By Adam Waldman
On March 26, 1976, Irish rockers Thin Lizzy released their sixth studio album, Jailbreak. This is the album that put the band on the map in America. It’s also the only album that was ever a commercial success for the band in the U.S. For many Americans, most of the Thin Lizzy songs that they are familiar with come from Jailbreak (the exception being “Whiskey In The Jar” – which was released as a single four years earlier). Aside from the title track of the album, the other radio songs are “The Boys Are Back In Town” (the band’s biggest hit), “Cowboy Song” and (to a lesser degree) “Emerald.”
The two releases prior to Jailbreak (Nightlife and Fighting) both failed to generate meaningful sales. If Jailbreak wasn’t successful, the band risked being dropped by their label (Vertigo). Despite the fact that this ended up being Thin Lizzy’s most successful album, guitarists Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson both felt that quality was sacrificed for speed during the recording process, and that the songs were too rigid. Robertson felt too constrained and wanted more freedom to improvise his leads, and Gorham didn’t like the approach that producer John Alcock took with the guitar tones.
Together with Alcock, the band’s charismatic frontman/bass player Phil Lynott decided to use session musicians on some tracks to give the album a more commercial feel in an effort to produce hit singles. Robertson took offense to the use of session musicians, especially on “The Boys Are Back In Town.” He preferred the original (more bluesy) arrangement that featured him playing piano and bottleneck guitar. Ultimately, he didn’t even play on the finished version of the song. This wasn’t the only moment of dissention between the band members. Neither guitarist was in favor of the song “Running Back” (which had an intentional Van Morrison influence), but they were overruled.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but it’s surprising that “The Boys Are Back In Town” was originally the third choice to be the single (behind “Running Back” and “Romeo And The Lonely Girl” – neither of which are known to casual Thin Lizzy fans).
Here’s the one that started it all, and still gets played regularly on radio today…