Greatest Songs, #499: “The Boys Are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzy

Album: Jailbreak (Mercury Records)
Year: 1976
Written by: Phil Lynott
Billboard Hot 100: #12

  From Rolling Stone:

Thin Lizzy’s Lynott sang the hard-rock drama of “The Boys Are Back in Town” with the Gaelic soul of a self-described “black Irish bastard” (his mother was Irish; his father was a Brazilian sailor). Just as crucial to the song’s success was the twin-guitar lead by Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson. Lynott died from years of drug abuse in 1986; he remains a beloved Springsteen-like figure in Ireland.

From allmusic, reviewing the album:

…Phil Lynott hit a peak as a songwriter just as [Gorham and Robertson] pioneered an intertwined, dual-lead guitar interplay that was one of the most distinctive sounds of ’70s rock, and one of the most influential. Lynott no longer let Gorham and Robertson contribute individual songs — they co-wrote, but had no individual credits — which helps tighten up the album, giving it a cohesive personality, namely Lynott’s rough rebel with a heart of a poet. Lynott loves turning the commonplace into legend…and this myth-making is married to an exceptional eye for details; when the boys are back in town, they don’t just come back to a local bar, they’re down at Dino’s, picking up girls and driving the old men crazy. This gives his lovingly florid songs, crammed with specifics and overflowing with life, a universality that’s hammered home by the vicious, primal, and precise attack of the band. Thin Lizzy is tough as rhino skin and as brutal as bandits, but it’s leavened by Lynott’s light touch as a singer, which is almost seductive in its croon. This gives Jailbreak a dimension of richness that sustains, but there’s such kinetic energy to the band that it still sounds immediate no matter how many times it’s played.

From Rolling Stone‘s original review of the album in 1976:

[Gorham and Robertson] have incorporated stylistic tricks from Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend into an Allmans-like attack…

Bassist/writer/vocalist Phil Lynott’s full-bodied voice is occasionally a dead ringer for Bruce Springsteen‘s. For example, “The Boys Are Back in Town” resembles a hard-rock “Kitty’s Back,” right down to the whispered “the boys are back.” Like his melodies, Lynott’s vocals are engaging, performed with enough spirit to hide Thin Lizzy’s prime weakness: lyrics. Jailbreak rehashes the dead horse motif of rocker as outlaw, producing some embarrassingly thin and pretentious writing.

I used the video above because it was the best live action I could find, but it’s not the best sound quality. To hear the studio version, click here.