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Credit: Helge Overas

Music

Five of Phil Lynott's best bass lines for Thin Lizzy

@TylerGolsen

In a band like Thin Lizzy, the bass could occasionally be relegated to the background. Like some of the best 1970s hard rock acts, Thin Lizzy made their mark with a distinctive twin-guitar attack – Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson carved out an unmatched ability to harmonise perfectly with each other, taking memorably guitar lines and making them sing with real musical power.

Even the bass player himself had a more essential role: Phil Lynott was a singer and frontman unlike any other, and not just because there were pretty much no other Black Irishman singing rock music. Lynott had a swagger to him, lighting up crowds with just a look or a gesture. His voice sounded whiskey-soaked but never haggard. It was a controlled belt that never had to strain in order to connect. Even today, he remains one of the most underrated band leaders of his generation.

But let’s get this straight: Phil Lynott was also a badass bass player. While it might not be the first thing that catches your attention in a Thin Lizzy song, once you hear the rumbling low-end work that Lynott lays down song after song, you’ll never forget it. Originally a singer who picked up the bass through necessity, Lynott brought a singular melodic feel that often complimented his vocal lines.

Whether it was pilfering old school blues, pioneering hard rock and heavy metal, or returning to their roots with traditional Irish music, Thin Lizzy always brought a sound all their own to their recordings and live performances.

That sound would be incomplete without Lynott’s stellar bass skills, so we’re counting down some of his best bass lines from across the Thin Lizzy catalogue. Although the parts from ‘Jailbreak’ and ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’ are fantastic, you won’t find them here. Lynott and the band were much more than just their hits.

Five great Phil Lynott bass lines:

‘Waiting for an Alibi’

OK, fine, how about one hit? Even though this was the first deviation from the band’s classic lineup, with guitarist Gary Moore appearing for his one and only album, ‘Waiting for an Alibi’ is unmistakable Thin Lizzy.

Lynott must have been in an experimental mood, seeing as how his bass is treated with a fair amount of chorus. But it’s more than just an effect, it’s an ear-catching addition to the song’s slick arrangement. Lynott drives the song without ever keeping things too simple.

‘Romeo and the Lonely Girl’

One of the biggest disappointments in Thin Lizzy’s catalogue is that one of their most beloved albums, 1976’s Jailbreak, emphasises the band’s twin guitar attack at the expense of Lynott’s bass playing. Lynott’s four-string work is criminally low in the album’s mix, but when you crank it up in order to hear it, the bass lines are funky and original.

Originally ‘Romeo and the Lonely Girl’ was another one of the band’s fast-paced rockers. Over the years it gradually transformed into a slow ballad that showed off Lynott’s soul-inspired bass line. Lynott was an expert at riding between simplicity and showing off, throwing in just the perfect amount of fills and runs to add distinction, not distraction.

‘Vagabonds of the Western World’

The version of Thin Lizzy that made it big involved a killer twin lead guitar makeup, but there was a time when Thin Lizzy were just a power trio. For their first three albums, Lynott had a lot more space to fill, and he stepped up with ever-increasingly complicated bass parts that he would later pare back on subsequent releases.

That’s a shame, because the bass playing on Vagabonds of the Western World, specifically the album’s title track, is Lynott at his flashiest and most indelible. While taking up all the space he likes, Lynott still holds down the rhythm and never gets in over his head. It’s probably for the best that Thin Lizzy brought in Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson for 1974’s Nightlife, but it would have been fascinating to hear what Lynott would have played had the band kept its three-man configuration.

‘Emerald’

Mostly a hard rock band, Thin Lizzy had a seizable influence on the emerging new wave of British heavy metal that would take over music in the late 1970s and early ’80s. With their leather-clad stage clothes and powerful Marshall-led sonic attack, it’s no surprise that Thin Lizzy were the forefathers of a harder and heavier style of music.

Just listen to the triplets that Lynott lays down on ‘Emerald’. Those are the same galloping lines that Steve Harris would later take for himself on a number of classic Iron Maiden tracks. It’s even more astonishing to think he was playing those runs and singing at the same time as he does on the band’s classic live album Live and Dangerous.

‘I’m Still in Love With You’

Thin Lizzy were a hard rock band through and through. But even the loudest and heaviest bands could afford a ballad or two in their repertoire, and it was on one of the group’s most impassioned tunes that Lynott truly got the ability to stretch out and show his skills on the bass – ‘I’m Still in Love With You’.

Irish soul music was ever-present in Thin Lizzy’s home country as they were coming up as a band. Lynott didn’t like the conflation between his race and his musical tastes, but he did have a strong appreciation for the slinky bass lines and heavy impact that soul was based on. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more impactful song from the Thin Lizzy catalogue, and it comes complete with one of Lynott’s most indelible bass lines.