He was the charismatic black Irishman who melded Irish folk music with hard rock, sometimes sprinkling in some Van Morrison, yielding the indelible classic, “The Boys Are Back In Town”. If you ever see a video of Thin Lizzy, one thing is obvious — Phil Lynott was a rock star. While U.S. success was fleeting, Lynott fronted the band known for its dual lead guitars, cranking out dozens upon dozens of great songs and top notch albums like Jailbreak, Live And Dangerous and Black Rose (A Rock Legend). When punk and new wave came blasting out, Lynott didn’t run and hide. He rubbed shoulders with them, paying tribute on the tune “Back in ’79” (from his first solo album) and working with Midge Ure of Ultravox. Today, you can hear other bands influenced by Thin Lizzy, such as Ted Leo + Pharmacists (check out “Timourous Me”, which is pure Lizzy homage, though Ted claims otherwise). Let’s pay tribute to the great Phil Lynott on his birthday by grabbing the ol’ iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.
Jawbox — Send Down (Novelty): A number from the second Jawbox album, which found the band starting to really define its angular post-punk sound. This tune isn’t as intricately constructed as later song and has more of an early emo anthem vibe. In that respect, it plays a little bit closer to a Naked Raygun song. J. Robbins has a powerful enough voice to pull it off.
Neil Finn — Souvenir (Try Whistling This): Finn’s first solo album did a great job of building on what he had been doing with Crowded House. This means Finn continued to pen superb sophisticated pop songs with layered instrumentation, articulate lyrics and melodies on par with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Andy Partridge and Robyn Hitchcock. This song has a neat structure, using synthesized strings in the verses to play static parts to build tension, released by a jangly guitar that kicks the chorus in. The song has many parts to it, and they flow together seamlessly.
The Sights — Talk To You (Are You Green?): These Detroit area garage rockers came in early during the wave of revivalists — i.e., right around the time of the The White Stripes. The band see-sawed between riffy proto-punk and cheerful Kinks-y pop tunes. On this song, both sides are on display. Which is very cool.
Mott The Hoople — Momma’s Little Jewel (All The Young Dudes): A mid-tempo track with a little barroom piano added to the mix. This song sounds like a more playful version of Free.
Big Dipper — Wet Weekend (Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology): A spin off of the likeminded Kansas post-punk pop band The Embarrassment, Big Dipper specialized in catchy rock tunes that were just a little bit askew. The lyrics often were a bit off-beat and the rhythms and melodies had little wrinkles that indicated they came from a post-Velvet Underground/Big Star world, rather than a more mainstream perspective. This is a very typical song, with a bouncy rhythm and a strong lead guitar line throughout the entire track, building up to a big chorus. This is the essence of ’80s college radio.
Kitchens of Distinction — In a Cave (Love Is Hell): The Kitchens, on their first album, hadn’t fully fleshed out their big dramatic rock sound, but it was already pretty big. This is a slow burner of a song with ample helpings of the reverbing My Bloody Valentine-ish guitar work that was their trademark. Unlike MBV, the Kitchens had a much more spacious song, which was needed so vocalist Patrick Fitzgerald could have room to emote. These guys were lumped in with the shoegazer movement, for good reason, but they had the most vocal personality by far.
The Guess Who — Baby’s Birthday (Shakin’ All Over): Before this Winnepeg, Canada band became stars for hits like “American Women”, they were a pretty typical ’60s rock band. They had a garage rock phase, but even during that period, they tried on all sorts of styles. This is a jangly rock tune that sounds somewhat like a Mike Nesmith Monkees’ tune. Randy Bachman’s twangy guitar sounds great.
The Jam — Strange Town (Direction, Reaction, Creation): A fantastic tune that combines a Motown rhythm with a classic Brit pop tune. This is one of those songs that clearly inspired bands like Blur, The Smiths, The Stone Roses and others. Paul Weller at his best.
All — Sugar and Spice (Allroy Sez): After Milo left The Descendents, Bill Stevenson formed the similar All. The first All album is an outstanding pop-punk record, chock full of great songs. Moreover, the playing, especially in the rhythm section, is really creative, giving the songs a unique stamp. This song is a warning about a girl who is going to break a friend’s heart. It has a dramatic, ominous feel to it, and has a super cool middle eight where the song breaks down to a whisper before slamming into the urgent chorus.
Watermelon Men — Seven Years (Children of Nuggets): If someone hasn’t put together a compilation of this ’80s Swedish garage band, they should. The Watermelon Men really captured the feel of the original era of garage bands, with better fidelity. This song is one of those doomy folk-psych garage tunes.