1952 Vincent Black Lightning (5:05)

Cover of Action Packed: The Best of the Capitol Years

From Action Packed: The Best of the Capitol Years and 23 other releases

“It’s a simple boy-meets-girl story, complicated somewhat by the presence of a motorcycle.”

That’s the humble introduction given by Richard Thompson in a YouTube clip of a performance of “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” his unforgettable folk ballad found on 1991’s Rumor And Sigh. It may indeed be an uncomplicated story, but it is brought to life in thrilling and moving fashion by this perpetually underrated singer-songwriter.

When Thompson’s name is mentioned, it is often in the context of his guitar work, which is indeed magnificent on this track. Finger picking his acoustic at lightning speed, he takes listeners on a ride every bit as breathtaking in its way as one the James and Red Molly take aboard the titular bike. Yet his lyrics deserve just as much credit for the song’s success.

For those not up on their motorcycle history, the Vincent Black Lightning was only in production in Great Britain for a four-year span, but in that time it was the favored weapon of choice for those daredevils looking to break land speed records. Still, it’s not necessary to know any of this to understand the allure of the bike for the two main characters in the song.

Red Molly is attracted to both speed and danger, making the sight of James on his Vincent simply irresistible. The feeling is likewise, as James lets her know: “Red hair and black leather, my favorite color scheme.” As anyone who has heard a folk ballad or two can probably guess, their time together is bound to be fleeting.

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Oh, says Red Molly to James, "That's a fine motorbike
A girl could feel special on any such like"
Says James to Red Molly, "My hat's off to you
It's a Vincent Black Lightning, 1952"

MetroLyrics Full lyrics at MetroLyrics

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