Guess who just got back today?
Those wild-eyed boys that had been away
Haven’t changed, haven’t much to say
But man, I still think those cats are great
And so begins the only US hit for the Irish band, Thin Lizzy, which made the Top 20 in 1976. Those opening guitar smashes and funky bass licks coupled with that first verse lead off one of the best songs about summer coming around the corner, signalled by the boys coming back to town.
Fronted by the late Phil Lynott who sang, played bass and wrote most of the songs including this one, Thin Lizzy (actually they called themselves Tin Lizzy at first and added the ‘h’, because Irish folk pronounce ‘th’ as ‘t’ anyway) holds a special place in history. It was one of the few rock bands led by a black singer, which was becoming incredibly rare since the days of Little Richard, Chuck Berry & Fats Domino. But rock they did and it’s become an enduring anthem for soccer teams, war veterans and folks who just want to have fun, get drunk and fight.
In fact the song has been adopted by so many different groups, its origin and references have been lost on many. Being that it was released in 1976, many thought it had it to do with soldiers returning from Vietnam, the boys, an old-fashioned reference to men in blue. And who was going to tell them otherwise, since this song would have been the nicest gesture they would receive. But alas the song was written about the Quality Street Gang, a group of guys that Phil would take notice of when he was a wee lad in Manchester, England.
The story goes that their record label in the UK, Vertigo, asked the band to write something “more American” in order to finally break through in the States. This is the track they came up with, and if you listen to their catalogue, all they really did was drop their Gaelic imagery and references. Many people consider this song to be a derivative of Springsteen, but I really don’t get that. By 1975, Springsteen’s sound had evolved into a Spectoresque bombast with the over-the-top production with the nonsensical non-sequiters this side of Dylan (hence he was dubbed the New Dylan). The Boys Are Back In Town is straight ahead in its approach musically & lyrically – let’s drink, let’s fight, let’s rock. Outside of some bars in Asbury Park, has anyone ever turned up Born to Run on the jukebox when they want to party, a song about a “death trap” that “rips your bones from your back”. Don’t believe me? Go to bar and test this theory out. A real dive bar. Betcha Thin Lizzy is on there.
Until then, play this. And if the boys wanna fight, you better let em…..