When we settled on “Jailbreak” as a prompt, my first thought was of my favorite Irish band—and probably yours—Thin Lizzy. A well-reasoned essay on why the song “Jailbreak” is actually better than the more widely renowned “The Boys are Back in Town.” With my aspirations set on flexing my Thin Lizzy Big Brain and visions of phonetically comparing each song’s riff (DUH duh nuhnuhnuh vs. Da nananaNA nuh Da nananaNA nuh da nanana nanananananuh) in my head, I set off to YouTube so I can really dive into the hot licks and tales of badassery.
I had scarcely begun the process when a revelation floated in front of me on a cloud of grimy rock ‘n roll. These two songs tell two parts of the same story. Look at the first stanza of “Jailbreak” (emphasis mine).
Tonight there’s gonna be a jailbreak
Somewhere in this town
See me and the boys we don’t like it
So were getting up and going down
Phil Lynott, ever the consummate storyteller, sets the scene by giving us the What, Where, Why, and—most telling— Who: a jailbreak, this town, they don’t like it, and The Boys.
Obviously, we need more than just a group of same gendered people to know that The Boys are back in town because they just broke out of the slammer.
What else do we know about these Boys? We know they’re dangerous. People are warned to let them do whatever they’re gonna do (“If you see us coming I think it’s best/To move away do you hear what I say” and “Don’t you dare to try and stop us”).
They’re criminal toughs. Lowlifes. Troublemakers. And what do we know about them wild-eyed boys who just got back today? We know that “The Boys Are Back in Town” narrator “still thinks them cats are crazy.” And who wouldn’t be a little unstable after time in the clink? Especially ruffians such as The Boys, who are clearly violent and have just plotted a daring jailbreak. No doubt, they’ve spent some time in solitary confinement. Is it any wonder they’re wild-eyed and crazy?
Friday night they’ll be dressed to kill
Down at Dino’s Bar ‘n’ Grill
The drink will flow and the blood will spill
And if the boys want to fight, you better let ’em.
These violent psychopaths cannot be contained. It’s such a defining characteristic that the narrator declares it pointless to even try to stop them. The Boys will make no attempt to lay low after entering town. It’s a given that they will be getting drunk and opening wounds.
Social interactions based on violence and intimidation run rampant in the pokey, and clearly The Boys are in danger of falling victim to recidivism. Given the final two lines of the previous stanza, I’m not sure if the first describes a well-dressed crew or one attired for literal murder.
So, now that we know that the characters in the inherently superior “Jailbreak” (better riffs, darker tone and theme, cooler) continue on their journey once that song has ended and eventually return to some nameless town to reunite with old acquaintances…
“The Boys are Back in Town” has been viewed as a celebratory tune, and ode to old friendships, for the same reasons that make it inferior to “Jailbreak:” the jaunty solo, the G major key, the tales of hijinks (though I always thought the narrator sounded like a dork trying to insinuate themselves into The Boys’ circle). Knowing now that The Boys are convicts on the lam, their arriving in town may not be cause for revelry. At the open, before calling them “wild-eye,” the narrator also tells us that The Boys haven’t changed. Their violent tendencies remain.
The chorus, it would seem, isn’t a “Hey, everyone! The boys are back in town! We’re gonna party!” cry. It’s an “Oh no. The boys are back in town. Hide your kids. Hide your wife” caution.
And the narrator then provides The Boys with that information! What the hell were you thinking, narrator? You’re going to get someone stabbed.
“Spread the word around” is a warning, not a rallying cry. The point is to avoid Dino’s Bar and Grill so we don’t all get our skulls beat in by The Boys, who are still riding the high of their successful jailbreak.