Friday, 6 November 2015

Sarah by Thin Lizzy (Black Rose: a Rock Legend 1979)

Phil Lynott and daughter Sarah at slane Castle (Courtesy of Andy Spearman)
Phil Lynott and daughter Sarah at Slane Castle (Courtesy: Andy Spearman)

Sarah, also spelled Sara, is a girl’s first name popular around the world, but especially in Europe and North America. It is used by Christians and other religions, as well as non-religious people. It widely refers to Sarah, the wife of Abraham in the Christian Old Testament, and means woman of high rank, princess or noblewoman. In England, Sarah gained popularity after the Protestant Reformation and in Ireland is currently so common as to be ranked the tenth most popular name for female babies.

There are a number of songs titled after girls’ names(1): Amanda by Boston, Jane by Jefferson Starship, Michelle by The Beatles, Sylvia by Focus and many others. There are also songs with girls’ names in the title: Candy’s Going Bad by Golden Earring, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed by The Allman Brothers Band, Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) by Edison Lighthouse and others. Then, there are songs with girls names in the lyrics: ‘More than a feeling/ ‘Til I see Mary Ann walk away/ I see my Mary Ann walkin’ away’ from More Than a Feeling by Boston, ‘I remember when rock was young/ Me and Suzie had so much fun’ from Crocodile Rock by Elton John, and ‘Go ask Alice, when she’s ten feet tall’ and other references to Alice in White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane.

If we take songs with Sara, without an ‘h’, in the title or lyrics, there is Sara by Bob Dylan (Desire) and Sara by Starship (Knee Deep in the Hoopla). Fleetwood Mac use the name Sara more than once in a song title, first on its own in Sara (Tusk) and second in Welcome to the Room … Sara (Tango in the Night), both written by Stevie Nicks. Turning next to Sarah, with an ‘h’, in the title or lyrics, we get the lion’s share: Sarah by America (Harbor), Along Came Sarah by Big Big Train (From the River to the Sea), Sarah’s Still Life by Bill Bruford’s Earthworks (A Part and Yet Apart), Sarah’s Concern by Curved Air (Single), Sarah by Bob Dylan (Desire), Me and Sarah Jane by Genesis (Abacab), Sister Sarah by It Bites (Eat Me in St. Louis), In Search of Sarah and Twenty-Six Horses by Deke Leonard (Kamikaze), Sarah’s Funeral by Randy Newman (Ragtime OST), Sarah by Prince (The Vault) and Sarah Smiles by Bram Tchaikovsky (Single). Hall and Oates mention Sarah twice, once in the title of Sarah Smile (Hall & Oates) and again in the lyrics of Las Vegas Turnaround (Abandoned Luncheonette), where the first line is, ‘Sarah’s off on a turnaround, flying gambling fools to the holy land Las Vegas’.

Then there is Sarah by Thin Lizzy from the Shades of a Blue Orphanage (1972) album, the first of two different songs by the band with that name. Sarah version 1 was written by Phil Lynott about his grandmother; the second was for his eldest daughter and is from the Black Rose: A Rock Legend (1979) album. The song was co-written with guitarist Gary Mooore, using a drum machine, hence the electronic feel. Lynott credited producer Tony Visconti with the multi-tracking of the guitars. It is quite funny that Wikipedia quotes Mark Putterford‘s biography, The Rocker (1998), ‘Regarding the melody, he (Lynott) said he could not remember where he got the idea from, “I probably nicked it from Jan Hammer or someone.”‘

Sarah has a beautiful melody, making it a commercial track which reached the UK singles chart, but is dominated by Phil Lynott’s cool vocal delivery and constructed with intricate guitars so that it also satisfies Lizzy’s established hard rock fanbase. Celtic influences, dating back to the band’s first three albums with guitarist Eric Bell on Decca, permeate the track and combine with the laid back Californian approach of Scott Gorham, so admired by Lynott, to result in a superb production along the lines of ‘they don’t make them like that any more’. Never was a sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll-style rock star more tender in his lyrics and this is expressed most effectively with, ‘When you begin to smile you change my style/ My Sarah’. There is also a subtle hint of electro, which fascinated Phil Lynott on his solo albums, but is rarely heard in the Lizzy tracks. Apparently, Sarah was considered for a solo album, but Black Rose was short of material.
The first Sarah, about Lynott’s grandmother, is a fine track on which he is not afraid to sing in his Irish accent and he does so without sounding like a parody. Like the excellent Whiskey in the Jar, which was eventually added as a bonus to Shades of a Blue Orphanage, it has the Celtic folk feel of The Dubliners’ Irish Rover.

Doubt is beginning to creep in on whether the ‘stream of consciousness’ approach is going to work for me, as I considered recycling old more-in-depth posts. This entry alone, on one song I heard on the radio, has taken an awful long time – in just the first draft. I keep telling myself I need to write more quickly and but will not develop the technique without trying. I am now writing blogs on my blogs!

(1) Steve Hoffmann’s site has a thread on songs with girls’ names in the title or lyrics and, as is so often the case with this forum, is informative:
(2) I can recommend The Rocker, Mark Putterford’s biography of Phil Lynott, as an insight to the life of a talented rock star, but it makes sad reading.


No comments:

Post a Comment