Free Bird

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"Free Bird"
Single by Lynyrd Skynyrd
from the album (Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd)
Released November 1974
Format 7 inch
Recorded April 3, 1973 at Studio One, Doraville, Georgia
Genre Southern rock, blues rock, hard rock
Length 9:06 (album)
4:18 (single)
3:31 (radio edit)
10:08 (full version)
11:09 (demo version)
Label MCA
Writer(s) Allen Collins
Ronnie Van Zant
Producer(s) Al Kooper
Certification Silver (UK)[1]
Lynyrd Skynyrd singles chronology
"Sweet Home Alabama"
(1974)
"Free Bird"
(1974)
"Saturday Night Special"
(1975)
Music sample

"Free Bird"[2][3][4] or "Freebird"[5][6][7] is a power ballad by the American rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. The song was first featured on the band's debut album in 1973 and has been included on subsequent albums released by the band, including the previously unreleased, unfaded-ending version of the original recording (featured on Skynyrd's Innyrds). Amazon.com music reviewer Lorry Fleming calls it "the most-requested song in the history of rock music."[8]

Released as a single in November 1974, "Free Bird" bowed at #87 on the Hot 100 on the 23rd and became the band's second Top 40 hit in early 1975, where it peaked at No. 19.[9] A live version of the song also reached the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1977, peaking at No. 38.[9] "Free Bird" also achieved the No. 3 spot on Guitar World's 100 Greatest Guitar Solos.[10]

It is used as a finale by Lynyrd Skynyrd during their live performances and is their longest song, often going well over 14 minutes when played live.[citation needed]

Origins[edit]

According to guitarist Gary Rossington, for two years after Allen Collins wrote the initial chords, vocalist Ronnie Van Zant insisted that there were too many for him to create a melody in the belief that the melody needed to change alongside the chords. After Collins played the unused sequence at rehearsal one day, Van Zant asked him to repeat it, then wrote out the melody and lyrics in three or four minutes. The guitar solos that finish the song were added in originally to give Van Zant a chance to rest, as the band was playing several sets per night at clubs at the time. Soon afterward, the band learned piano-playing roadie Billy Powell had written an intro to the song; upon hearing it, they included it as the finishing touch and had him formally join as their keyboardist. The song was dedicated to the memory of Duane Allman by the band in their live shows.[11] Ronnie has also dedicated the song to both Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, commenting that "they're both free birds".[12]

Allen Collins's girlfriend, Kathy, whom he later married, asked him, "If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?" Collins noted the question and it eventually became the opening line of "Free Bird".[13]

Reception[edit]

"Free Bird" is included in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll and at number 193 in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In 2009, it was named the 26th best hard rock song of all time by VH1.[14]

The song—half ballad, half up-tempo guitar solo—quickly became a staple for Lynyrd Skynyrd at their live performances. Many recognize its 5:12 triple guitar solo section that closes it out. It often turned into an extended jam session at concerts. The band would consistently play it as the last song of every show, as it was their biggest crowd pleaser. Overall the song proved to be a huge hit for Lynyrd Skynyrd and it remains a fan favorite to this day. It is also a classic rock radio staple.

Following the plane crash in 1977 in which several band members were killed, all of the songs played by surviving members were performed as instrumentals beginning with the Charlie Daniels Volunteer Jam V in 1979. When "Free Bird" came up, a solitary microphone with a single spotlight would be at center stage while the band played the instrumental version. This tradition lasted until 1989, when an almost-rioting audience coerced Rossington to urge Johnny Van Zant to sing the song for the first time – something he had vowed never to do on stage during the Tribute Tour.[citation needed] The current version has a shortened solo similar to the original studio version.

Legacy[edit]

It has become something of a humorous tradition for audience members at concerts to shout "Free Bird" as a request to hear the song, regardless of the performer or style of music.[7] The phenomenon began earlier in the 1970s with The Allman Brothers Band's "Whipping Post" and Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" but then took off with "Free Bird" by 1979. On Skynyrd's first live album, 1976's One More from the Road, Van Zant can be heard asking the crowd, "What song is it you wanna hear?" The "deafening" calls for "Free Bird" lead into a 14-minute rendition of the song. Miguel Tejada claimed to have further popularized the phenomenon during an exclusive interview with Pat Burrell.[7]

In popular culture[edit]

The song is included on the rhythm game Rock Band 3 as the hardest song for Guitar and one of the hardest songs for Band. It was previously featured as the final song of Guitar Hero II and again in Guitar Hero Smash Hits. It is also featured in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas on the radio station K-DST.

An all-star band performed the song to conclude the final episode of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien. Will Ferrell sang lead vocals, backed by Beck, ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, Ben Harper, and O'Brien himself on guitar, drummer Max Weinberg and the rest of the shows house band. Ferrell also played Cowbell. Some commentators found the lyrics especially resonant due to Conan's decision to leave the show rather than allow it to be aired in a later time slot.[15][16] [17] [18]

The song is featured in the movie Forrest Gump, in the scene where Jenny contemplates suicide, and in the climax of the movie Duets, before Reggie sacrifices his life. It is also prominently featured in the finale of Rob Zombie's second film, The Devil's Rejects and in the film Cars.

The song is played by a band called Ruckus (mainly members of My Morning Jacket) in the movie Elizabethtown.

The song is featured in That 70's Show Season 1 Episode 19 "Prom Night", Freaks and Geeks episode 12: "The Garage Door", and Six Feet Under Season 2 Episode 8 "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"

The song is played throughout My Name is Earl Season 2 Episode 20 "Two Balls, Two Strikes"

The song is referenced in The Band Perry's song "Double Heart" off of their self-titled debut album.

Pop group Will to Power included the song on their 1988 hit, Baby, I Love Your Way/Freebird Medley which went to #1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.

The song is used in the King of the Hill episode "Tankin' It to the Streets," when a distraught, inebriated Bill steals an Army tank. He sings part of the song while in the tank, moments before Hank, Dale, and Boomhauer go into the tank to talk him into taking the tank back to the army base. He also hums the same part at the end.

The song is referenced in the Gilmore Girls episode "A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving", season 3 episode 9. Lorelai suggests the song to the piano player at her parents' Thanksgiving party.

A segment of the Blue Man Group theatrical show requires a member of the audience to shout out for a request of this song.

The song features in the second episode of the first season of House of Cards.

Chart and sales performance[edit]

The song has sold 2,111,000 downloads in the digital era.[19]

Chart (1974-1975) Peak
position
Canada RPM Top Singles 47
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 19
UK Singles Chart 21

Personnel[edit]

(Studio version) – 1973

Additional personnel[edit]

The addition of Steve Gaines returned Lynyrd Skynyrd to the formula that Ronnie Van Zant felt gave the band its first road to success with a three-headed lead guitar sound. Collins' Free Bird's solo at the end was changed so that the two guitars were complementing and challenging each other throughout that solo.

Cover versions[edit]

The American dance-pop group Will to Power created a medley of this song and the 1976 Peter Frampton song "Baby, I Love Your Way" in 1988. Titled "Baby, I Love Your Way/Freebird Medley", it spent one week at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.[9] It was also covered by Wynonna Judd on the 1994 tribute album Skynyrd Frynds. The song was also covered by Bronx Casket Co. on their 2005 album Hellectric in Goth style. American jam band Phish often performs an a cappella version of the song live.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Bpi". The Bpi. Retrieved 2012-03-07. 
  2. ^ Lynyrd Skynyrd. (Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd). Songs of the South (Universal City), 1973. Hosted at Discogs. Accessed 9 June 2014.
  3. ^ Lynyrd Skynyrd. "Free Bird / Searching". MCA Records (Universal City), 1976. Hosted at Discogs. Accessed 9 June 2014.
  4. ^ Whitburn, Joel. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, 9th ed., p. 403. Billboard Books (New York), 2010. Accessed 9 June 2014.
  5. ^ Lynyrd Skynyrd. "Free Bird / Sweet Home Alabama / Double Trouble". Leeds Music Ltd. (London), 1976. Hosted at Discogs. Accessed 9 June 2014.
  6. ^ Lynyrd Skynyrd. Official Website. "(pronounced leh-nerd skin-nerd)". Accessed 9 June 2014.
  7. ^ a b c Fry, Jason. "Rock's Oldest Joke: Yelling 'Freebird!' In a Crowded Theater" in the Wall Street Journal. 17 March 2005. Accessed 9 June 2014.
  8. ^ [1][dead link]
  9. ^ a b c Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, 8th Edition (Billboard Publications)
  10. ^ "100 Greatest Guitar Solos: 3) "Free Bird" (Allen Collins, Gary Rossington)". Guitar World. 2008-10-14. Retrieved 2012-03-07. 
  11. ^ Paul, Alan (4 March 2009). "Prime Cuts: Lynyrd Skynyrd". Guitar World. Archived from the original on 15 May 2013. Retrieved 9 September 2013. 
  12. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqCoeZ8uybQ
  13. ^ "Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd Songfacts". Songfacts.com. Retrieved 2012-03-07. 
  14. ^ "spreadit.org music". Retrieved February 7, 2009. 
  15. ^ Daniel Kreps (2010-01-23). "Conan O'Brien Recruits Will Ferrell, Beck for Final Episode Free Bird | Music News". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2014-07-14. 
  16. ^ "Conan Says Goodbye with Will Ferrell & Freebird from TubularGoldmine". Funnyordie.com. 2010-01-23. Retrieved 2014-07-14. 
  17. ^ "Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Free Bird' a fitting end to Conan O'Brien's run". members.jacksonville.com. Retrieved 2014-07-14. 
  18. ^ "Conan Free Bird Performance Ends Last Show for Conan O'Brien - Yahoo Voices". voices.yahoo.com. 2010-01-23. Retrieved 2014-07-14. 
  19. ^ Grein, Paul (2013-11-27). "Chart Watch: Eminem Returns to #1, Gaga Sinks to #8". Yahoo Music. Retrieved November 27, 2013.