Gary Moore & Phil Lynott, ‘Parisienne Walkways’ – Rock’s Hidden Gems
For every universally celebrated song, known to all and played to death by radio stations everywhere, there are countless hidden gems — album cuts that, for reasons unclear, somehow missed their predestined date with classic rock immortality. Songs like Irish guitar god Gary Moore’s timeless duet with Thin Lizzy leader Phil Lynott, ‘Parisienne Walkways,’ which made some waves upon its original release in 1978, but ultimately fell short of achieving its rightful stature as a true standard of rock balladry.
For years leading up to the song’s recording, Moore and Lynott had both played and sparred together like twin siblings separated at birth, continually trying to align their musical agendas before falling out, again and again, for one reason or another, only to be drawn inevitably back to one another.
It all began way back in the late-‘60s, when the Dublin-born Lynott and Belfast-birthed Moore first shared inglorious pub stages as members of one of Ireland’s first notable blues-rock bands, Skid Row (not to be confused with Sebastian Bach’s bunch). But after just one single, titled ‘New Faces, Old Places,’ Lynott was ousted so that Skid Row could move forward as a Cream-styled power trio, recording two not-very successful albums before grinding to a halt, while Phil had the last laugh with his new band, Thin Lizzy.
Then, in 1974, Lizzy found itself in dire need of a hot new six-stringer to replace departed founding member Eric Bell, and Moore (who was going nowhere fast with his first and only Gary Moore Band LP) seemed like the perfect fit to step in for the album to be known as ‘Nightlife.’ Unfortunately, Lynott and Moore were soon at loggerheads once again and the only vestige of the latter’s numerous but uncredited contributions to the album was a scintillating solo for ‘Still in Love with You,’ which new Lizzy guitar recruits, Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham, saw no hope of improving upon.
Fast forward five years and Moore, who had spent the intervening period showcasing his jazz-fusion chops with Colosseum II, finally joined Thin Lizzy’s ranks for real — at least for as long as it took to fill in for Robertson on tour, record 1979’s superlative ‘Black Rose’ album, and then quit abruptly over reoccurring disagreements about both musical and lifestyle choices (Moore was a virtual tee-totaler; Phil a notorious substance abuser). Luckily, though, not before the two men had found time to collaborate on several tunes for Gary’s solo, 1978 comeback, ‘Back on the Streets’ — including our hidden gem, ‘Parisienne Walkways,’ which we now hope you’ll appreciate all the more with its creators’ intriguing personal history in mind.
A wistful fantasy describing a long-past, but still yearned-for, love affair experienced in the French capital, the song clearly owes its elusive magic to the unique, individual talents of its two composers and key performers. The first being Lynott’s stirring lyrics and wounded, vulnerable vocals, which are fueled by believable nostalgia and emotion regarding his “old Parisian days.” And the second being Moore’s lyrical, restrained but spot-perfect note choices, which eventually come to a spine-shivering climax via the positively sublime sustained bend heard around the 2:12 mark, and which he obviously learned from his idol and master of the form, B.B. King.
Tellingly, when Moore rediscovered those influences on his 1990 smash, ‘Still Got the Blues,’ he didn’t hesitate to cannibalize ‘Parisienne Walkways’ for the melody, spirit, and orchestral backdrops used to make its titular song a belated, but well-deserving hit. And while we should point out for the sake of historical accuracy that the original ‘Parisienne Walkways’ did go Top 10 in the U.K., in 1979, its relative failure in America and other countries (probably due to lousy distribution and promotion, more than anything) definitely boosts its “hidden gem” status, in our book.