When they made Phil Lynott, they broke the mould. A charismatic rock star-poet with a Brazilian father and an Irish mother, there was no one else like him in the 70s or 80s. He was a rogue, a charmer, a superstar, onstage and off. But most of all, he was one of the great songwriters, whether with Thin Lizzy or on his own – and these are his 30 best songs…
30. Ode To A Black Man
On Phil Lynott’s first solo album, 1980’s Solo In Soho, he delivered a powerful statement in this funk-driven track: “The people in this town that try to put me down… could never understand a black man.” The message was clear: there are some things that fame and success cannot erase.
29. The Sun Goes Down
The pumped-up aggression in Thin Lizzy’s 1983’s album Thunder And Lightning suggested a band fighting for survival. The album’s best track, The Sun Goes Down, told a different story. In this elegiac ballad, Lynott had written the band’s epitaph. It was their last single, a sad end to it all.
28. Yellow Pearl
Lynott was a rock’n’roller who could think outside the box, and he proved it with Yellow Pearl, co-written in 1979 with Midge Ure, who was Lizzy’s stand-in guitarist before he joined Ultravox. What they created was a brilliant, off-the-wall synth-pop anthem that became the theme for long-running British TV show Top Of The Pops.
27. King’s Call
One of Lynott’s finest solo songs was this heartfelt tribute to Elvis Presley. With Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler on guitar, Lynott recalled the night ‘The King’ died in 1977: “I bought a bottle of wine… a bottle of gin… played his records all night.” Lynott’s fans did much the same on January 4, 1986.
26. Out In The Fields
Lynott’s last major hit was a duet with his old friend and former bandmate Gary Moore. Out In The Fields was a powerful anti-war protest song that reached number five on the UK chart in 1985. It sounded like a modern Thin Lizzy. For Lynott, it was a false dawn.
25. The Rocker
The 1973 album Vagabonds Of The Western World was Thin Lizzy’s last with original guitarist Eric Bell, and its key track was The Rocker, a lasting testament to Bell’s prowess, with a lyric that defined Lynott as a mythic rebel figure: “I’m your main man if you’re looking for trouble.”
24. Got To Give It Up
In the title and lyrics of this sinister track from 1979’s Black Rose was a self-fulfilling prophecy. “I’ve been messin’ with the heavy stuff,” Lynott confessed. The song began as a heroin blues and ended in wild abandon – as if he knew, even then, that he was already too far gone.
23. Wild One
Released in 1975, a year before the band broke big, the Fighting album is Thin Lizzy’s lost classic: full of great songs, Wild One greatest of all. In this melancholy ballad there is a foreshadowing of Lynott’s own story: “How can we carry on/When you are gone, my wild one…”
22. Bad Reputation
In 1977, the band recorded most of the Bad Reputation album as a trio, while guitarist Brian Robertson was briefly suspended for various booze-related misdemeanours. It didn’t matter. With Scott Gorham doubling up on guitar, this was a great record, the title track seriously heavy shit, bludgeoning and oozing menace.
21. Killer On The Loose
Lizzy’s most controversial song was a Top 10 hit in 1980, when the Yorkshire Ripper still had Britain in a grip of fear. It was creepy how Lynott hissed: “Don’t unzip your zipper… cos you know I’m Jack The Ripper.” The song’s dark power made it the guiltiest of pleasures.
Back in ’79, Scott Gorham felt that the song Lynott wrote for his newborn daughter was “too candy-floss” for Thin Lizzy. But as he later acknowledged, “Sarah is a beautiful song.” Lynott meant it when he sang: “You changed my world, my baby girl.” It just didn’t turn out that way.
19. Old Town
On his second solo record, The Philip Lynott Album, released in 1982, there was this perfect pop song, co-written with ex-Rainbow bassist Jimmy Bain. Old Town has a bittersweet, happy/sad quality, as Lynott sings breezily: “This boy is crackin’ up.” The leather-trousered rock god was also a pop genius.
18. Military Man
On the flipside of the Gary Moore/Phil Lynott hit Out In The Fields was an even better song. Lynott had written Military Man for his post-Lizzy band Grand Slam, and it was his last classic: like Out In The Fields an anti-war anthem, only more powerful, and more poetic.
The received wisdom is that Lizzy lost some of their edge when the laidback Snowy White replaced the fiery Gary Moore for 1980’s Chinatown. Not so on that album’s explosive title track, with White and Scott Gorham trading stinging lead breaks, and Lynott spinning dark tales full of Eastern mystique.
Lynott got the title from a biker with ‘Renegade’ emblazoned on his leather jacket, but this was a deeply personal song. As Gorham later said: “Renegade is absolutely how Phil saw himself.” Tellingly, amid the bravado, there was sadness, as Lynott sang: “I wonder why he cries on the inside.”
15. Do Anything You Want To
This Top 20 hit from 1979 had such a swing to it – in Brian Downey’s rumbling backbeat, hammered out on kettle drums, and in the percussive, alliterative lyrics. In the fade-out, Lynott mourned Elvis, ad-libbing Blue Suede Shoes. “Phil sang it doing the leg-shake,” Gorham recalled. “The whole Elvis deal!”
On Jailbreak there was the classic Cowboy Song. Two albums later – in Southbound, from Bad Reputation – Lynott told a darker story of the Old West, in which a failed gold-rush prospector turns drifter, seeking a new life. It’s the saddest song he ever wrote, and he dug deep to sing it.
13. Dancing In The Moonlight (It’s Caught Me In Its Spotlight)
The hit single from Bad Reputation is all about the groove laid down in Lynott’s slippery bass lick. Lizzy liked to play hard, but on this song they played it cool, and with such a lightness of touch – from the finger-clicking intro to a smooth sax solo from Supertramp’s John Helliwell.
12. Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed
The song that gave a name to Lizzy’s second great album of ’76 was the funkiest and coolest thing they ever recorded. It was inspired by two acquaintances of Lynott’s – gangsters from Manchester – but there was a heavy American flavour in the Blaxploitation-style riff and Phil’s bad motherfucker jive talk.
On the Fighting album, Lynott took a great song by Bob Seger and made it his own. But the definitive version of Rosalie was nailed on Live And Dangerous. It had more balls, and the way it was intercut with part of Lizzy’s Cowboy Song was just so effortlessly cool.
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In 1976, with Ireland still under the shadow of The Troubles, one track from the Jailbreak album had a powerful resonance. Emerald was a tale of ancient battles, but as Lynott said: “You could relate it to any period of time.” And the music, like the words, hit hard.
9. Whiskey In The Jar
Famously, Lynott didn’t fancy it as a single, this rock version of a traditional Irish folk ballad. He felt it unrepresentative of the band. But in 1973, Whiskey In The Jar was a huge hit, their first. And it remains a deathless classic: the intro, from Eric Bell, still magical.
8. Cowboy Song
As a child, Lynott idolized the gunslinger stars of Western movies. As a rock star touring America, he loved Texas, an early stronghold for Thin Lizzy. These two strands came together in Cowboy Song – part rodeo-riding fantasy, part road-hardened autobiography, with a chorus so inspired, even he couldn’t top it.
7. Parisienne Walkways
Gary Moore was still in Thin Lizzy when he had a solo hit with Parisienne Walkways in 1979. The song was Lynott’s, too: they wrote it together, and shared lead vocals. But the way Moore played it – those long, piercing notes – made this bluesy, richly atmospheric ballad his signature song.
In the title track from the band’s definitive studio album, everything about it is badass: that first booming, ominous power-chord, the heavy vibe throughout, the police siren wailing amid the spiraling tension, and, of course, the most famous tautology in rock’n’roll: “Tonight there’s gonna be a jailbreak/Somewhere in the town.”
5. Róisín Dubh (Black Rose) A Rock Legend
On Black Rose, Gary Moore’s one album with Thin Lizzy, he and Lynott created this romantic epic, celebrating the band’s Irish heritage, incorporating folk songs into seven minutes of rolling thunder. The lyrics hailed Irish heroes: from W.B. Yeats to George Best. Its emotive peak: Moore’s beautiful rendition of Danny Boy.
4. Don’t Believe A Word
In this blistering hard rock song from the Johnny The Fox album is the quintessential Lynott lyric: “Don’t believe me if I tell you/’Specially if I tell you/I’m in love with you.” It was originally a blues number, and that’s how Lynott and Gary Moore cut it, brilliantly, in 1978.
3. Waiting For An Alibi
Gary Moore lit a fire in Thin Lizzy on Black Rose. Waiting For An Alibi, a Top 10 hit, is the band’s most electrifying song. Driven by Lynott’s killer bass-line and taut narrative, it has a glorious twin-lead riff and a lightning-bolt solo from Moore. Gorham’s response? “Fuck you, Gary!”
2. Still In Love With You
On Lizzy’s greatest ballad, Lynott went against type: here, the heartbreaker was heartbroken. The song was originally recorded for 1974’s Nightlife, featuring a co-vocal from Frankie Miller and a beautiful solo from Gary Moore. But the version on Live And Dangerous, with Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson playing so soulfully, has an even deeper emotional pull.
1. The Boys Are Back In Town
Everything that’s great about Thin Lizzy is in this song: the hard rocking swagger, the twin-guitar harmonies, Lynott’s innate sense of melody, and a wonderfully evocative lyric about boys and girls, drinking and fighting. Incredibly, when the band recorded The Boys Are Back In Town in 1976, they didn’t think it was anything special. But after US radio jumped on it, the song was a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic. And over time it became something even bigger: one of the all-time classic rock anthems, and the song for which Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy will always be remembered.