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This is the single that kicked off Thin Lizzy’s long career, to my ears. You got two tracks that are remarkably Lynott during a time when Lynott wasn’t the image of Lizzy. These two tracks are both memorable and stylish in their own unique ways; you won’t soon forget them. With Shades Of A Blue Orphanage the band was a sort of jive playing three-piece that performed jolly tunes. This is where Bell steps out of his small niche of playing, going for true hard rock riffs and stellar soloing with a bag of harmonies. Most singles are throwaway intermediaries for bands to cash in on something, but this one was the trendsetter for future Lizzy.
Now “Whisky In The Jar” I first heard a long time ago, as many people have, when Metallica covered it. While I didn’t care for that track, I will profess my love for this original version. Yes, part of it is a folk tune adapted into rock, but that’s the charm (Lynott would reach the pinnacle of his skill in doing this on the Black Rose album years later). This first track could be seen as Lizzy’s first real hit, and it’s no joke of a song. There’s no bass guitar on it; only Downey’s jumpy pummeling, the acoustic wish-washy rhythm, and Bell on lead with harmonic gusto – probably the most beautiful three-piece jingle I’ve ever heard. Top it off with Lynott’s outstanding, thick vocals spoken in pain with a story rolling as sadly as the melody of the lead.
“Black Boys On The Corner” was supposed to be the a-side, but the record label thought it was too controversial (so I’ve heard), which was a good call and a bad call. It can’t contend with “Whisky In The Jar”, but it’s still a stellar track that pretty much blows away Shades Of A Blue Orphanage on its own. Bell continues the main riff onslaught with Lynott’s slick thumping under it and Downey’s distant crashing above both of them. It’s a fast riff, a mid-paced speed, and Lynott yelling all he wants, which at this point is a little out of character for Thin Lizzy. Bell almost shreds on the solo and Lynott follows with fast-talking and shouting like those old-time blues bellowers.
From what I understand, these two tracks were tagged onto the Vagabonds… album, which is fine since that album, while good, needed the boost. Both of these tracks are reasonable for their lengths – one deep and one rocking – so there’s good variety for as much as two tracks can give. What I’d say is to forget Metallica’s cover and stick with this original. I don’t think I need to really follow up with why, but it’s Metallica covering Thin Lizzy… basically bad rock covering good rock (figure it out from there).