acorns…

All throughout my 20s, I used to see a small non-descript advert every week in the classified section of the NME: ‘GUITAR LESSONS – ERIC BELL, ORIGINAL GUITARIST OF THIN LIZZY’ and a London-area telephone number. It’d be in there without fail every week, alongside the usual ads for recording studios and CD mastering services.

Every week I’d see it and toy with the idea of catching a train down to London one day to take him up on the offer. A guitar lesson from the man behind the riffs to Whiskey In The Jar and, more importantly, The Rocker – what could be better? I’m not sure why he would be advertising his services in such a place – perhaps he had fallen on hard times and simply needed the cash.

I never got around to phoning him and booking that lesson though. I really regret it now of course. Just to ask him about that awesome riff from The Rocker, and to see his fingers blast that out, would have been a dream come true. He’s still around – a sprightly 69 years of age – although in 2010 he moved from London to West Cork in Ireland. One day maybe…

This debut from Thin Lizzy makes for interesting listening. Recorded as a trio – Phil Lynott, Eric Bell and Brian Downey, it’s a far cry from the later twin-guitar duelling histrionics of records like Jailbreak and Johnny The Fox. Half of it is in a folk vein, similar to something you might hear on an early Van Morrison album; very mellow and not what you’d expect from the band that brought us some of the best rock riffs of the 1970s.

The remaining half is a bit more guitar-heavy; a bit more in the direction of where the band was ultimately heading towards. Look What The Wind Blew In is built around a repetitive Eric Bell lick, and gives an indication of the riff-based material Phil Lynott would later hang his lyrics on. Remembering, the final song on the record, plays with light and shade as successfully as early Led Zeppelin. Thin Lizzy would be pigeon-holed in the same genre as Zeppelin later in the decade, although Lizzy would sadly never see the same levels of international success.

Hit: Look What The Wind Blew In

Hidden Gem: Saga Of The Ageing Orphan

Rocks In The Attic #515: Thin Lizzy – ‘Jailbreak’ (1976)

RITA#515I’ve been blasting Lizzy a lot recently. Their Wild One compilation, the CD that turned me onto them, is a favourite on my iPod. There’s nothing like a quick blast of Jailbreak to decompress on my drive home from work.

I saw the fantastic film Sing Street recently. Directed by John Carney, formerly of Irish band the Frames, it’s set in Dublin like his awesome 2007 film Once. That earlier film had a lovely moment when the film’s protagonists try to enlist the services of a couple of Grafton Street buskers to back him on a recording of his songs. They immediately ask him if they’ll be recording ‘any Lizzy’; the subtext implying that the city’s struggling musicians haven’t moved on from the successes of its black rocker son.

Everybody’s heard The Boys Are Back In Town. Advertisers love it, and it commonly adorns film soundtracks. The title-track Jailbreak is something else though. Its white-hot, guttural guitar riff is too vulgar to be a mainstream hit. It shouldn’t work; it’s too simple. Brian Downey’s drums turn it into something else though. In the hands of a lesser drummer, it would be a dirge, but Downey’s syncopation – man, those opening high-hats! – breathes life into the arrangement.

Jailbreak is the sixth studio album by the band, and proved to be the one that broke them in the U.S.; and with good reason. It’s the perfect mix of melodic heavy rock and Phil Lynnot’s soulful, romantic lyrics. The twin-guitar of American Scott Gorham and Scot Brian Robertson also feels much more natural here than it does on earlier albums. If anything, the guitars feel fat where on the last couple of Lizzy records, they lacked that ballsy sound.

This might be the most successful Lizzy album, their biggest seller, but I prefer its follow-up Johnny The Fox, released just seven months later. They’re both so good though – the Rubber Soul / Revolver of the band.

Hit: The Boys Are Back In Town

Hidden Gem: Running Back

Rocks In The Attic #496: Barclay James Harvest – ‘Early Morning Harvest’ (1972)

RITA#496I should like this band – they’re from Oldham! One of the founding members went to my school. They’re probably Oldham’s most famous musical exports, except for the Inspiral Carpets perhaps. And those N-Trance guys. And Mark Owen from Take That. And Darren Wharton, the keyboard player from Thin Lizzy. Wow, Oldham was really a melting pot of talent!

I’m not au fait with Barclay James Harvest’s music though. I’m very familiar with the Barclays bank in Oldham – just on the corner of High Street. I don’t think that counts though. I might send in a fake CV to the branch, using the name James Harvest, and crowbarring all of their song titles into the cover letter – you know, just for shits and giggles. Given the average intelligence level in Oldham – about as low as the number of teenage pregnancies is high – and the general lack of interest in the town’s history by its inhabitants, it would just get thrown in a bin by the HR manager. Oh well, it’s an idea. Maybe I’ll do it when I’m retired, if Barclay’s still exist by then. The bank can’t be doing well; I’d bet most Oldhamers (Oldhamites?) keep their money under the mattress, next to their stockpile of Woodbines.

Barclay James Harvest write melodic folk rock, not a million miles away from the likes of America. The band America, that is, not the country. Although the country is about a million miles away from the town of Oldham, recently named the most deprived town in England. In fact, that might make it more similar to some places in America – Oldham, twinned with the Bronx!

Hit: Mockingbird

Hidden Gem: Taking Some Time On

Rocks In The Attic #420: Alice Cooper – ‘Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits’ (1974)

RITA#420I stole this one out of my Dad’s small collection of vinyl when I was about fourteen. At that point, I only knew School’s Out and nothing else, but this whole record quickly became a firm favourite of mine. In fact, I’d say it’s one of my favourite rock compilations.

There’s something about the quality of the Alice Cooper band at this stage – when the band was called Alice Cooper, not the man – that Alice has never managed to recapture during his solo years. I saw him play live in Auckland a few years ago, and just like Ozzy he seems to take the approach that the heavier the band the better. So we got a lot of the songs from this album, but performed by a group of young guys in a band that was closer to metal than rock.

It’s such a shame because you lose a lot of the appeal of classic rock songs when you amp them up to metal. Imagine if Metallica did an album of Doobie Brothers covers – all the subtleties and nuances would fly out the door as soon as they plugged in. You can hear this in Metallica’s cover of Whiskey In The Jar, which just sounds like a metal-by-numbers imitation of the Thin Lizzy version.

I was stoked when Richard Linklater included two songs from Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits on the soundtrack to Dazed And Confused. Both songs used – School’s Out and No More Mr Nice Guy are used in the scenes with Wiley Wiggins’s character Mitch Kramer. School’s Out, not surprisingly, soundtracks the moment that school finishes; and No More Mr Nice Guy plays over the scene where Mitch gets captured – and paddled – by the seniors.

Years later, while watching Julien Temple’s fantastic Sex Pistols documentary The Filth And The Fury, I found out that John Lydon auditioned for the Pistols by singing Alice Cooper’s I’m Eighteen next to a jukebox.

Hit: School’s Out

Hidden Gem: Hello, Hurray

Rocks In The Attic #263: Thin Lizzy – ‘Live And Dangerous’ (1978)

RITA#263One of my favourite live albums, and a great opportunity to write about the time I saw Thin Lizzy play live.

When I first found rock music and the guitar in my early teens, I very quickly found Thin Lizzy – a perfect and oft overlooked meld of the two. I can remember hearing the riff from Jailbreak for the first time, and it blew my mind. It sounded so wrong and yet so right. They seemed to come along at just the right time for me that I was confident enough on the guitar to pick things up by ear, so by listening to their records, and with a little help from my guitar teacher Dave Taylor – who was a huge Lizzy fan – I found I could play most of their stuff pretty easily.

I first met Dave when he used to come into our sixth form college and give group guitar lessons. It was always amusing to see what level of hangover he would have when he walked in every Wednesday morning. I have a permanent vision of him walking in, wearing sunglasses and looking very unkempt in a green and yellow polo shirt. I then had private lessons for a couple of years, but when I went to University, the distance between us meant that I stopped having lessons and drifted out of touch. Over those three years, he went from giving guitar lessons in a room in his house to buying a section of a mill in Oldham and installing rehearsal rooms and a recording studio.

I would eventually use these rehearsal rooms with my first regular gigging band, Delta 7, but another band would use them in the interim. Thin fucking Lizzy!

I don’t know how Dave made the connections with the band but in 1996, various former members of Thin Lizzy decided to get back together and start touring again. Guitarist John Sykes took vocal duties, with guitarist Scott Gorham, drummer Brian Downey and keyboard player Darren Wharton joining the reunion. The only non-member of the band was Marco Mendoza, who played bass.

Not only did they use Dave’s studio, but they chose the most inauspicious venues in the whole world – Oldham’s Queen Elizabeth Hall – as the location for the first show. Seeing Thin Lizzy play without Phil Lynott may sound like sacrilege, but they were awesome and after the opening bombast of Jailbreak, Sykes took the opportunity to dedicate the whole show to Lynnott. Critics can say what they want, but it was Lizzy up there, and I love the band so much I’d be the first person to admit it if they didn’t deserve the use of the name.

This was probably one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen – one of my favourite bands, reforming for the first time since their leader’s untimely death, rehearsing in my guitar teacher’s rehearsal rooms and playing for the first time in a local venue more famous for wedding receptions and tea-dances. I even bought a t-shirt from the merch stall which was manned by Dave’s wife and daughter (not the same person by the way – as far as I know, Oldham doesn’t suffer from inbreeding, just a bad gene pool).

I like to think that if I hadn’t gone to University when I did, and continued to see Dave for guitar lessons, I might have had some involvement in the show – I’d have happily been a roadie if it meant the honour of carrying Scott Gorham’s guitar amp.

Live And Dangerous is a great live album, capturing Lizzy on the road at their peak (and featuring an appearance by a pre-‘& The News’ Huey Lewis on harmonica on one track). The album does sound slightly over-polished though, and band members over the years have admitted to recording overdubs on some of the songs. While producer Tony Visconti claims that the album is only ‘75% recorded in the studio’, band members have claimed that it is ‘75% live’. It’s disappointing either way, and makes me suspicious of all other albums that claim to be recorded live.

Hit: The Boys Are Back In Town

Hidden Gem: Massacre

Rocks In The Attic #260: The Eagles – ‘Hotel California’ (1976)

RITA#260Until very recently I wouldn’t have known who The Eagles were if I bumped into them on the street. Quite what they would be doing walking around East Auckland is beside the point, but the fact is I’ve been living inside a bubble. I really don’t know why, but given that they are one of the world’s biggest rock bands, I wouldn’t know them from Adam.

Sure, I’ve seen the music video to Hotel California, and so I know that the drummer sings that one; and I know that the Super Furry Animals sold a tank – purchased to promote their debut album on the festival circuit – to said drummer, Don Henley; and I know that Glenn Frey and Joe Walsh have each had relatively successful solo careers – but again, I couldn’t describe either guy other than that fact that they both have faces.

I’ve even seen an Eagles concert on TV – a rerun of The Old Grey Whistle Test – with a pre-Hotel California version of the band playing through their early hits; but again, their very absence of familiarity has clouded my memory and so all I can remember is a bunch of polite Americans playing some non-descript MOR. I’ve even read Barney Hoskyns’ book Hotel California, which covers the formation of The Eagles (amongst other things), but I’m still none the wiser.

So for some reason, even though I consider myself well-read in terms of musical history, and I’ve learnt the proper guitar parts to Hotel California (with a capo at the seventh fret), I’ve remained ignorant to who they actually are – until very recently.

A couple of weeks ago I watched the History Of The Eagles documentary on TV. Strangely enough, the film doesn’t really give a glimpse of the band at their heyday – it kicks off with the Hell Freezes Over reunion tour, and takes that chapter in their career as the jumping off point, occasionally looking back to the ’70s from time to time.

Joe Walsh is immediately lovable – a teddy-bear of a drunk who now looks more like the sort of old man with jam-jar glasses you’d expect to see sat on a porch rocking-chair in a trailer park. Don Felder is equally non-threatening – a quiet soul, happy to be playing guitar to adoring fans. The real threat seems to come from the band’s two chief songwriters, guitarist Glenn Frey and drummer Don Henley. It’s very clear that they call the shots, and without them there wouldn’t be such a thing as The Eagles.

In one cringe-inducing moment Glenn Frey, speaking directly to camera, recounts – almost proudly – the conversation that led to Don Felder leaving the band: “I said ‘If we’re going back on tour, I’m getting more money than you.’” Hmm.

Felder (and Walsh for that matter) both agreed to terms that would give a higher proportion of profits to Frey and Henley. Eventually, the relationship soured to such a point that Felder left the band and was replaced by another guitarist for touring duties.

This wouldn’t be so strange if Felder was just a guitarist without any input into the band’s songs. But Felder brought the band their best-known song – a demo tape he brought along to a recording session contained the original instrumental idea for Hotel California – so for me, he’s just integral as Frey, Henley or Walsh.

Hotel California really is a fantastic song, and well worthy of the plaudits it regularly receives as the best guitar-based rock song, or the best guitar solo, etc. For a long, long time I tried to ignore the genius of the guitar-parts, instead preferring Jimmy Page’s solo in Stairway To Heaven, but I always find something new in Hotel California every time I hear it – it’s just magical. However, heard alongside the rest of their material (except maybe Life In The Fast Lane or Victim Of Love), the song sticks out like a sore thumb, more in line with something you might expect from the twin lead-guitar attack of Thin Lizzy.

I’ve never been an avid listener of lyrics, but they’re so ‘front and centre’ in the song, that it’s not hard to hear them. One aspect of the lyrics had always slightly annoyed me though – and I’m glad I’m not the only person to pick this up…

In a 2009 interview, Plain Dealer music critic John Soeder asked Don Henley about the lyrics: “On Hotel California, you sing: ‘So I called up the captain / ‘Please bring me my wine’ / He said, ‘We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.’’ I realise I’m probably not the first to bring this to your attention, but wine isn’t a spirit. Wine is fermented; spirits are distilled. Do you regret that lyric?”

“Thanks for the tutorial,” Heney replied in a self-important and humourless tone he displays all the way through the History Of The Eagles documentary. “And no, you’re not the first to bring this to my attention – and you’re not the first to completely misinterpret the lyric and miss the metaphor. Believe me, I’ve consumed enough alcoholic beverages in my time to know how they are made and what the proper nomenclature is. But that line in the song has little or nothing to do with alcoholic beverages. It’s a socio-political statement. My only regret would be having to explain it in detail to you, which would defeat the purpose of using literary devices in songwriting and lower the discussion to some silly and irrelevant argument about chemical processes.”

It might be hard, but going forward I’ll still try my best to enjoy Hotel California, ignoring the fact that Glenn Frey and Don Henley are seemingly such terrible human beings.

Hit: Hotel California

Hidden Gem: Victim Of Love