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Which artist originally wrote Thin Lizzy’s hit “Whiskey In The Jar”

Photos from Denis O’Regan and promo


Which artist originally wrote Thin Lizzy’s hit “Whiskey In The Jar”

Especially for the younger generations the song “Whiskey In The Jar” is certainly more connected to the American Thrash Metal band Metallica since their version was heard millions of times more on the streaming platforms than from other bands like Thin Lizzy, which it can be the version older Rock fans prefer to listen to, since it was first released in the 70s.


Although the two bands made the most famous versions of the song was created long before the electric guitar even existed. The origin is uncertain and it has been part of the culture for centuries.

Which artist originally wrote Thin Lizzy’s hit “Whiskey In The Jar”

The structure of the song has existed for centuries and there are many variations. The lyrics, for example, were changed especially when it comes to areas mentioned. There are known versions with many different Irish cities and even some that mention cities from the south of the United States. It tells the story of a highwayman or a robber who stole a military or government official. But he was later betrayed by a woman who also had many names. The names of the characters were changed depending on the location the track was performed and passed on to younger generations. Because during that time music could only be heard live.

The music historian Alan Lomax suggests that the song originated in the 17th century. He believes that because there is a similar story written by the English poet and dramatist John Gay called “The Beggar’s Opera” released in 1728.

The first modern versions of the song started to appear in the late 60s. The one that really started it all was made by The Dubliners, the Irish Folk band formed in Dublin in 1962. Their version was featured on their 1969 album “More of The Hard Stuff”. With violins and banjos, their recording kind of paved the way for Thin Lizzy to give their Rock and Roll touch in 1972.

The difference between the versions “Whiskey In The Jar” versions made by The Dubliners and Thin Lizzy

The track was recorded by Phil Lynott and company being featured on their album “Vagabonds of the Western World”. Besides having guitar solos and being heavier, the lyrics also were changed. The Dubliners version mentons only the “Kerry Mountains” and Thin Lizzy adds the “Cork mountains”.

The Rock and Roll group also says that “the devil, he may take you”, while the Folk group doesn’t mention the devil in the first lines of the song. The woman who deceived the robber is also not the same. In the 1968 version her name is Jenny and the 1972 track calls her Molly.

Another interesting difference is that in The Dubliners version, the main characther is unable to shoot Captain Ferrell and is taken as a prisoner. In Thin Lizzy’s version he manages to shoot Farrell right away but then goes to jail. Lizzy’s version is almost twice longer and has less lyrics than the one from The Dubliners. But of course that is mainly because of the guitar solos.

The Difference between the versions of “Whiskey in The Jar” made by Thin Lizzy and Metallica

As most of the Rock and Roll fans all over the world, the Metallica members also grew up listening to the bands that were formed in the United Kingdom. Thin Lizzy were one of their favorites and when they decided to record the covers albums “Garage Inc.” in 1999, it seemed like a right choice to cover the famous Irish track. It ended up being one of the biggest hits from that album alongside Diamond Head’s “Am I Evil”.

Although it is a traditional Irish song, the version made by Metallica was inspired by Thin Lizzy’s version. However, besides having James Hetfield‘s unique way of singing and being much heavier, their version also made some changes in the lyrics. But no words or names were changed. Only a few verses appeared less like “Mush-a ring, dum-a doo-dam-a-da. Whack for my daddy-o, There’s whiskey in the jar-o”. The final verses of Lizzy’s version were also excluded: “And I got drun on whiskey, And I loved my Molly. And you know I will never, But I will burn it down”.

“Whiskey In The Jar” is still is often performed by the band during their concerts. Especially when they are playing in Ireland, of course. They were even joined by Lizzy’s original guitarst Eric Bell on stage once.

Other artists that record “Whiskey In The Jar”

Is often said in the music business that when you make a good cover of a song which already was a hit a while before it is a shortcut to success. That’s true because “Whiskey In The Jar” helped to boost Lizzy’s career in the early days.

But when you do that with a song which is public domain is even better. Especially, of course, when it comes to royalties. So many bands re-recorded that track over the decades.

Some of them were The Highwaymen, The Seekers, Joe Dassin, Peter, Paul and Mary. Even Bryan Adams covered the track more recently in 2019.

I'm a Brazilian journalist who always loved Classic Rock and Heavy Metal music. That passion inspired me to create Rock and Roll Garage over 6 years ago. Music has always been a part of my life, helping me through tough times and being a support to celebrate the good ones. When I became a journalist, I knew I wanted to write about my passions. After graduating in journalism from the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, I pursued a postgraduate degree in digital communication at the same institution. The studies and experience in the field helped me improve the website and always bring the best of classic rock to the world! MTB: 0021377/MG

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