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Phil Lynott: Solo In Soho - Album Of The Week Club review

Made during Thin Lizzy downtime, Phil Lynott's Solo In Soho album was less of a busman's holiday than a true break from the dayjob

Phil Lynott - Solo In Soho cover art
(Image: © Vertigo)
Phil Lynott - Solo In Soho

Phil Lynott - Solo In Soho cover art

(Image credit: Vertigo)

Dear Miss Lonely Hearts
King's Call
A Child's Lullaby
Tattoo (Givin
Girls
Yellow Pearl
Ode to a Black Man
Jamaican Rum
Talk in 79

With Thin Lizzy’s cachet beginning to decline, notably in the US, band leader Phil Lynott opted to release an album of his own, Solo In Soho, in April 1980. 

Lynott had actually been working on the album since January 1978, at Tony Visconti’s Good Earth studios in Soho. And who was that helping him? On drums, Thin Lizzy's Brian Downey; on guitar, Thin Lizzy's Scott Gorham.

There's a lot to Solo In Soho. The funkiness of the title track. The Orleans groove of King’s Call and  the soul of Tattoo (Giving It All Up For Love). There's the pop-rock of Girls and Dear Miss Lonely Hearts, and the contemporary New Romantic buzz of Yellow Pearl, which would go on to be the Top Of The Pops theme tune.

Solo In Soho brought together Lynott's friends. As well as the other Thin Lizzy stars, it featured Midge Ure, Mark Knopfler, Huey Lewis, Jimmy Bain, and various members of the entourage. And Phil was pleased with the effort. 

“When I’m in Lizzy there is a certain mindset," said Lynott. "I know what works and what doesn’t. But doing a solo record takes off those limitations."

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Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in April 1980

  • Iron Maiden - Iron Maiden
  • British Steel - Judas Priest 
  • Empty Glass - Pete Townshend
  • Hypnotised - The Undertones
  • Seventeen Seconds - The Cure
  • Heaven and Hell - Black Sabbath
  • Flush the Fashion - Alice Cooper
  • Go to Heaven - Grateful Dead
  • Give 'Em Hell - Witchfynde
  • Growing Up in Public - Lou Reed
  • Los Angeles - X
  • Marauder - Magnun
  • Middle Man - Boz Scaggs
  • Sky 2 - Sky
  • Snakes and Ladders - Gerry Rafferty
  • Waters Edge - Sweet

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What they said...

"Recorded by the regular band without any outside guests, opener Dear Miss Lonely Hearts is the great, lost Thin Lizzy track – a Lynott masterpiece – from its immaculate songwriting, to its innocently romantic tell-tale lyrics. King's Call is slightly less inspired, but benefits from a laid-back vibe and typically fluid guitar solo from Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler. From here on out, Lynott introduces a wild assortment of new sounds and styles." (AllMusic)

"A gifted man illustrates perfectly why solo projects are so often of more interest to the people who make them than to those receiving them. Within Thin Lizzy Phil Lynott's cockiness is restrained: here it runs wild as he leans towards softer textures and rhythms (guitars take a back seat). All the good bits should have been kept for Thin Lizzy; the rest dumped. Not a bad album so much as an album too many." (Smash Hits)

"An album that is soft on side one and a bit louder on side two. His lyrics have special appeal, with songs about Elvis (King's Call), the state of the new wave (Talk In '79), and other tunes that compensate in originality what they might lack in intensity. There is nothing here even vaguely similar to the dramatic rock energy of The Boys Are Back In Town yet this is a bold and interesting batch of tunes aided by uncluttered arrangements and sound playing." (Billboard)

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What you said...

Alex Hayes: This was a new one for me this week. I've always been a big admirer of Thin Lizzy, but never had the inclination to check out Phil Lynott's solo work. Solo In Soho confounded my expectations a little. I'd been half expecting Lizzy-lite, but ended up with something quite different. As an album, Solo In Soho might not be very Thin Lizzy, but it is very 1980.

Through its varied song styles and contemporaneous, new wave leaning, production values, Solo In Soho really transports the listener back to the dawn of that shiny new decade. On album closer/commentary Talk In '79, Lynott sardonically summarises the then current music scene in such a way that the song is instantly dated to that time period. That track also features some great drumming from occasional Brian Downey replacement Mark Nauseef.

The stand out tracks here are the three singles, Dear Miss Lonely Hearts, the Dire Straits influenced Kings Call, and future Top Of The Pops theme Yellow Pearl. To be honest, Solo In Soho is more of a pleasant diversion than any kind of grand artistic statement. Luckily for the album, Lynott's charm and personality shine as brightly as ever here.

Solo In Soho is a decent album, not a great one. Its nomination as Classic Rock Album Of The Week was a welcome one for me. It also inspired me to reacquaint myself with Lizzy's Chinatown album, from the same year. I must say I do prefer Chinatown. It's not one of Lizzy's best, but still a worthy album. It's a more unified piece of work, whereas Solo In Soho feels more scattershot in nature.

It's unlikely that I'll return to this album in the future. However, I'm pleased to have been introduced to it this week. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to listen to Jailbreak for the umpteenth time.

Brian Carr: Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that Thin Lizzy might be the most sadly underrated hard rock band by American audiences. The guitar work, the hooks and the absolute cool of their leader, Phil Lynott.

Solo in Soho began with such promise - definitely different than Thin Lizzy, but very enjoyable over the first three tracks. Unfortunately, things started to fall off the rails for me with the disco vibe of Tattoo, the irritating synth and voiceovers on Girls, and the who-knows-what Yellow Pearl is. Ode To A Black Man and Jamaican Rum are better, but nothing essential. I imagine Talk in ‘79 seemed like a good idea at the time, but other than a killer bass line, didn’t do anything for me. I guess other Club members enjoyed the variety more than I did.

Gary Claydon: Always thought it strange that Lizzy never made it big Stateside, they seemed tailor made for it. They didn't help themselves in that respect though. The 1976 US tour was meant to build on the success of The Boys Are Back In Town on the Billboard chart but had to be cut short when Lynott went down with hepatitis. 

A few months later, on the eve of returning to complete the tour, Brian Robertson broke his hand in a bar fight & the tour was scrapped altogether. Then in 1978 Gary Moore walked out in the middle of another US tour. Fans and, especially, promoters don't forget those kind of things and Lizzy's reputation certainly suffered. Guess it was never meant to be. 

Interestingly, I was looking at their Billboard chart history and while it wasn't anything special, it was better than I expected. While I was looking though I found an article on an American site that was a list of 'Classic Rock one-hit-wonders' and there were Lizzy at about number 12 on the list. For a UK Lizzy fan it's pretty bizarre to see them described as one-hit-wonders!

Bill Griffin: I usually don't see the point when the leader and chief songwriter of a band does a solo album as they almost always sound just like the band anyway, especially when a bunch of the band members appear on the album but, except for the voice and lyrics, this is quite different from Thin Lizzy. I played this all night while I slept and apparently kept waking up in the exact same spots which I didn't like but cannot find now. It's actually quite a decent record. I don't think I would recommend it over a contemporary Thin Lizzy album, but I like it.

Mike Canoe: Solo in Soho was an enjoyable surprise. I'm a fan of what I've heard of Phil Lynott with Thin Lizzy but I was afraid that, between the shifting musical styles and shuffle of guest stars, he would get lost on his own album. I needn't have worried.

His abundant gifts as songwriter and lyricist are evident on the first two songs, Dear Miss Lonely Hearts and King's Call - the latter aided by some subtle but recognisable guitar by Mark Knopfler. His strengths as a singer shine on the string-laden A Child's Lullaby and Tattoo - the line "She's got a tattoo on her tummy" always makes me smile. And he even plays "lead bass" on the rollicking Ode to a Black Man and the pungent punk rock piss-take, Talk in 79.

Experiments abound but, for me, more succeed than fail. Yellow Pearl makes me remember every wonderfully bad sci-fi movie I watched on VHS in the '80s. The aforementioned beat poetry of Talk in 79 is also very cool. Even the extra-frothy Jamaican Rum and straight up pop of Girls are growing on me. Still working on the bitter reggae of the title track.

Of course, I am listening to the album for the first time. I can understand how it divided fans at the time because it really tries to grab the brass ring of commercial success. At the same time, looking at historical figures on Wikipedia, neither the album or singles really bothered the carts, unless you were in Sweden (?) or the home turf of Ireland, respectively.

Forty plus years on, however, I find it a rewarding listen from a reliably fascinating entertainer.

Eric Lowenhar: To me Solo In Soho is kind of, but not exactly like, Ian Anderson's Walk Into Light that came a few years later. Not something you expected from the artist - something different than his past, which could scare some people away. Adventurous because it was different, embracing different technology and songwriting techniques. 

I always liked the record, but I was one who could switch from listening to harder bands like Thin Lizzy and metal like Maiden and Priest to listening to Ultravox and other new romantic and synth stuff. I always liked the LP a lot. It was not Thin Lizzy and Phil never wanted it to be, so embrace it for what it is - an interesting and good record for the time it was in, and it still stands up pretty well today.

Mark Herrington: I bought the 7” single from this album Dear Miss Lonely Hearts, in 1980, which had a decent echo of Thin Lizzy. I then stood in HMV and listened to the most of tracks from the album, when I caught it being played. I decided that my meagre resources were best spent on Chinatown by Thin Lizzy, which came out the same year. Chinatown remains a favourite of mine , but the Lonely Hearts single is still sitting in the loft somewhere. This is just a watered down , poppy shadow of the mighty Lizzy and a very average score for me.

Gary Claydon: Well, it's not Thin Lizzy, that's for sure. But that's OK. I mean, what's the point in doing a solo album that simply sounds like the band you wanted to fly solo from in the first place?

Strangely, given Lynott's standing, Solo In Soho wasn't met with much fanfare at time of release. It certainly divided opinion among the Lizzy fanbase, leaning more to the negative.

It's never a chore listening to Phil Lynott sing and his trademark charm and engaging lyricism is present here just enough to make the album an OK listen. But only just.

Best track is Ode To A Black Man with its chugging riff and blues harp making it sound like a cross between Lizzy and Dr.Feelgood (It also shares some lyrics with Didn't I from Lizzy's Chinatown album). Dear Miss Lonely Heart is the nearest Solo In Soho gets to an out-and-out Lizzy track while the Elvis lament King's Call is nicely laid-back and benefits from Knopfler's smooth guitar.

Elsewhere though, things don't work quite so well. The title track sounds like Lynott is trying to mash together Watching The Detectives and Roxanne, without much success. A Child's Lullaby is a bit too saccharine for my taste and is done no favours by being swamped with strings. Yellow Pearl is annoying synth pop plus it had a really crap accompanying video at the time (a remixed version was included on Lynott's second solo album The Phillip Lynott Album as well as being, somewhat inexplicably, chosen as the theme tune to Top of The Pops for a couple of years). Talk In 79 is pretty pointless. You hope it's tongue in cheek but, even so, did we really need another name-checking track after Ode To A Black Man? The rest is just filler.

As I said, it's never a chore listening to Phil Lynott but Solo In Soho fails to engage anywhere near as much as an actual night out in Soho would.

Philip Qvist: Quite an impressive list of guest artists on Solo in Soho, including various members of Thin Lizzy (past and present), a couple of guys from Ultravox, plus Bob C Benberg, Mark Knopfler and Jimmy Bain, with Huey Lewis putting out some great Harmonica riffs on Ode to a Black Man.

So with that in mind, how does the album rate? Pretty good - with Dear Miss Lonely Heart, King's Call, the title track and the aforementioned Ode To A Black Man being the standout tracks, with a fair amount of name dropping throughout the album.

I could have done without Yellow Pearl, which sounds like it would have fitted better on an Ultravox album; hardly a surprise as Midge Ure co-wrote it.

As usual, Phil Lynott's lyrics hit the mark and for a debut solo album it works pretty well; just don't expect to hear songs sounding like The Boys Are Back In Town or Bad Reputation.

So a very good album, but hardly one that fits in the essential category.

Phil Wise: Not really for me this one. I tend to like them a bit harder or proggier. Did enjoy listening to Yellow Pearl though - took me back to the Top Of The Pops of my youth! Great lineup of musicians.

John Davidson: After the triumphant summing up of their mid-70s output in Live And Dangerous and the epic follow up in Black Rose it surprised me how quickly Thin Lizzy hit the skids, but this was before then (even though they had lost Gorham and Robertson to the inevitable perils of drugs and alcohol).

This album hit the stores around the same time as Chinatown and as the poppier of the two it got scant attention from me .

Listening to this fresh it is imbued with Lynott's inherent charm and wonderful lyrical phrasing. The arrangements show Lynott playing outside the guitar led confines of Lizzy with often pleasing results. It does suffer a little from the lack of focus that some solo albums tend to have but the core Lynott melodies are there.

It's a pity that I (and doubtless other denim jacketed youths) wrote this off as a sell-out and turned our attention instead to the delights of a Dio-led Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.

Greg Schwepe: Talk about a nice surprise of an album. A solid Solo In Soho. I actually like this better than a few Lizzy albums. Have always liked Lynott’s voice and style of phrasing. Just such a cool guy and cool stage presence.

Solo albums from the lead singer of a band are always a crapshoot… you never know what you’ll get. Is it material way different that their band would never do? Is it just because they need an outlet for an overabundance of written material? Something to do while the band is in a downtime?

This album is not too much of a departure from something that you might hear on a Thin Lizzy album, but with slightly different instrumentation. Plenty of guitar, but not the twin harmonising style. Keyboards, but more more string-like in sections. And you get the harmonica of buddy Huey Lewis. My 'Guitar Radar' was spot on as I thought I heard the tone of Mark Knopfler, only to be confirmed when I did my 'who played on the album?' research after my listen.

King’s Call actually got radio airplay on FM radio on the station I was listening to when this came out. Favourite may be Ode To A Black Man. Great lyrics and insight from someone who walked a mile in those boots. And really like Talk in ‘79 as it is a running name check of bands and trends happening at that time. Fun going down memory lane with a few of the references; “Oh, I remember hearing that back then.”

For whatever reason Phil decided to make this solo album, he put together a great album of songs with some great musicians. 9 out of 10 on this one for me.

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Final Score: 6.26 (81 votes cast, total score 507)

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