Thin Lizzy's Jailbreak (click here to listen to on Spotify), the band's sixth album, was their American breakthrough. Released forty years ago today (March 26, 1976), the Irish rock band with a dual lead guitar attack featured Phil Lynott on bass and vocals. He was all of twenty-six when he gathered his bandmates, along with producer John Alcock, at London's Ramport Studios as 1975 became 1976. The group was given an ultimatum by their label, so they worked fast on what was to become Jailbreak. Though the two guitarists, Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson, would claim they felt stifled by both the material and tight schedule, the album debuted on the Billboard Top LPs & Tape chart dated April 17, 1976 at number 189. Seven weeks later, Jailbreak had breached the Top 40 on the albums chart on its way to peak position of number 18. It debuted on the UK album charts a week earlier than the US and had a fifty week run, peaking at number 10.
MM: The album had a twenty-eight week run total on the US Billboard Album chart. I have always liked this album cover as it has a very comic book vibe to it. It was done by Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick who did a number of pieces for the band.
The first song on the album is the title track. It opens with a one note full band intro before the guitar riff comes in and Lynott begins his tale. See, he's not talking about a literal jailbreak where prisoners seek their freedom, he's talking about a figurative jailbreak where he and his mates escape the boredom and monotony of the town they live in and indeed feel imprisoned by. He warns those within earshot that there is gonna be trouble, mayhem and danger and that woman should stay with a friend. The music is grade A 100% rocking and reminds me of Sweet about this same time as they shed their glam image and turned their amps up. "Jailbreak" is a great album opener and sets the tone for the rest of the album. In North America, the song was released as the B-side of the album's first single while in the rest of the world "Jailbreak" was released as the second single from the album. It has since become one of three songs from the album that are classic rock radio staples.
MM: As a single, "Jailbreak" went to number 31 in the UK and number 83 in Australia. I remember this one's gritty back-and-forth guitar riffs from album rock radio listening back in the day.
The album's second song continues the upbeat pace with the character study "Angel From The Coast". Guitarist Robertson co-wrote the song and stretches out in a few blues-soaked solos while Lynott sketches out a few down and out characters: Angel, Sally, the drunk and the crook who eludes the cops and signals the end of the song. It was the B side of the album's third single.
MM: I really like the guitar work on this one. It is instantly catchy and sticks with me. That alone makes the track an instantly likable tune in my book. My only minor complaint is that the song just does a sudden stop on a single note, which was totally unexpected.
Thin Lizzy's Irish roots are front and center on the album's third track, titled "Running Back", a one-way love story with the singer vowing to come running back to his girl because "When they say it's over / It's not all over, there's still the pain". The song ended up as the B side of the album's second single. There was some hurt feelings when a keyboardist was brought in to sweeten the track and thirty-five years after the fact, guitarist Robertson recorded and released his preferred version of the song.
MM: Jim Hinkley was the uncredited guest keyboardist on the track. I really like the gentle swaying rhythm of this song. It puts me in a very relaxed mood.
"Romeo and the Lonely Girl", the album's fourth song was reportedly briefly considered as the album's first single but never came to be. The song moves along at a galloping pace with a strong acoustic guitar lick heard alongside the strumming electric. Lynott's phrasing of "Ohhh, poor Romeo" is the hook in this one.
MM: The lyrics could have easily come out of the 1950's doo-wop era, but the band really gives it a nice rocking edge musically.
The A Side of the album closes with the guitar workout of "Warriors". The band's other lead guitarist Gorham showcases his six-string skill with some heavy riffing and a couple searing solos on this one.
MM: This one has a very 70's classic rock vibe to it and something I would have expected to hear garage bands, like my across the street neighbor Elias had when I was growing up, taking a crack at. The stop-go guitar work near the end is rather unexpected but works well.
"The Boys Are Back In Town" kicks off the B side of Jailbreak in the best possible way. Released as the first single alongside the album, the song was a Number One hit in their native Ireland and it climbed into the Top 10 in the UK while topping out at number 12 on the US Billboard Hot 100. It did better on the Cash Box charts, topping out at number 10 but it enjoyed its greatest success in my little world when climbed to number 2 on WLS weekly survey in July 1976, kept out of the top spot by The Beatles and their "Got To Get You Into My Life". The song is muscular with riffs for days but I most enjoy the speaker switching vocals on the chorus (which wasn't evident back in the days of mono AM radio), the fat twin guitar lead that follows the chorus and the following verse:
That jukebox in the corner blastin' out my favorite song - The nights are getting longer, it won't be long - Won't be long till the summer comes - Now that the boys are here again
In later interviews, Gorham said the band had recorded a total of fifteen songs in their sessions but only picked ten of them for the Jailbreak album due to the physical time constraints of the vinyl album format (Jailbreak is barely over 36 minutes, start to finish) and that "The Boys Are Back In Town" wasn't one of the band's chosen tunes but they were overridden by their management, added their new found twin harmonic guitar sound they had developed late in the recording sessions and were genuinely surprised when told they had a hit with it.
MM: The single also hit number 56 in Australia and number 8 in Canada and the UK. I have always been a huge fan of this song since the first time I heard it on the radio back in the 70's. The energy of the song always can raise my spirits when it comes on. I also like the story the lyrics paint with characters I would actually like to meet and get to know.
The tempo slows and mellows finally with the next song "Fight Or Fall" which features heavy effects on Lynott's vocals along bluesy and mystical sounding guitars. It's a decent enough song though I usually skip it to hear the next song.
MM: I like the back and forth across the speakers of the line "I'm tellin' myself" - it has a nice stream of conscious effect going on as the singer wrestles with the title decision. Overall, I like the whole soft-rock, Santana-like vibe of this one quite a bit.
Jailbreak's penultimate song starts off slow but after that first minute it launches into high gear. "Cowboy Song" features fantastic vocals ranging from quiet and intimate to loud and in your face, cinematic lyrics and probably my favorite solos on the entire album. The song is epic, certainly the longest one on the album, and features a widescreen soundstage that makes it perfect for a nighttime driving song out here in the Sonoran Desert while "thinking 'bout a certain female." Bonus points for the Texas shout-out though you'd expect nothing less from a "Cowboy Song". The song was the third and final single from the album and the 45 edited a full two minutes from the 5:14 album version. I don't recall ever hearing that truncated version and have made it a priority to find a copy soon. It reached number 77 on the Hot 100.
MM: I like the opening and would have loved to hear a full on country version of the song based just on that. The way the song effortlessly switches rhythmic gears multiple times makes this one an interesting listen.
The album closes with "Emerald", the culmination of Lynott's fascination with Irish history. It was the B side to the first single outside of North America and features a brief lyrical poem followed an onslaught of guitars.
MM: This one has a military march energy to it which pairs perfectly with the lyrics.
To celebrate the thirty-fifth anniversary of Jailbreak's release, a double disc Deluxe Edition was released featuring the original album on disc one and eleven bonus tracks on disc two: a collection of remixed versions, BBC sessions, alternate rough mixes and a previously unreleased track from the album's original recording sessions. The surprise for me was hearing my own name used in the Alt Vocal Re-mix Version of "The Boys Are Back In Town" I guess the verse was scrapped in the final version.
I loved "The Boys Are Back In Town" as a ten year old back in 1976 and still have my 45. Even ranked it number 4 on My Favorite Songs from 1976 feature that just wrapped up after two weeks on The Hideaway. Like I mentioned up above, WLS played it a lot and it got a lot of spins on the youth center jukebox as well. I enjoyed "Jailbreak", the B side of the 45 as well but it wasn't until 1982 or 1983 when I bought the album at Al Bum's per the owner's suggestion. He asked if I liked "The Boys Are Back In Town" and I said I loved it. Then he said it wasn't even the best song on the album and I was sold. Jailbreak is one of the best rock albums ever recorded but don't my word on it, listen for yourself.
Thanks to Martin for letting me once again ramble on about one of my favorite albums on his site.
MM: And thank you, Herc, for another indepth review with your usual attention to detail. I appreciate the assist on a record you enjoy so much.
For me, I have never owned this album. In fact, this is my first time listening to it from beginning to end. I believe my older brother may have owned a copy on vinyl though, so I likely heard bits and pieces over the years from the other side of the wall between our bedrooms. Of course, my album-rock station listening time in the late 70's and early 80's would have also featured a number of these tunes as well. This is definitely one I would revisit again in my listening journeys.
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