The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #228: The Boys Are Back In Town by Thin Lizzy (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #228: The Boys Are Back In Town by Thin Lizzy.

Thin Lizzy was a hard rock band that formed in Ireland during the late 1960s/early 70s. They were a noteworthy band for several reasons: 1- Their lead singer, Phil Lynott, was a mixed-race person, born of Irish and Guyanese parents. Thus, he was one of the very few lead singers of any band of note in Ireland who was dark-skinned. 2- Thin Lizzy had their heyday during that period in Irish history known as “The Troubles”. Why that matters is because, unlike the vast majority of bands and organizations at the time, the composition of the band did not break down along religious lines. In fact, Thin Lizzy was one of the only, fully-integrated bands in Ireland, in any genre. 3- Finally, what brought Thin Lizzy from being a marginal, more-misses-than-hits kind of bar band and brought them to the biggest arena stages of the world was a change in the type of songs they were writing. Initially, Phil Lynott wrote the words and music for all of their songs based upon Irish folklore. So, the first three-four Thin Lizzy albums do not sound at all like the Thin Lizzy we all came to know. Those albums did not sell well and Thin Lizzy found themselves on the verge of being dropped by their record label. The change that saved them was trying some songs with a harder rock edge to them and, as well, using two lead guitars to augment Lynott’s bass and vocals.

But, even with this change in the type of music Thin Lizzy played, it wasn’t until they released a song called, “Whiskey in the Jar” that they scored their first minor hit and started gaining some attention from the music industry. “Whiskey in the Jar” is a ribald tale based on an Irish legend of a robbery gone wrong. The success of this song brought some much needed money into the band’s coffers and allowed them to put a little more creativity into their next studio album. That album was called, “Jailbreak” and on that album was a song destined to become their signature song, “The Boys Are Back in Town”.

Sometimes a band will have hit after hit, right out of the gate in their careers and will become popular before they have even started touring. For many other bands, the reverse process is true. It is by touring relentlessly that a word-of-mouth momentum builds and helps to bring notice to a band. Thin Lizzy were the poster boys for this latter route. They played hard, live. They drank lots and maintained the mythical rock n’ roll lifestyle. They opened for everyone from Rush to B.T.O. to The Kinks. Over time, they became a great live band. So much so, that their greatest hits live album that they released was generally regarded for years as being the best live album ever recorded. Then came the release of “The Boys Are Back in Town”.

When “Jailbreak” was being recorded in studio, the band recorded 15 songs for a ten-song album. When debating what 10 out of the fifteen to put on the album, the band members, themselves, voted to reject “The Boys Are Back in Town”. It was their manager who kept insisting that there was something special about this song. Being a democratic band, everyone got a say and their manager’s vote saved, “The Boys Are Back in Town”. At first, when they toured to support the release of “Jailbreak”, Thin Lizzy played “The Boys Are Back in Town” as just another song on their setlist. However, while touring through the US, a couple of radio DJs from Texas attended their concert, loved “The Boys Are Back in Town” and, even though it was not an officially-released single, they began playing the song in heavy rotation at their own classic rock-type station. The song resonated with fans who, in turn, demanded access to their own copies of the single. The record label, unprepared as they were to support “The Boys Are Back in Town”, rushed the single into production and soon, almost unbeknownst to the band, the song raced to the top of the charts and became a #1 hit. The famous story is that, on the day “The Boys Are Back in Town” reached #1, their manager ran into their dressing room to tell them the news that they had #1 hit in America, to which the band replied, “We do? Which song is it?” They had no idea. Obviously, very quickly, Thin Lizzy began featuring “The Boys Are back in Town” in a more prominent manner during their live shows and the song has gone on to become one of the most famous and well-liked arena rock anthems of all-time.

As for the song, itself, the “Boys” in question are said to be based on a local gang that carried on, in and around, Manchester, England, called, “The Quality Street Gang”. This gang terrorized parts of the UK and gained infamy for their drunken brawls, their womanizing and the litany of crimes attributed to them, which saw the gang members come in and out of jail with regularity. Thus, when time had been served and the members of “The Quality Street Gang” were released, word quickly spread throughout the city of Manchester that “the Boys were back in town”. Needless to say, the re-emergence of this gang of thieves and crooks into the city sent a ripple of energy through the working class neighbourhoods and, as such, it inspired noted rockers, Thin Lizzy to take note and recreate that scene in song. At the time they wrote the song, Thin Lizzy were still making most of their money from playing local gigs in bars and clubs in the UK. Thus, it was a smart business move on their part to stay on the good side of “The Quality Street Gang” by writing a song that is so clearly admiring of their exploits. In any case, Thin Lizzy was a band that always remembered its roots in Ireland and England and wrote its’ biggest hit based upon the life that they lived there.

So, without further delay, here is Thin Lizzy with their biggest hit, “The Boys Are Back in Town”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “The Boys Are Back In Town” by Thin Lizzy, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Thin Lizzy, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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