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The Great Songs: Thin Lizzy – The Cowboy Song

by Eric Melin on November 3, 2010

in Columns,The Great Songs

I will make a statement right now that pretty much defines the reason this song is on the list: I love the electric guitar.

Last month I was on a roll while writing this column and I included some of what I consider to be the best guitar-rock songs of all time: Television’s “Marquee Moon” and Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer.”

Thin-Lizzy-Jailbreak-coverIt got me thinking about THE band that defines the melodic dual guitar for the ages: Dublin’s best band, the highly underrated Thin Lizzy.

Thin Lizzy has so many great songs, it was hard to choose one. I chose the campy (yet somehow sincere) third single from their classic 1976 album “Jailbreak.”

“The Cowboy Song” endures because it has one of the catchiest, most memorable twin-guitar harmony leads ever. First, singer/songwriter/bassist/band leader Phil Lynott sings a somber refrain about his lonely time on the plains:

I am just a cowboy lonesome on the trail/A starry night, a campfire light/The coyote call, the howling winds wail/So I ride out to the old sundown

At :43, a muted version of the lick begins as a teaser. And then it happens. Founding member/drummer Brian Downey starts the drum buildup and there’s a brief preview of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson‘s sweet guitarmonies and the sweetness to come. One of the catchiest choruses Lynott ever wrote comes in at about 1:30.

Sure, the lyrics are cheesy. But somehow, along with the music, they actually manage to evoke the Old West. Later in the song, the guitar/drum breakdown makes me think of trotting horses.  Lynott’s smooth delivery and staccato phrasing sets up the guitar explosion and then it’s off to the races at a full gallop!

If this song doesn’t put a smile on your face, then you must not like rock n’ roll.

The Great Songs series so far:

The Great Songs: Big Star – Thirteen

The Great Songs: The Kinks – Waterloo Sunset

The Great Songs: The Jayhawks – Blue

The Great Songs: Pavement – Summer Babe

The Great Songs: The Zombies – Care of Cell 44

The Great Songs: The O’Jays – Back Stabbers

The Great Songs: Queen & David Bowie – Under Pressure

The Great Songs: George Jones – He Stopped Loving Her Today

The Great Songs: Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart

The Great Songs: KISS – Deuce

The Great Songs: The Flying Burrito Brothers – Hot Burrito #1

The Great Songs: The Flaming Lips – Do You Realize??

The Great Songs: Pink Floyd – Astronomy Domine

The Great Songs: The Beach Boys – Surf’s Up

The Great Songs: Marvin Gaye – Let’s Get it On

The Great Songs: Slayer – Angel of Death

The Great Songs: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Beyond Belief

The Great Songs: The Replacements – Unsatisfied

The Great Songs: Cheap Trick – Surrender

The Great Songs: Guided by Voices – Motor Away

The Great Songs: The Louvin Brothers – Knoxville Girl

The Great Songs: Badfinger – Baby Blue

The Great Songs: Ray Charles – That Lucky Old Sun

The Great Songs: Television – Marquee Moon

The Great Songs: Neil Young and Crazy Horse – Cortez the Killer

The Great Songs: David Bowie – Life On Mars?

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of and writes for The Pitch. He’s former President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls, Ultimate Fakebook, and Truck Stop Love . He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Xavier November 3, 2010 at 1:56 pm

My favorite has always been Don’t Believe a Word, but there are just so many great Thin Lizzy tracks to choose from


2 Eric Melin November 3, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Yeah, that’s a great one too–we do that one in our tribute band Thik Lizzy. Ha!


3 Sarah April 8, 2017 at 6:51 pm

This song is one of a classic from a band that is no longer with us. I love how it builds with melodic guitars and then breaks it down and then up again with a tasteful lick towards it’s crescnendo to being it home! I really miss Phil and his ability to being his passion and struggle as a musician, as well as a human being. He was too young to leave us!


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