In the mid '70s, before the NWoBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) gave a platform to the histrionics of Iron Maiden and their ilk, there was Status Quo, and there was Thin Lizzy. Neither achieved the status of a Led Zeppelin, nor were seen as the originators of a simpler heavy rock style as personified by Black Sabbath. But both were there, unchallenged for a number of years, as the hard rock bands it was okay for discerning daytime radio listeners to enjoy. And both were extremely popular. Quo of course, did what Quo do. Lizzy were something else, and this brilliant, boring and bizarre collection attempts to illustrate exactly what.
Greatest Hits tells us that it is "endorsed by the members of Thin Lizzy", which is alright as it distinguishes this DVD from the poor quality live sets already on the market. At the same time though, you can't help wondering at the timing, just as sundry ex-members of the band go out touring as Thin Lizzy. That's right, without Phil Lynott.
Ah yes, Phil Lynott - the distinctive frontman, and the reason we're here. Black, Irish, charismatic bassist, singer and songwriter, ladies' man. Dead since 1986, when the booze, drugs and sex party ended. Greatest Hits offers 19 clips of the band (including a couple of Lynott solo efforts), live, on TV, on a sound stage, and in the early days of the pop promo. It prompts remarks like "If only...", "but why?", and "Is That...?".
Through to the early 1980s, Lizzy knocked out a number of cracking rock singles, all of which are here - except Jailbreak, unfortunately. Their classic 1973 UK breakthrough, the Irish traditional tune Whiskey In The Jar, is included in a black-and-white, girls in jumpers dancing nervously, Top Of The Pops studio performance, with original guitarist Eric Bell. Thereafter, Californian Scott Gorham formed half of the trademark Lizzy two-guitar harmonic, with at various times, Brian Robertson, the bulldog-faced Gary Moore, and Snowy White. Mark Knopfler also makes a brief appearance here, as ever looking more like a plumber than a rock star.
The live clips show Thin Lizzy to be the dynamic rock engine of legend, and when performing, as live, some of the early singles (The Boys are Back in Town), the band are similarly fine. It's when we delve into pop promo world, a medium that by Gorham's own admission they didn't really grasp, that things get uncomfortable.
Shorn of a bass guitar in both hands, Lynott's sleepy-eyed warnings to the camera (half the time the songs do constitute warnings of some kind), are accompanied by a pointing finger or clenched fist. It's an affectation that starts off endearingly, but quickly grates. Early ‘80s pop videos were full of ultra-bright colour, soft focus, freeze frames, slo-mo action (usually something smashing on the floor), and members of saucy dance troupe Hot Gossip. Thin Lizzy videos don't disappoint on any of the above counts.
Film-wise, the best of Lizzy's latterday clips is Do Anything You Want To, all four members pounding the skins over a timpani intro, before further strange instrument-swapping. Most worrying is Sarah, Lynott's ballad to his young daughter, with the singer seated alone on a stage, crooning personally to a production line of blondes from five to 25, before guitarist Gorham (whose hair is the longest anyway) walks on and smooches up. Lynott exits, leaving Gorham to ham up lip-synching the last few lines. Done in one take apparently. I'd never have guessed.
So Lizzy's place in rock history is not disturbed by this release (though all but die-hards are better off with the audio equivalent), but these video comps were invented for the likes of Madness or Bjork, not for those of an earlier vintage. That said, it would look good alongside Ozzy Osbourne's videos.