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35 Years Ago: Thin Lizzy Release ‘Black Rose: A Rock Legend’

Vertigo/Warner Bros.

Despite enduring more career-threatening challenges than most bands, British hard rockers Thin Lizzy were nevertheless operating at the peak of their creative powers when they unleashed their ninth studio album, ‘Black Rose: A Rock Legend,’ on April 13, 1979.

Way back in 1970, vocalist/bassist Phil Lynott, guitarist Eric Bell and drummer Brian Downey had officially joined the heavy rock revolution as a then-fashionable power trio.

Then, some four years later, Lynott and Downey reinvented Lizzy as a dual-guitar-powered quartet (with Bell’s replacements, Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson), and slowly scratched and clawed their way into the big leagues — again, in spite of countless, often self-inflicted, setbacks and some very stiff competition.

By 1978, Thin Lizzy’s “arrival” was being celebrated far and wide in tandem with the release of the group’s seminal 1978 concert document, ’Live and Dangerous.’ But the ever-impetuous, troublemaking Robertson had finally pushed his fellow bandmates’ patience too far, and convinced them it was high time they find to a more reliable replacement — eventually turning to Irish guitar hero Gary Moore.

The sessions that yielded ‘Black Rose’ fulfilled what many fans saw as an inevitable, but long-delayed date with destiny, pairing Lynott and Moore. The duo had played together in Skid Row in the ’60s, and the attempt to include Moore in Thin Lizzy during the ‘Nightlife’ sessions in 1974 did not go well.

In more practical terms, this development saw a contrast between Moore’s shredding and the low-key style of Gorham. Together, they took to new songs like ‘Do Anything You Want To,’ ‘Waiting for an Alibi,’ and even the comparatively staid, somber ‘With Love,’ like supersonic fighter jets, soaring and swooping in tight formation, with Lynott’s knowing growl and Downey’s dependable percussive power rounding out the rough edges.

Elsewhere on ‘Black Rose,’ songs like ‘Toughest Street in Town’ and ‘Get Out of Here’ offered textbook Lizzy hard rock of the highest order, with the aforementioned, underrated career highlight, ‘Waiting for an Alibi’ elevating the form to new heights, thanks to some of the most inspired and meticulously crafted lyrics of Lynott’s career.

Meanwhile, ‘S&M’ meandered off into fun-loving funk territory and the harrowing ‘Got to Give it Up’ offered undisguised insight into the chemical demons that were already driving Lynott and Gorham to personal ruin. The song’s emotional, seemingly hopeless cry for help stands in sharp contrast to ‘Black Rose’s’ surprisingly romantic and gentle love song, ’Sarah,’ which was a tender lullaby for Lynott’s newborn daughter.

Finally, the album’s ambitious title track (‘Róisín Dubh,’ to give it its proper Gaelic name) succeeded against all odds in grafting traditional songs like ‘Shenandoah’ and ‘Danny Boy’ onto Lizzy’s sound with positively epic, majestic results — all while referencing a vast catalog of Celtic legends and modern heroes, along the way.

All in all, ‘Black Rose,’ undoubtedly proved to be one of the most eclectic albums of Thin Lizzy’s long career. And when wed to to Gary Moore’s parallel star power, this musical quality surely contributed to the LP’s unprecedented debut at No. 2 in the U.K. charts, their best-ever showing.

Sadly, before too long Gary once again quit the band over the usual musical and personal differences, and Lizzy’s career would, coincidentally or not, never recover; soon embarking on a steady decline that tragically mirrored their leader’s losing battle against drug addiction.

Next: Top 10 Thin Lizzy Songs

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