Monday, December 12, 2005

Free Bird! Need I say more?

I don’t know how anyone can argue that “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd is one of the greatest rock ballads of all time. It was written in 1973 and still, 32 years later, shouting it out as a request at concerts has become a music industry joke. Every now and then, a musician will actually play it. I am guilty of this as well. At a Sugar Ray/Goo Goo Dolls concert back in high school, I screamed for them to play it but with no success. It is the classic song of a guy singing to a girl of why he can’t give her a commitment. If only every guy could express himself like this, there would be a lot more understanding in relationships.

This began as a ballad without the guitar solos at the end, and the band recorded it that way for the first time in 1972. Guitarist Allen Collins had been working on the song on and off for the previous 2 years. At the time of recording, the song was only 7 1/2 minutes long, but throughout the next year, Collins continued to refine the song until it was recorded for the final cut of the album Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd in 1973.

Collins wrote the music long before Ronnie Van Zant came up with lyrics for it. Van Zant finally got inspired one night and had Collins and Gary Rossington play it over and over until he wrote the words. Skynyrd has played this only as an instrumental since the 1977 plane crash that killed lead singer Ronnie Van Zant. Later, his brother, Johnny, took his place. For a while, he wouldn't sing it - the band played it as an instrumental and the crowd would sing the words. Now you think Lynyrd Skynyrd, you think “Free Bird”.

Most people are surprised to discover that I am a huge Lynyrd Skynyrd fan. They are, in fact, my favorite band. If you know me, then you know I listen to anything and everything, except country music. Forgive me for not getting into songs with lyrics like “She broke my heart, so I broke her jaw”. You can thank Varsity Blues for those words. I enjoy classic country with Buck Owens and Johnny Cash. Those songs actually tell more stories than just every song now about drinking and fighting and riding cowboys. But still, people are surprised when they find out that I am a Skynyrd fanatic. They after all sound very much country. But this is how I respond. They are Southern Rock, not country and don’t you forget it. Songs like “Simple Man”, another classic ballad, and “What’s Your Name?” are blared from my speakers and my roommates must endure. And it’s not like I’m torturing them. Ronnie Van Zant’s voice has a slight twang but it is a twang of velvet.

And I’ve come to an important decision, one my roommates have already agreed to. At my funeral, please play “Free Bird”. It speaks of the inability to stay in one place for very long and trying to find something more. And hopefully, just hopefully, people will sing along and hold up their lighters and talk about my funeral for years to come, because 32 years later after it was first written, I’m still talking about “Free Bird” and how there is nothing like it. Much like me.


Anonymous Brandon Henak said...

Oh come on, you have to love the american pride that country music oft inspires. :-)

3:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, Varsity Blues is not the origin of She Broke My Heart so I broke Her Jaw. That is an actual song recorded in the '70s. And it did actually tell a story just like the Johnny Cash songs you were talking to.

3:36 PM  

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