Thin Lizzy stand as a beacon of originality and mystery in the rock world, led by the enigmatic Phil Lynott. This Black Irishman with humble beginnings steered the band from its inception in the late 1960s, bringing a magnetic presence to the stage. Lynott wasn’t just a gifted bassist and vocalist; his songwriting prowess earned him accolades, with many hailing him as much a poet as a rocker, his work infused with a Van Morrison-esque Celtic blues vibe.
The dual lead guitarists, Scott Gorham and John Sykes, complemented Lynott’s robust bass lines and soulful vocals, while the extraordinary drummer Brian Downey delivered beats that could rival the legendary John Bonham himself.
Peaking in the 1970s, they defied the conventional path to stardom, demonstrating that raw passion and tenacity could triumph over the constraints of major labels and media.
As we delve into the best of Thin Lizzy’s music, you’ll encounter not only their celebrated hits but also lesser-known tracks that are just as compelling.
Though Lynott’s untimely passing in 1986 left a void, the spirit of Thin Lizzy endures through their remarkable recordings and enigmatic aura. Get ready to experience our curated selection of the finest Thin Lizzy tunes.
- 15. The Rocker
- 14. Little Girl in Bloom
- 13. Romeo and the Lonely Girl
- 12. Banshee
- 11. Bad Reputation
- 10. Cold Sweat
- 9. Rosalie
- 8. Running Back
- 7. Don’t Believe A Word
- 6. Jailbreak
- 5. Whiskey In The Jar
- 4. Dancing In The Moonlight (It’s Caught Me In It’s Spotlight)
- 3. Wild One
- 2. Cowboy Song
- 1. The Boys Are Back In Town
15. The Rocker
Ok, we have to start with this one, as it’s the perfect aperitif for what’s to come. This early Lizzy song is a raucous, high-octane tribute to the quintessential rebel spirit of rock and roll. “I’m a rocker, I’m a roller too, baby.” It’s a full-throttle celebration of the bad-boy image – the tight pants, the long hair, the undeniable swagger that made young girls scream. It’s all about living on the edge and embracing the very spirit of rock itself – rebellious, unapologetic, and irresistibly cool. And man, check out the guitar solo towards the end, with some epic wah-wah pedal playing on display.
Recommended: rock’s best guitar solos
14. Little Girl in Bloom
Starting with a sublime bit of feedback, we meet a young woman, expectant and pensive, who gazes over a cricket field, her mind wrestling with the prospect of breaking the news of her pregnancy (“in bloom”) to her daddy. Amid her apprehension, she senses the profound sacredness of impending motherhood. The advice comes simple yet profound: “Just tell him the facts, just relax.” Contrary to what one might assume about ’70s rock legends, they don’t shy away from the delicate subject of teenage pregnancy. Indeed, they address it with a surprising grace and sensitivity. Singer Phil Lynott extends a metaphorical comforting hand to the young woman, offering a message of solace and support, assuring her that everything will be alright. The instrumentation in the song is just as comforting as his message, too.
Recommended: songs about having a baby on the way.
13. Romeo and the Lonely Girl
The song tells the tale of a fleeting romance between the titular Romeo and a girl. Romeo is a bit of a player and likes to put it around a bit, “he’s everybody’s friend.” But in the end, he gets his comeuppance and ends up alone. It’s another testament to the band’s ability to tackle the full spectrum of human emotion, all while keeping the listener hooked with that driving beat and epic guitar work. Some gorgeous harmonies in this song too. Is it just me, or might Sting have been listening to that line “all on his own-e-o”? Sounds a lot like the famous Geordie.
This short, sumptuous piece stands out in their discography primarily because it’s an instrumental track on their album “Nightlife.” The absence of lyrics invites listeners to delve into their own imaginations, as the wailing guitars and haunting melodies evoke the mystical imagery of its namesake, the Gaelic spirit known for her mournful cry (whose wailing, according to folklore, warns a family that one of them will soon die). Thin Lizzy manages to capture the essence of the banshee’s lament through their instruments alone, creating an atmosphere that’s both eerie and captivating. It’s a stark reminder that sometimes music can paint pictures and tell stories just as vividly as any set of lyrics.
11. Bad Reputation
One of Thin Lizzy’s more distinct songs, ‘Bad Reputation’ showcases frontman Phil Lynott’s talents as a songwriter. The song isn’t typical for the band, but that’s what makes it so good. Lynott wanted to push the musical envelope with this track. While working on it with his fellow bandmates he insisted the song have a rare off-beat rhythm that they wouldn’t otherwise incorporate into their originals. Guitarist Scott Gorham jumped on the tune once drummer Brian Downey had the chaotic rhythm down with Lynott on his bass. Gorham’s memorable, steady riff and Lynott’s haunting vocals easily fell into place.
10. Cold Sweat
Featured on their final studio album, Thunder and Lightning, ‘Cold Sweat’ represents a Thin Lizzy of the ‘80s, one less ‘70s classic rock and more metal. The hard-driving tune was a big hit in Europe. Guitarist John Sykes’ legendary solo featuring a then-fledgling “tapping” phenomenon pioneered by Van Halen helped rocket the song to the history books of rock and roll. While professional biographers and veteran listeners of the band insist their genre is hard rock, this song is one of several that brought the genre of heavy metal into the mix when discussing the band’s unique sound across the rock landscape as a whole.
“…everybody’s favorite little record girl.” Thin Lizzy popularized this Bob Seger-penned track on their ‘75 album, Fighting. They had just completed a tour with Seger, and one of their favorite tunes of his was ‘Rosalie.’ Lynott and Co loved the tune so much that they decided to record it themselves. The result is this classic rock cover. Seger originally penned the track for a pioneering figure in radio, Rosalie Trombley, whose powerful support at a well-known Canadian radio station helped propel Seger’s career early on.
Recommended: top bob seger songs
8. Running Back
Appearing on their most successful album, Jailbreak, ‘Running Back’ was supposed to be one of the leading singles for the wildly popular record. But creative differences got in the way. Nevertheless, it remains one of their authoritative compositions. They scored several hits after the album’s debut, and while ‘Running Back’ wasn’t a best-selling single, it remains one of their most definitive. Influenced by the Celtic blues sounds of Van Morrison, the sweet-sounding tune offers up a milder side to the notorious hard rock band. The original version contained some of guitarist Brian Robertson’s favorite work, including bottleneck slide. However, differing opinions on the song’s sound caused the team to take out his contributions and add in piano. This apparently caused a significant divide within the band.
7. Don’t Believe A Word
One of bassist and vocalist Phil Lynott’s influences was guitar and songwriting legend Jimi Hendrix. And this influence pops on Lynott’s original, ‘Don’t Believe Me.’ The ‘77 tune was actually written as a ballad. But once fellow bandmates got a hold of it, they souped it up and rocked it out (this tended to happen when Thin Lizzy started the collaboration process in the studio). The bluesy, rock number deals with a man in love warning his partner not to trust him, because his words and actions tell two different stories.
Recommended: Jimi Hendrix gear
A top 40 UK hit, ‘Jailbreak’ is the title track off the hard rock group’s legendary album, and one of their best-selling singles. The tune epitomizes the elements that made Thin Lizzy one of the ‘70s most unique and formidable bands. Electric guitars drive the momentum as Lynott’s commanding lyrics tell the story of how they’re busting out of prison, “dead or alive”. Lynott sings “tonight there’s gonna be trouble, so woman stay with a friend.” Whether this is a literal jailbreak, or an analogy for having a crazy night, I’ll let you decide. Whatever it’s about, it rocks hard as nails.
Recommended: songs about getting out of jail
5. Whiskey In The Jar
Long before Metallica repopularized this song in the late ‘90s, Thin Lizzy recorded a spirited cover of ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ as an early single, and it was a surprise massive hit. Originally an Irish traditional piece, the action-packed tune tells the story of a man who steals from an officer for his girlfriend who promises to love him forever if he commits the deed, only to end up in jail after the fact because she betrays him. The tragedian song was a huge breakout hit for Lizzy, who didn’t want to release it as a single at all, but their label had the final say.
4. Dancing In The Moonlight (It’s Caught Me In It’s Spotlight)
Not to be confused with King Harvest’s Dancing in the Moonlight (also a great song), Thin Lizzy’s track by the same name is another piece of solid gold, featuring a rare saxophone section performed by Supertramp’s John Helliwell. It’s another Phil Lynott-penned tune inspired by one of his main influences, fellow Irishman Van Morrison. A mid-’70s release on their Bad Reputation album, it’s a surprisingly light-hearted song, with enough grit behind it thanks to Lynott’s moody vocals to give it that classic Thin Lizzy sound. Another chart-climber in the UK, the grooving song has remained a commercial success over the years.
3. Wild One
You won’t typically find this track on any best of Thin Lizzy lists, but I’ve been floored by it ever since I came across it. First, the drumming is exquisite and the song proves what a crazy good drummer Brian Downey was. So “in the pocket”, just check out those drum fills before the chorus. Then there’s the double-tracked Les Paul guitar part, it feels like stepping into a hot bath full of rose petals and essential oils (lol). In a tribute to a girl he’s obsessed about (who’s slightly unhinged, we all knew one of two of those), Lynott sings,”Oh, sure, you’re a wild one.” To borrow a line from one of the YouTube comments, it’s a “beautiful song from start to finish”.
2. Cowboy Song
This Thin Lizzy classic is one of their more dynamic tracks, with it’s slow, atmospheric opening, it’s gradual build up, and its raucous, rip roaring finish. The story starts around a campfire (“a starry night, a campfire light, the coyote call”), ending with the plea to “roll me over and set me free”. Many believe this hard rock take on a wild west tale was partly autobiographical for Lynott, who penned the tune before recording it for their hit-heavy Jailbreak album. Fans often identify this single as one of the band’s signature releases, and the weight of the track is carried home by its time spent on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
1. The Boys Are Back In Town
The single that deified Thin Lizzy as genuine rock gods, ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ is the band’s best-selling, timeless hit. A rock song in perfect form, Lynott paints a stark picture with his gravelly vocals as he sings about a raucous bar (the evocative ‘Dinos Bar and Grill’, who wouldn’t want to hang there?!) and the regulars who love to stir up trouble. An unforgettable rhythm guitar riff acts as a generator for the tune, and soaring guitar solos add a crisp quality to this joyous track. A top ten hit in the UK and climbing all the way to #12 in the US, the song’s story is largely based on Lynott’s life growing up in working-class Ireland.