Thin Lizzy - Greatest Hits Review
Formed in 1969, Thin Lizzy took the long road to success through a number of band incarnations, incorporating a number of musical styles. Singer/songwriter/frontman Phil Lynott had an unusual upbringing - an illegitimate, half-caste on the working-class streets of Dublin marked Lynott out from the crowd, and he forged from his experiences the complex persona of a wandering orphan, lonesome cowboy, romantic Valentino, and wild outsider. This fed through to a varied and inconsistent early style for Thin Lizzy, encompassing blues, glam rock, romantic ballads and epic Celtic rock, the band first achieving success in 1973 with a unique arrangement of the traditional ballad Whiskey in the Jar, hanging a label for folkish blarney on the band that they found difficult to shake off. They succeeded however, building up a large following and relentlessly touring the United States, culminating with an appearance at the first Slane Castle show in Ireland back in 1981, where they were supported by an upcoming band called U2. From there, the band slipped into decline, having already been through a number of guitarists, variously falling victim to the celebrity lifestyle of hard drinking, drug abuse and night-club brawling. Thin Lizzy finally imploded in 1983 and although Lynott attempted to form a new band Grand Slam, he never regained his control over a heroin habit that finally killed him in 1986, at the age of 35.
The first four videos in the collection capture Thin Lizzy, if not at the peak of their success and popularity, certainly at the peak of their artistic creativity in the classic definitive Lynott/Gorham/Robertson/Downey line-up, forging blues-based rock into incredibly infectious, superbly crafted pop songs. Just as this line-up of the band peaked with possibly the greatest live album ever created, Live and Dangerous (1978), so too their performances in the videos of this period, The Boys Are Back In Town, Don’t Believe A Word, Dancing In The Moonlight and Rosalie (live) – in the days before manufactured video images all appropriately reflect the Thin Lizzy stage persona, where the boys strike poses and look every inch the rock stars they always believed themselves to be, and indeed by this stage were. Although there was an official live video of the band performing the ‘Live and Dangerous’ show at The Rainbow in London from this period (a copy of which is one of the most treasured items in my dwindling VHS collection), none of the videos here, despite the billing on the cover, are genuine live performances, but mimed studio edits shot to look like they were being performed in front of an audience. Even the live recording of Rosalie is mimed in a recreation of the classic ‘Live and Dangerous’ stage act.
The band’s Black Rose period videos, with Gary Moore replacing Brian Robertson as the fast flashy lead guitarist in the band (as opposed to Scott Gorham’s solid blues rock proficiency), capitalised on this rock god image cultivated by the band, pushing it further into glittery glamour. In Waiting For An Alibi the band strike poses for all they are worth in a studio setting with no storytelling video elements. Do Anything You Want To, sees the band make their first video proper, camping it up with long-legged models dressed as judges and policewomen dispensing disciplinary sentences on the wild bunch, who insist on “doing what they want to” and even anarchically playing whatever instruments they want to. The video therefore expresses not only the anti-authoritarian stance of Lynott’s lyrics, but takes on a sexual dimension in terms of sexual liberation and empowerment. Ok, maybe I’m reading a bit too much into this one...
Despite the brash rock star pose, wild promiscuous lifestyle and heavy heroin addiction that was at this stage developing into a serious problem with Lynott, the other side of his character that was given more expression in his solo work outside the band is evident in Sarah, a song written for his young daughter. Taking up a balladeer pose on a stage in the video, he brings his daughter up to sing to her, which could be appallingly sentimental were it not for the bubbly charm and sincerity of the song and Scott Gorham’s fooling around at the end.
Gary Moore’s return to the band however was short-lived and the personality conflicts led to an acrimonious split with Moore walking out in the middle of a tour of the States (to be replaced temporarily on stage by Midge Ure). The band’s new incarnation in 1980 with the unlikely addition of shy session blues guitarist and sometime supporting member of the Pink Floyd live show, Snowy White, didn’t exactly gel into a convincing unit. Surprisingly though, Chinatown holds up much better here than you might think with its classic cranking guitar and Brian Downey’s awesome drum roll intro. Say what you like, but it’s my firm belief that Downey is the greatest rock drummer ever, and his professional solidity and inventive flair is ably demonstrated here. Snowy White, always looking uncomfortable on stage, nevertheless throws in all the necessary guitar hero poses and a cracking lead solo as the band perform in an ethnically varied and Oriental-scarce Chinatown stage set. The video is pure tosh and the lyrics hilarious, “Man, you don’t stand a chance/ If you go down to Chinatown”, but it never takes itself the least bit seriously and will put a grin a mile wide on your face. Lynott’s bad-boy image is however taken to dubious lengths in Killer On The Loose where he adopts a serial killer persona (“Don’t unzip your zipper/ ‘Cos you know I’m Jack the Ripper”). Even as a teenager, when this came out, I found the lyrical content of lines like “But honey, I’m confessin’/ I’m a mad sexual rapist” to be questionable, to say the least. (The song’s vile misogyny is only surpassed by its 7” B-side Don’t Play Around, which opens with the shocking lines “He stuck the knife right into her gut/ I wanna tell you she was lucky with what she got/ For what she got was not enough/ She played around, don’t play around”). The video for Killer On The Loose is also tasteless beyond belief, Snowy White looking distinctly uncomfortable, pseudo-masturbating on his guitar, while wearing a dirty mac. Lynott and Thin Lizzy had clearly lost the plot by this stage.
Thankfully, there is little evidence in the video collection of Thin Lizzy’s further fall from grace, the John Sykes period represented only by a poor live recording of Thunder and Lightning. Lizzy here look like a bloated parody of the band they once were, Lynott mumbling incoherently, the song an absolute mess of overblown posturing and imagery.
While the first ten tracks on the DVD follow the band’s video career in chronological order, the remainder of the tracklisting gathers together a lot of rarer material. Phil’s solo career is represented by Lynott’s tribute to Elvis Presley, King’s Call (featuring Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler on guitar) and Dear Miss Lonely Hearts, which often made it into the Thin Lizzy live set and is indeed performed here by the Snowy White incarnation of the band. It unfortunately sounds rather insipid now. There are a few less obvious “live” tracks recovered from the Brian Robertson line-up - Bad Reputation (released as a double A-side with Dancing In The Moonlight), That Woman and Johnny The Fox in the same on-stage shoot as the earlier tracks, as well as Wild One from a Whistle Test style studio setup, although this is not live either. With Love, the B-side to Waiting For An Alibi, also has its own video, shot on the same set and under the same conditions as the A-side. The band’s early original Eric Bell line-up is represented by an early stage mime to The Rocker - Lynott’s stage craft and presence not yet perfected, throwing a few awkward Jimi Hendrix poses – and a black and white recording of the band performing Whiskey In The Jar from ‘Top Of The Pops’ in 1973. This is a much nicer way to conclude a collection on the troubled, briefly brilliant and tragically short career of one of Ireland and the UK’s greatest rock groups.
Thin Lizzy – Greatest Hits is endorsed by the members of Thin Lizzy, who still tour with only Scott Gorham and John Sykes from the band’s various line-ups. The disc is in PAL format and appears to be free from region coding.
• The Boys Are Back In Town (2:24)
• Don’t Believe A Word (2:18)
• Dancing In The Moonlight (3:26)
• Rosalie (Live) (4:15)
• Waiting For An Alibi (3:28)
• Do Anything You Want To (3:53)
• Sarah (3:24)
• Chinatown (4:55)
• Killer On The Loose (3:46)
• Thunder And Lightning (Live) (3:21)
• Bad Reputation (3:10)
• King’s Call (3:24)
• The Rocker (2:40)
• With Love (4:39)
• Dear Miss Lonely Hearts (4:11)
• That Woman (3:31)
• Johnny The Fox (3:31)
• Wild One (3:33)
• Whiskey In The Jar (3:46)
Compiled from videos, some of which are almost 30 years old now, the quality of the image here on many of the songs is obviously limited. One of the band’s earliest videos, The Boys Are Back In Town suffers most, the video colours looking extremely fuzzy, soft and saturated, but the worst is Thunder and Lightning, shot on poor quality video, exhibiting loads of chroma noise and some cheapo video effects. The videos from the band’s Brian Robertson period show colours looking slightly faded with a number of scratches and dustspots, but you couldn’t really expect anything more than this and for their age, they are reasonably good. They are certainly welcome for documenting the key moments in the band’s history and an expensive restoration isn’t realistically an option, is it? The band’s early 80’s videos from the Gary Moore and Snowy White line-ups also suffer from some haziness and haven’t really aged well, but this is often intentional to create a fantasy feel to the mood and reduce the studio VHS sterility. Waiting For An Alibi still looks fantastic though, is bright, clear and colourful (although With Love made at the same time looks like a second generation dupe), as are the solo Lynott videos for Kings Call and Dear Miss Lonely Hearts, although the former has some horizontal video noise artefacts. The oldest material in the collection from the Eric Bell days looks fine - The Rocker with a bit brownish fading, Whiskey in the Jar with some tramline scratches, but they are of reasonably good quality nonetheless.
The DVD comes with both a stereo Dolby Digital 2.0 mix and a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. Despite what you might expect, the 5.1 mix is actually the superior track here. It’s discreetly mixed, with scarcely anything pushed to the rear speakers other than a slight reverb, remaining faithful to the stereo mix. The sound however has clearly been remastered, and with the low frequencies channelled to the subwoofer, the songs all pack a solid punch. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mix on the other hand, sounds adequate enough, but is very limp in comparison. Only one or two tracks have necessarily lesser quality – notably the live version of Thunder and Lightning and the Top Of The Pops recording of Whiskey in the Jar
There are no subtitles provided for the song lyrics.
There are no extra features on the DVD, although an insert contains a brief introduction and look over the bands career by Dave Shack.
Most of the videos in the Thin Lizzy – Greatest Hits collection were made in the days before full-scale promotional videos came into vogue and they are therefore very limited in terms of content and quality, most of them being scarcely more than faded performances of the band miming the songs on a lighted stage. Their collection here is nevertheless welcomed, presenting the material as it was originally produced and representing virtually every key stage of the band’s career. There has been no great restoration done on the picture quality and although they are not going to impress anyone, not even fans, the videos look reasonably well for their age. The audio tracks however are superb, featuring robust mixes that makes these songs sound better, clearer and more fully defined than I have ever heard them.