Thursday, March 17, 2011

One Hit Wonder Or One Hit Blunder (St. Patrick's Day Edition)

Today's Subject: "The Boys Are Back in Town" by Thin Lizzy

One hit wonder status is usually reserved for novelty tracks sung by disc jockeys, actors recording the theme to their 70's era TV show or just random bizarre track. Sometimes, they spring from a particular sound from a particular time in music (disco, 90's club music and, sadly, every branch of hip hop). Then, there are those few one hit wonders that truly boggle the mind as to how they were one hit wonder when they: a) wrote amazing songs and b) had a lengthy and influential career. Thin Lizzy, definitely, falls into the latter.

In the U.K., Ireland's Thin Lizzy were stars with several Top 20 hit singles such as "Whiskey in the Jar" and "Waiting for an Alibi" but in the U.S., for better or worse, the band is best known for their only Top 20 charting single, "The Boys Are Back in Town." The better part being that this is a very excellent introduction to Thin Lizzy. While the band definitely had singles that rocked this track deep into the ground, "The Boys Are Back in Town" is a well written and well performed song. I would safely say that it is probably the best song that Tom Petty somehow did not write but you will swear that he did. 

Musically, this song cuts out all of the flash of 70's arena rockers by having a simple melody and builds upon it with a great bass and drum rhythm courtesy Phil Lynott and Brian Downey. In addition to that, the twin guitar lead of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson is why this song is such a classic. From the opening to the instrumental bridges between the vocals to the dual solos near the end, you can not possibly ask for a better song on guitar(s). The twin lead gives the song a meatier sound, not in the Judas Priest sense of twin lead guitar, but more in the sense of a great rock auralgasm that lead kids to bouncing around playing air guitar in their rooms.

Lyrically, the song was originally about soldiers coming home from a war and sadly, even in today's times, that still holds up. Even if were not about that, we all have friends coming home from something or somewhere so, on that level, it is a song that will always have a significance. When you hear it, Lynott sounds like a friend updating another friend about the town's happenings while they were gone and that has also helped keep it relevant no matter what year you hear the song.

The worse part of this being their best known and highest charting single (#12) in the U.S. is simply the fact that they wrote great songs, some of which are now regular staples of classic rock radio and two of them spawning from the same album that brought you this particular single. In the U.K., they continued to chart in the Top 20 for another five years whereas, here, this is it. As a single, it was memorable enough to have been covered by the likes of Everclear, The Cardigans, Bon Jovi and the Rumble Strips. Also, Thin Lizzy, much like Devo, had a career well before and well after their one hit and influenced countless bands in the process and to this very day.

Catchy melody.
Dual lead guitars.
Tight rhythm section.
Lyrics and sentiment that is eternal as long as people go away from some time and return.
Still receives airplay on most classic rock and 70's hits radio stations.
Covered by numerous bands and, most importantly, it was covered the The Cardigans.
Perfect for air bands.
Classic rock staple.

Really, are there any besides it being their only U.S. hit?

Is there a need to really discuss this? As long as people want to rock, this song will never be blunder. It is a pure and simple joy from a time of pompous arena rock (not that I mind that sound) and on the cusp of disco penetrating the mainstream (that is for a whole other discussion). Did I already mention that it probably the best Tom Petty did not write? Yeah, I already did.

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