Released on September 2, 1977 (Vertigo/Mercury Records)
Between 1974’s Nightlife and 1977, Thin Lizzy released what I consider to be five of the greatest rock and roll records of the decade culminating with their eighth release Bad Reputation. Nevermind that for the most part, they also all contain my favorite Thin Lizzy line-up of Phil Lynott on bass and vocals, Brian Downey on drums, Scott Gorham on guitars and in limited capacity, Brian Robertson on lead guitar on three tracks. Great as the record is, it still marks the final studio appearance of this incredible line-up and while there would be great line-ups to come, nothing near as classic as this consistent crew.
To this day, the previous year’s Johnny The Fox remains my personal fave Thin Lizzy record followed by 1975’s Fighting and Bad Reputation. While this might seem crazy to those who give all their marks to the internationally successful Jailbreak, my only response is to say that while it is truly a great record, not a great overall record does two singles make and in my ears, it still takes a backseat to the others I mentioned above. Even Bad Reputation, with all the madness in the changing ranks, still pulls higher marks from me due mainly to overall more consistent tunes from top to bottom even with the classic dual harmony guitarists only sharing leads on a single track, “That Woman’s Gonna Break Your Heart.” Even now, Bad Reputation remains a personal reminder of the times, what with all the excitement of being able to swap sounds via blank cassette dubs and a growing musical transport thanks mostly to boomboxes which expanded on the radio-only portability of transistor radios. I am not ashamed to say that at the time I annoyed many a German and American resident with rock and roll while strolling down many a sidewalk and often I long for the chance to walk those paths again but for now…
The poetic start of “Soldier of Fortune” kicks of this classic line-up final romp in the catchy melodic rock style that Thin Lizzy has become known for complete with a direct to the point chorus topped with dual guitars which Lynott fully entrusted Gorham to pull off on his own. History reportedly shows that aside from the above mentioned “That Woman’s Gonna Break Your Heart”, Gorham pulled the feat off marvelously only sticking to his guns to have Robertson flown in to lay down solos for “Opium Trail” and “Killer Without A Cause.” Outside of those, Gorham shines consistently throughout the record delivering classic Lizzy lead guitar fare most particularly on the blistering solo for the album’s title track, spot on storytelling tune “Southbound” and riffy closer “Dear Lord,” a tune also bolstered by a cool harmony tinged chorus.
On the more dreamy, catchy side, Bad Reputation carries a pair of ballad-esque tracks courtesy of strummy “Downtown Sundown” and saxophone packed single “Dancing In The Moonlight” both of which also possess as perfect a melodic solo as you will find on any 70’s rock track. Toss in Robertson‘s guitar-assisted bits and quite simply, despite the inner turmoil within the group, you have a Thin Lizzy record about as good as any in their catalog. “That Woman’s Gonna Break Your Heart” could have been a great radio single just as easily as the album’s better known songs while “Killer Without A Cause” and “Opium Trail” are down right great hard rock and roll complete with energy and effect. Sometimes a bit of tension can shake things enough to create incredible results and perhaps with Bad Reputation, that’s just the case.
While public opinion may vary on my placing Bad Reputation third on a ranking of Thin Lizzy‘s greatest records, I feel as if overall fans would place it at least within the top half of the catalog. It possesses everything found within a classic Thin Lizzy release including melodic guitars, solid to the point drums and bass, Lynott‘s poetic and often story-telling lyrics and vocal style and of course, that Lizzy vibe that set them apart from every other band in the world. Lynott possessed an uncanny ability to weave tales comparable to the heartland tunes of Bruce Springsteen into the sounds of hard rock, a genre not always thought of as a place for lyrical dexterity. Sometimes I wonder how many rockers were quite fooled by Lynott into buying into something a bit more substantial than merely the macho credo of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” Of course, even with the book smart tales, there was still plenty of all three from the members of Thin Lizzy. To this day, no one outside of the revived Thin Lizzy and offshoot Black Star Riders has come close to sounding like Lynott and company, which is just fine by me. Why go for a near copy when there are great albums from the original for history to hold on to?
Of the ultimate Thin Lizzy guitar duo, Robertson would stick around for the tour supporting Bad Reputation appearing on classic album Live And Dangerous before moving on while Gorham would remain the most consist member of the band through Lynott‘s passing in 1983 and then for the return of the band in 1996 having performed on all of the band’s albums since 1974’s Nightlife. Through the years that followed, Gorham would be joined by some amazing guitarists in the band including the late great Gary Moore, Midge Ure, Snowy White, and John Sykes, just to mention a few resulting in even more great, classic Thin Lizzy records and tours. For me personally, as a fan of Thin Lizzy from start to finish, there will never be a stretch as great as the time span between 1974 and 1977 as arguably the band’s greatest line-up unleashed great record after great record on the world leading to the awesome Bad Reputation.
Now excuse me lads as I drop the needle again…cheers.
01. Soldier of Fortune
02. Bad Reputation
03. Opium Trail
05. Dancing in the Moonlight (Its Caught Me In Its Spotlight)
06. Killer Without a Cause
07. Downtown Sundown
08. That Woman’s Gonna Break Your Heart
09. Dear Lord
Phil Lynott – bass guitar, lead vocals, string synthesizer, celtic harp
Scott Gorham – lead and rhythm guitar
Brian Downey – drums, percussion
Brian Robertson – lead guitar (3, 6, 8), voice box, keyboards
Jon Bojic– backing vocals (9)
Ken Morris – backing vocals (9)
Mary Hopkin-Visconti – backing vocals (9)
John Helliwell – saxophone, clarinet
Produced and engineered by Tony Visconti
Assistant engineers: Jon Bojic, Ken Morris and Ed Stone
Reviewed by John Stoney Cannon for Sleaze Roxx, September 2022
Thin Lizzy‘s “Bad Reputation” video:
Thin Lizzy performing “Dancing In The Moonlight” at Top of The Pops on Aug. 25, 1977: