Take One: Thin Lizzy -‘Cowboy Song’ 1976 Single

by | Aug 2, 2021 | 0 comments

Thin Lizzy’s intelligent and rowdy singer, songwriter and bass player Phil Lynott was inspired and seduced by American pop culture. What better inspiration for a peaking songwriter then the plethora of imagery provided by the American Cowboy? Co-written by Phil Lynott and drummer Brian Downey ‘Cowboy Song’ was released as an edited Mercury Records single in September 1976 b/w ‘Angel from the Coast. Both tracks hailed from ‘Thin Lizzy’s’ breakthrough and probably their most popular LP, Jailbreak. This would be the third single to be culled from a record that put the group on the map with the previous hits being, ‘The Boys are Back In Town’ and the title track, ‘Jailbreak’.

While the lyrical content is more fictional mind movies than some deep introspective soul reveal, what the context does is give ‘Thin Lizzy’ a starting point for a cinematic and glorious guitar rocker. In the cut, there are multiple movements as well as an organic navigation through interweaving dual guitar lines, popping snare shots and Lynott’s rotund bass work. The song starts from humble and dusty origins and by the end of its tale dynamically reaches its destination.

Lynott must have fancied himself a traveler on the open plains, a stranger in a strange land as the band made their way across the U.S. on tour. Of Irish (born in England) and African American decent Lynott was something of an oddity in the world of rock and roll. It also provided him with unique views and a quirky lyricism. While songs of ‘Cowboys and Indians’ may seem trite, ‘Thin Lizzy’ is one of the only groups that can use the germ of an idea like the cowboy and scrawl it out with glorious attitude using the penmanship of hard rocking dual guitars.

As previously mentioned the single was truncated for release, so the ‘rock room’ will review the full length LP version. We would also like to direct you to the frenzied version available on ‘Thin Lizzy’s June 1978 live album, Live and Dangerous which you can find here. Dripping with drama and attitude this is a must hear rendition.

The song opens with a harmonica blowing from somewhere on the chalky horizon. A dusky chorused guitar accompanies Lynott’s gentle introductory lead vocal on the look out for coyote. From out on the edge of darkness, a snare snaps, a pulsing riff appears and coagulates into a orchestrated dual guitar attack. This sizzling intro rides toward and lands on a delicious and chunky verse melody. 

A man and his horse reflect on the woman they left behind, the classic cowboy song. But here, injected with some punky molten rock and roll riffing and a delinquent attitude. The descending chorus line  resets the pallet in response to the addictive melody that gallops through the high speed verses.

A duo of aggressive Les Paul’s through Marshall stacks is the aesthetic as Scott Gorham takes the first solo over the gritty verse melody, a glorious wind through the hair ride on the back of a stringed stallion. Gorham’s guitar eliciting freedom with a series of triumphant exclamations. Soon both guitarists collaborate for the opening melodic statement but played here higher up the neck, before dropping low into a downstroked and spacious gallop. 

Lynott raps some verses from the chorus over a ‘Television-esque’ groove. ‘It’s ok amigo, just let me go, ridin in the rodeo’ as the band churns. Dual guitar lines push through like fingers in balloons for clipped statements, but the airy arrangement continues until Brian Robertson saddles up with a screaming solo spot. Sweetly distorted with six shooter blazing, ‘Robbo’ take a series of edgy replies to Gorham’s previous excursion. Woo- hoo! The band returns right to the chorus and concludes the song with the line, ‘the cowboy’s life is the life for me’. 

‘Cowboy Song’ is a terribly underrated cut from a extremely famous LP. That being said, ‘Thin Lizzy’ hardcore fans love it! Jailbreak was the record that took ‘Thin Lizzy’ to levels of stardom that they had never thought possible. Through diverse arrangements, true lyricism and a heavy rocking Phil Lynott, the band offered an originality that became  a great success. Alternatively that originality kept some of their compositions from main stream acceptance for a number of years. One thing the ‘rock room’ can confirm, you can never go wrong with heavy guitars, a tight rhythm and well written songs.

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