Being both the singer and bass player in a band is more difficult than one might think. It’s akin to rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time: similar functions, different mindsets. A bassist/singer needs to have a clear and concise ear for melody while simultaneously paying attention to foundation rhythms and chordal roots in order to keep the song from becoming a nebulous mess.
Phil Lynott, through his legendary work in Thin Lizzy, was someone who was able to adeptly function in both capacities at the same time. A blues-influenced singer, Lynott was initially not an instrumentalist, making melody the intrinsic musical element that he would lean on in his later bass playing. On songs like ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’ and ‘Romeo and the Lonely Girl’, Lynott created bass lines that were hummable and memorable in their own right, revealing a natural ear for ascending and descending note runs.
Lynott’s inherent desire to get his audience to sing whatever he was doing back at him came through when Thin Lizzy performed live. During their shows, Lynott would often take a brief bass solo that focused on creating parts that the crowd could then repeat back to him. This call-and-response style solidified Lynott’s connection with the people coming to see the band, and, in turn, the audience felt as if they were contributing to the music that was being played on stage.
Once Lynott got the audience to repeat the part he conjured up, it was time to take things to the next level. As the audience continued to chant the mainline, Lynott would weave in and out of the main theme with different variations, improvisations, and countermelodies. For someone with no formal musical training, Lynott has a superb ability to incorporate different ideas of rhythm and melody into his playing.
As the audience begins to drop away, Lynott takes full control and plays increasing theatrical triplets runs that slide up the neck. The audience, unsurprisingly, gets whipped into a fervour.
Following some more call and response, this time in the form of scat singing, Lynott goaded the audience by judging their responses harshly. Each time the audience would sing louder and more powerfully, Lynott increased his opinion until he finally had to admit “C’est Magnifique”.
Check out Lynott’s legendary bass solo down below.