Some musical experiences stick with you for a lifetime and the first time I heard Thin Lizzy’s Bad Reputation album as a newly turned teenager many moons ago I knew I was about to embark on a joyous musical discovery which to this day shows no signs of abating.
For many, Thin Lizzy are known for a couple of huge hits in the seventies as well as their more rock orientated tracks such as Emerald, Chinatown, The Rocker and Cold Sweat. But they and especially their lead singer, Phil Lynott were far more than that, Their golden period of albums from Nightlife released in 1974 to Bad Reputation in 1977 revealed a band steeped in the traditions of folk and country from both their Irish and American roots.
Melody was always at the heart of their songs with lyrics written by a passionate and tormented soul whose demons would eventually rob us of one of the most enigmatic songwriters and performers of my generation. Lynott wrote lyrics we could identify with and if we didn’t then we wanted to. He was a fiercely proud Irishman, rooted to the cause politically and artistically but above all he was a great romantic and teenage me was hooked. Bad Reputation was my initiation into their world and I’ve never left it.
Unbeknown to me at the time the album was released some four years earlier in 1977. It would prove to be guitarist Brian Robertson’s last studio album with the band, his contribution to the recording illustrated by his stark absence on the front cover, a reminder of his behaviour on the previous tour when a drunken brawl saw a performance-ending injury to his hand. But he appeared on the back cover and inner sleeve and would go on to join the band for the tour which produced the seminal live album Live and Dangerous,
I was blown away by the diversity of the songs, placing the stylus in the groove of Dancing in the Moonlight was a revelation, if ever there was an anthem for teenagers in the 1970s then surely this must be it, wonderfully nostalgic, a tip of the hat to Van Morrison with a lyric we could all identify with. The album blended hard rock with elements of American country music already noticeable in their previous albums, Southbound combined a country lyric with their unmistakable duel guitar sound to create one of my favourite tracks in the album. I always preferred their melodic songs to the harder edged anthems, Lynott’s ability to craft heart-wrenching lyrics was always vastly underrated and no song on this album showcases that better than Downtown Sundown. This was peak Thin Lizzy, Lynott had it all, it was his time, before the demons would take him. It was a time of Punk in Britain, Lizzy were unbowed by the trend and this album showed a maturity and comfort in their style and ability.
So this is my well worn vinyl copy, bought after I left school aged sixteen and despite the arrival of CD, MP3 and music streaming it remains the only way I will listen to it. Hearing those songs the way I first experienced them takes me back to that summer evening with a bag of crisps, a bottle of home brew I was told not to tell my parents about and a pound in my pocket. There would be other musical experiences to follow but this represented much of how I was and would become. They were no longer as popular, they were never hard rock or heavy metal, they created a category all of their own and I like that. Teenagers back then had to choose an identity and stick with it but what I liked couldn’t be labelled and Lynott epitomised that like no other.
Categories: The Music Lounge