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Johnny the Fox
Thin Lizzy

Mercury SRM-1-1119
Released: November 1976
Chart Peak: #52
Weeks Charted: 11

Phil Lynott.gifA burst of machine-gun snares settles into a funky beat that is jolted by a squeal of wah-wah guitar and the cry of "Johnny the Fox!" from bassist Phil Lynott. And then, employing an irresistible rhythm lick, the twin guitars of Brian Robertson and Scot Gorham set into motion the hard-rock machine that has established Thin Lizzy as a prime manipulator of mid-Seventies hard rock. Like Cocky Rocky, this album's archetypal rock & roll star, Thin Lizzy knows all the moves.

Thin Lizzy's strength lies in a thorough digestion of influences -- the Who, the Stones and Jimi Hendrix -- that has given them an organic cohesion. John Alcock's production is muddy in the British rock tradition when compared to the streamlined and steely technique Jack Douglas uses with Aerosmith, and in this sense Lizzy re-creates rather than recasts the combustible energy of their forefathers. Obviously, being British doesn't hurt.

Thin Lizzy - Johnny The Fox
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The twin guitars are Lizzy's musical meat and potatoes, and each song on Johnny the Fox is carefully woven with rhythm and lead lines that stick to the ribs. At times Lizzy's guitar attack becomes overbearing -- as on the syncopated throwaway "Boogie Woogie Dance" and the labored introductions to "Rocky" and "Massacre" -- but it is more often solid and tasteful. "Old Flame" is particularly impressive, as the rhythm and leads form a smoothly shifting backdrop for Lynott's gentle romanticizing.

Lynott, who wrote half the tunes while collaborating on the rest, possesses a sure melodic touch that is equally effective on tough rockers like "Don't Believe a Word" and softer tunes such as "Fool's Gold." Similarly, his voice, which is often bolstered by double-tracking and the judicious use of echo, is smoothly assured. Lynott's voice has individual character (he's wisely scrapped the whispering technique that made him a ringer for Springsteen on "The Boys Are Back in Town") and is consequently the best of the recent crop of hard rockers.

Lynott's lyrics have similarly overcome the pedestrian gaffes that flawed his work on Jailbreak. And yet, while both his lyrics and music have improved, it's more a process of refinement than a movement toward a more unique style. Lynott and Thin Lizzy have crafted their rock & roll attack to the point where they must branch out stylistically or indefinitely repeat themselves.

Johnny the Fox's lyrics revolve around violence and rock & roll. "Johnny" is a bone-crunching rocker with lyrics to match: Johnny has robbed a drugstore and shot the guard "to fill a daily need" and is now holed up in an alleyway with a gun. What is disturbing about the song is its narrative superficiality -- the lyrics neither explain nor question his violent tendencies. Consequently, they provoke little response -- while Lynott lays out the odds of emerging from the alley alive, we hardly care if he gets shot in the head.

Like Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, Lynott often uses life as a rock & roll star as a lyrical launching pad. From "Rocky" to "Sweet Marie" we are regaled with a view of spotlights in our eyes, and in the end, it's this self-absorption that separates this generation of rockers from their models. For the Who and the Stones, the world was not viewed from the stage; rather, the stage was seen as a way to illuminate the world. For Thin Lizzy and their contemporaries, the stage is a world view in itself.

- John Milward, Rolling Stone, 1/27/77.

Bonus Reviews!

Working the bad guy image of its breakthrough "The Boys Are Back In Town" single for all it's worth, the UK foursome delivers an LP with high-pitched guitars coloring tales of desperate characters betraying women and meeting bad ends such as getting stabbed in alleyways. Irish-mulatto lead singer Philip Lynott delivers all this rocking doom with firm, throaty conviction. The entire package is carefully structured to take maximum advantage of the elements found in the veteran group's long sought-after recent hit single. Best cuts: "Johnny," "Rocky," "Borderline," "Massacre," "Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed."

- Billboard, 1977.

Hot on the heels of Jailbreak came Johnny the Fox, which was a thematically linked group of songs that (fortunately) worked individually or as a concept record. The band sounds looser and funkier here (Lynott was sucker for a James Brown-style rhythmic kick), and that pays off big time. Not essential, but by no means a waste of time. * * *

- John Dougan, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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