David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 200: Thin Lizzy (Honesty Is No Excuse)

November 14, 2022

I probably boxed myself in when I decided this series would be about 365 artists through 365 songs, as it limits the possibilities with cover songs, as few artists would want to be defined in their one moment by someone else's song. I succumbed once, early in the series, by going with the Tom Waits' original version of "I Don't Wanna Grow Up," then Holly Cole's version, accepting that Holly Cole is primarily an interpreter of other people's songs anyway.

Today, I have found a new way to cheat on the cover song and be able to do both original and cover under one day. It helps when it is The Both covering.

I don't even know this song, "Honesty Is No Excuse," if I haven't listened to The Both, who are Aimee Mann and Ted Leo, collaborating on their self-titled 2013 album. I came for Aimee (leave it alone!) and I left with Phil Lynott. I knew of Thin Lizzy, of course, and love "The Boys Are Back In Town," "Jailbreak," and "Whiskey In The Jar" for the great rock songs that they are. However, I never sought out more. Honestly, I have no excuse, as I am missing a lot. And it starts with "Honesty Is No Excuse."

Lynott's voice and bass bounce out of the first verse, presenting himself vulnerable through the softly strummed guitar:

"Up till now I used to pass my time/

Drinking beer so slowly, sometimes wine/

No God, no air, water or sunshine/

And honesty was my only excuse/

I took your love and I used it."

As the song intensifies, we quickly are realizing that the lyrics are near perfect. Lynott summons his best Dylan phraseology of rhyme in the second verse:

Up till now, my youthful stage/

A useless rage/

A torn out page/

A worn out gauge/

A dirty shade/

A big charade/

A has-been made/

And honesty was my only excuse/

I took your love and I used it.

The Both take those fantastic lyrics, or at least some of them (I will come back to that), and they make them a duet, add hand claps, and take Eric Bell's lovely guitar solo after the above lyric, and turn it into a grungy, lovely guitar solo, all the more memorable as both Mann and Leo sing the "I never/I never" for the later stages of that instrumental bridge. There's a lot of heartbreak in the reliving of this past, although the song's title reminds us that such vulnerability is always present, as honesty is no excuse at any time.

Thin Lizzy's version of the song has several verses after these two fantastic opening verses, sections that The Both don't bother to recreate. I'm not sure if they wanted to get away from slightly more detailed examples of how honesty was no excuse ("a few sweet kisses/a little missus/a fork and knife"), but it is a reminder that when bands do cover a song they really should try to make it their own. Perhaps the best thing The Both do for "Honesty Is No Excuse" is elevate the final verse, which Lynott and Lizzy let dissolve into the song's fade-out, a choice that seems almost criminal:

Up to now, the path of life was fair enough/

Enough was fair, all was right/

And now I know, I see the light/

And honesty was my only excuse.

You're lucky if you hear the last two lines as the song ends. He may see the light but it is really dimming. The Both elevate this verse to the only lines after the fantastic guitar solo, make sure we clearly recognize the changed character, and then slip back in the most telling line from the middle part of the song: "I took your love and I abused it," making the subsequent series of "yeah, yeah, yeah" all the more devastating.

As my series goes into its third hundred of posts, Phil and The Both have made me see the light:

Up till now, I tried to stay faithful/

Not be wasteful/

Avoid the hateful/

And honesty was my only excuse.

We'll see what might happen now that I feel exposed.

Thin Lizzy. "Honesty Is No Excuse." Thin Lizzy. Decca, 1971. Link here.

The Both. "Honesty Is No Excuse." The Both. Superego Records, 2013. Link here.

Day 199: Roy Orbison "It's Over"

Day 201: Mark Olson & Gary Louris "The Trap's Been Set"

See complete list here.