Thin Lizzy: Whiskey in the Jar (1973)

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Thin Lizzy: Whiskey in the Jar (1973)

By the time Thin Lizzy came to record their breakthrough single Whiskey in the Jar the band's singer/bassist Phil Lynott had been through half a dozen groups and Lizzy had recorded an EP and two unsuccessful albums.

Even after the success of Whiskey they were a band in trouble: their next single crashed, they had line-up changes (guitarist Eric Bell bailing for the sake of his health, the young Gary Moore coming in for six months) and Lynott had serious doubts about whether to carry on with the group.

But Whiskey had given them a platform whether they liked it or not.

And they did not.

The song was a traditional Irish folk thing which had previously been a hit for the Dubliners and Lynott had sung it when he'd been in one of those previous bands, the Black Eagles.

One night while rehearsing upstairs at a pub in the King's Cross area of London they'd run out of songs and covers and . . .

"We couldn't think of anything to play,” recalled Eric Bell, “We'd done our versions of The Green Green Grass of Home and Bridge Over Troubled Waters and some other nonsense, just for a laugh, and then Philip started strumming some Irish folk songs on a Telecaster.”

“One of those songs was Whiskey in the Jar,” remembered drummer Brian Downey, ”and just at that moment [our manager] Ted Carroll was coming up the stairs and he heard us.

“He said it sounded good and we ought to record it as a single.

“We fell about laughing. At the time Phil was writing some great songs and he had one in particular he was really proud of called Black Boys on the Corner.

“He was convinced that song should be our next single. But Ted Carroll kept on at us to record Whiskey so in the end Phil said he'd record Whiskey for the b-side of Black Boys on the Corner just to keep Ted Happy.”

In the studio they knocked out the songs in a day but Decca insisted Whiskey be the a-side and the band had little choice but to go along with it.

It went to the top of the Irish charts, peaked at number six on the British charts, was all over radio and Thin Lizzy were on their way.

Except they weren't: the failure of the next single, the disappointing sales of the third but much better album Vagabonds of the Western World, line-up changes . . .

Far from being a launching pad Whiskey was the song which nearly saw Thin Lizzy call it a day after grueling touring for little money, pick-up musicians around Lynott and Downey . . .

But over time the (briefly) classic line-up formed and Whiskey was (almost) relegated to the past as Lynott's songs gained traction.

"The Irish are very proud of [Lynott]," said Bob Geldof later, "even though a lot of people cringed when Whiskey in the Jar was a hit, because it's such a corny song, the kind of thing you only sing at closing time when you're really pissed!

"But even that didn't matter, because Lizzy were absolutely steeped in Irishness." 

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For more one-off or unusual songs with an interesting backstory see From the Vaults.

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Here are the full lyrics to the original, a song of a highwayman betrayed.

As I was a goin' over the far famed Kerry mountains

I met with captain Farrell and his money he was counting
I first produced my pistol and I then produced my rapier
Saying "Stand and deliver" for he were a bold deceiver

Mush-a ring dumb-a do dumb-a da
Wack fall the daddy-o, wack fall the daddy-o
There's whiskey in the jar

I counted out his money and it made a pretty penny
I put it in me pocket and I took it home to Jenny
She sighed and she swore that she never would deceive me
But the devil take the women for they never can be easy

Mush-a ring dumb-a do dumb-a da
Wack fall the daddy-o, wack fall the daddy-o
There's whiskey in the jar

I went up to my chamber, all for to take a slumber
I dreamt of gold and jewels and for sure 't was no wonder
But Jenny blew me charges and she filled them up with water
Then sent for captain Farrell to be ready for the slaughter

Mush-a ring dumb-a do dumb-a da
Wack fall the daddy-o, wack fall the daddy-o
There's whiskey in the jar

And 't was early in the morning, just before I rose to travel
Up comes a band of footmen and likewise captain Farrell
I first produced me pistol for she stole away me rapier
I couldn't shoot the water, so a prisoner I was taken

Mush-a ring dumb-a do dumb-a da
Wack fall the daddy-o, wack fall the daddy-o
There's whiskey in the jar

There's some take delight in the carriages a rolling
and others take delight in the hurling and the bowling
but I take delight in the juice of the barley
and courting pretty fair maids in the morning bright and early

Mush-a ring dumb-a do dumb-a da
Wack fall the daddy-o, wack fall the daddy-o
There's whiskey in the jar

And if anyone can aid me 't is my brother in the army
If I can find his station in Cork or in Killarney
And if he'll go with me, we'll go rovin' through Killkenney
And I'm sure he'll treat me better than my own a-sporting Jenny

Mush-a ring dumb-a do dumb-a da
Wack fall the daddy-o, wack fall the daddy-o
There's whiskey in the jar

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and here's Metallica's version



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