Phil Lynott’s destiny — reimagining rock and roll as heavy Irish metal — meant that his band Thin Lizzy, like Motörhead and maybe AC/DC, had a claim to authenticity that punk couldn’t ignore. Lizzy’s music was lean, written with a razor, and Lynott wrung from his blackness and his Irishness every possible note of rock and roll victory in a landscape that generally counted him out. Lynott’s conversational style in song could echo Van Morrison (if with a brash sexuality Morrison could never pull off), and like the great Van could conjure specific visions of Irish traditional culture while turning them on their ear. I can only imagine that the Clancy Brothers blanched, and Planxty swooned, at his treatment of “Whiskey in the Jar.”
“Emerald” closes Thin Lizzy’s blockbuster Jailbreak (1976), and while not the hit every metalhead thinks it should have been — that honor went to the catchy hard rock of “The Boys Are Back in Town” — as the closing track of a great set (“Jailbreak”!, “Cowboy Song”!), it templated the double-guitar attack metal was moving toward. It’s hard to imagine K.K. Downing and Glen Tipton shrugging off “Emerald’s” twining riffs and solos, as Scott Goreham and Brian Robertson mapped a terrain in this performance where Judas Priest would go on to flourish. Lynott’s lyric has all the Celtic warrior mysticism necessary to make fists shake and heads bang, whether your sporting a safety pin or a mullet, and as ever his impassioned singing and playing cannot be denied. This is the metal mountain.
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