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Album Analysis - Thin Lizzy's "Jailbreak"

"That jukebox in the corner blasting out my favorite songs, the nights are getting warmer it won't be long, won't be long till summer comes, now that the boys are here again." - Phil Lynott

Hey everybody, sorry it's been a while since my last post, I've just been really busy with high school along with my new band and the podcast's really been taking off these last couple weeks so I haven't had a chance to get behind the chromebook and write about the things I love. However, I've just come up with a fantastic blog series idea that's gonna keep post after post interesting, exciting and original and that idea is called Album Analysis.

Album Analysis is this thing where I will pick one of my favorite albums from any era, artist or genre and break it down track-by-track, writing about what makes each song good or better than one another and the impact the structure and theme of the album can leave on a listener. As a superfan of the legendary Phil Lynott-fronted, double-lead guitar Irish classic rock act Thin Lizzy, I've decided to use their best album, 1976's Jailbreak as my first post because it's a classic rock essential and my favorite album of all time.


Before I get into the track-by-track analysis, I'm gonna do a quick overview of the story behind the album. Produced by John Alcock from Vertigo Records in 1976, Jailbreak is the sixth studio album by Thin Lizzy, consisting of Phil Lynott on vocals and bass, Brian Downey on drums and Scott Gorham alongside Brian Robertson on guitars.

By the time Jailbreak came about, Thin Lizzy had put out five albums and none of the songs were hits. With their sixth album, Vertigo Records gave them one last chance to write a hit single. Since the fate of the band depended on it, the quartet put absolutely everything into this album to be the one where they finally wrote their hit song.

Not only were they successful with this landing the smash hits Jailbreak and The Boys are Back in Town that have both played constantly on radio for decades, but they made an album with just one perfect classic rock song after another since they tried their hardest to make each one a top 40. That's why it's the best Thin Lizzy album, because not only is it the perfect balance between all their influences (Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Celtic Folk, American Blues) but the pressure was on the heaviest with this album, so they gave it everything they had.

Track 1 - Jailbreak

Writer(s) - Phil Lynott

Runtime - 4:01

Score - 9/10

My memories of this song are great, I can recall a time before I knew who Thin Lizzy was I would get excited whenever this song came on the radio so it was kinda the Thin Lizzy song that had me hooked, and when Tenacious D covered it at their recent concert I saw in September I went bonkers.

Furthermore, the big epic guitar note at the beginning sounds like an explosion so there was truly no better way for them to start the album. The riff kicks ass, the solo's amazing and Phil Lynott's vocals are truly out of this world. Whenever I'm about to do something awesome and I need to get pumped, Jailbreak is the song I play. Not my favorite song off the album, but totally worthy of being the titular track.

Track 2 - Angel from the Coast

Writer(s) - Phil Lynott, Brian Robertson

Runtime - 3:03

Score - 7/10

Don't get me wrong, Angel from the Coast is a great song - you can really hear the Van Morrison influence and this song features Brian Downey's drumming at its absolute finest, I just see it as more of a jam piece built for solos than a genuinely well crafted song. It's very catchy, the solos are great and it's not a bad song. However, compared to the others on this record it isn't that awesome, since it has a lot to compete with because the other songs are just so much better in my opinion.

Track 3 - Running Back

Writer(s) - Phil Lynott

Runtime - 3:13

Score - 8.5/10

At track 3 where the pace of the album slows down, Jailbreak runs into a powerful and beautiful song that I see as the most underrated track off this album. I love the keyboard parts along with the lyrical storytelling from the perspective of a rock star ready to make things right after a breakup, plus it features some meaningful lyrics like "I make my money songs about you, it's my claim to fame" and "when they say it's over, it's not all over there's still the pain".

I also think the breakdown of this song, where the electric guitar harmonizes with a saxaphone track, should be recognized as precursor to one of Thin Lizzy's best songs Dancing in the Moonlight (It's Caught me in it's Spotlight) that came off of their following album Bad Reputation. The saxaphone hook is the main punch of that song, and if it wasn't for their first use of the sax in Running Back I don't know if they would've used it on their next album. This is definitely a gem and I loved it when Bright Eyes covered it for Sirius XM.

Track 4 - Romeo and the Lonely Girl

Writer(s) - Phil Lynott

Runtime - 3:55

Score - 8/10

Again, once they embraced that Van Morrison influence, Thin Lizzy was able to do some awesome stuff. While this may not be the best song Thin Lizzy put out and Scott Gorham himself literally said "nobody was overexcited about it", I definitely see this as a comfort song, a sort of track where singing along to it makes you feel like you can do anything. It's sort of the earliest song on this album where Lynott really blended music with poetry to tell a story of another man disappointed by breakup and I really like the clapping during the solo and how that leads into the bridge. It's a good song, just not the best.

Track 5 - Warriors

Writer(s) - Phil Lynott, Scott Gorham

Runtime - 4:09

Score - 8/10

Warriors is an interesting song, because while the lyrics at their surface sound like it's just a song about some bad-ass sword and sorcery guy, Phil Lynott actually wrote it about how heavy drug takers like Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman were figurative warriors through their confidence and awareness of the self destruction they were getting into. On top of that, it's a really killer song with a fantastic solo that ends Side A on a climactic final note so yeah, great track.

Track 6 - The Boys Are Back in Town

Writer(s) - Phil Lynott

Runtime - 4:27

Score - 10/10

Though nobody knows for sure what "boys" this song was written about or whether or not Dino's Bar & Grill was an actual place, one thing everybody knows is that this was hands down Thin Lizzy's most popular song and a fantastic way to kick off Side B. To me, no matter what bull-crap has happened to me earlier that day or what mood I'm in, if I've heard The Boys Are Back in Town within 24 hours I will go to bed concluding I had a good day.

The song is just a cultural touchstone - it plays constantly on classic rock radio, it's recognized as one of the best electric guitar pieces ever recorded and whenever I hear it it get's stuck in my head for hours. This has been covered by bands all the way from Everclear to Bon Jovi, and it really helps give Jailbreak's Side B something over Side A.

Track 7 - Fight or Fall

Writer(s) - Phil Lynott

Runtime - 3:45

Score - 8.5/10

What can I say, another perfect, powerful and extremely underappreciated Thin Lizzy song. Bravo, Phil Lynott. In the right context, this song can make me cry. As a songwriter, I am blown away by the pure genius and emotional power put behind such a meaningful song. Whatever specific subject the song's referring to, whatever experience Phil Lynott had to go through to write it, it is a truly beautiful song.

Every fantastic album has to have at least one slow song that absolutely hits you like a train - for the Beatles' Revolver, it's Here, There and Everywhere. For the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, it's God Only Knows. For Thin Lizzy's Jailbreak, it's Fight or Fall. You can hear the passion in the vocals, the mood in the bass and the heart in the guitar, and the stereo work during the breakdowns sounds fantastic on headphones. Definitely a masterpiece.

Track 8 - Cowboy Song

Writer(s) - Phil Lynott, Brian Downey

Runtime - 5:16

Score - 10/10

I have no idea what inspired a bunch of hard rockin' Dubliners to write a non-country rock song about a heartbroken cowboy in the old west trying to find a goal in life, but I am sure glad they did. Not only is this my favorite song off this album but it is in my top five favorite songs of all time. Whenever I got five extra minutes to kill, I play this song as loud as I can and I'll always see it as a key factor to a perfect day.

Brian Downey's drumming is out of this world, Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson both had amazing solos that shred my head off every time and Phil Lynott's bass line is the catchiest thing I've ever heard, not to mention his killer vocals and genius lyrics. It may not be as well known as Jailbreak or The Boys Are Back in Town, but it's every bit as good.

Track 9 - Emerald

Writer(s) - Phil Lynott, Scott Gorham, Brian Downey, Brian Robertson

Runtime - 4:03

Score - 8.5/10

Though it may not be as good as Cowboy Song, Emerald flarkin' rules as well and not only did it make a killer follow up to Track 8 but it let the band end their best album with a bang. As a bad-ass sword and sorcery rock piece with a killer hook that used some heavy Celtic influence, Emerald was one of my favorite songs in fifth grade and I think it's cool they ended the album with a song written by all four band members.

As far as guitar solos go, this song embodies all the unique flair Thin Lizzy put on the art form with the awesome harmonics done by Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson during the end of the song. I commonly explain Thin Lizzy's awesomeness by telling people "they have two lead guitarists, so during solos one will play one part and the other will play the next part then they both harmonize in stereo", and whenever they say "oh that's cool" this is the song I play for them to get my point across.

Is it a concept album?

Something I'll do to wrap up each of these Albums Analyzed posts is discuss whether or not the record in discussion can be considered a concept album, and in Jailbreak's case the answer is debatable.

Everyone who owns the album on vinyl can tell you about the little space opera story written on the back, placing the big bad-ass on the album cover as this oppressive bad guy called "The Overmaster" and the four members of Thin Lizzy as freedom fighting rebels on a quest to liberate the fantastical world of Dimension 5, and Scott Gorham said in an interview that "(it) was actually the beginning of a concept album...about alien beings and overlords and this kind of deal, but we just didn't care!". Gorham went on to explain the original connection they had developed through songs like Jailbreak, The Warrior and Emerald just didn't apply to the rest of the songs on the record, so they eventually dropped the idea.

However, through analyzing these songs I have noticed a list of recurring themes: Running Back, Romeo and the Lonely Girl and Cowboy Song are all about loneliness after a breakup, while Jailbreak, Emerald and Warriors all embody themes of power and bad-assery. This has me wondering, what if the theme of the album is finding a "jailbreak" from all the loneliness after love abandons you? Just a random interpretation, but the band themselves didn't really see any kind of connection between the songs as of the album's finalization so I wouldn't consider it concept.

In conclusion, Thin Lizzy's Jailbreak is a rock'n'roll essential and one of the greatest musical works this world has ever known. Each song on here changed my life and if you're a musician hoping to write an album with one un-skippable song after another, this is the album for you.

In my next Albums Analyzed post, I'll be switching up the genre here by analyzing one of my favorite pop records, Flo Rida's Wild Ones. I know, I've got a weird range of taste, but it is one bangin' album. Thank you all for reading and I hope you have a fantastic weekend!

Stay geeky,

-Jack Higgins

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