|Single by Lynyrd Skynyrd|
|from the album (Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd)|
|Recorded||April 3, 1973|
|Studio||Studio One, Doraville, Georgia, U.S.|
|Lynyrd Skynyrd singles chronology|
"Free Bird", also spelled "Freebird", is a song written by Allen Collins and Ronnie Van Zant and performed by American rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. The song featured on the band's debut album in 1973.
Released as a single in November 1974, "Free Bird" entered the Billboard Hot 100 on November 23 at No. 87 and became the band's second Top 40 hit in early 1975, peaking at No. 19 on January 25. A live version of the song reentered the charts in late 1976, eventually peaking at No. 38 in January 1977.
"Free Bird" achieved the No. 3 spot on Guitar World's 100 Greatest Guitar Solos. It is Lynyrd Skynyrd's signature song, the finale during live performances, and their longest song, often going well over 14 minutes when played live.
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 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 introduction to the song; upon hearing it, they included it as the finishing touch and had him formally join as their keyboardist.
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". Also in an interview filmed during a fishing outing on a boat with Gary Rossington, an interviewer asked Ronnie Van Zant what the song meant. Van Zant replied that in essence, that the song is "what it means to be free, in that a bird can fly wherever he wants to go". He further stated that "everyone wants to be free...that's what this country's all about".
The song is dedicated to the memory of Duane Allman by the band in their live shows. During their 1975 performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test, Van Zant dedicated the song to both Allman and Berry Oakley, commenting, "they're both free birds".
"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.
It has become something of a humorous tradition for audience members at concerts to shout "Free Bird!" or "Play Free Bird!" as a request to hear the song, regardless of the performer or style of music. For example, during Nirvana's 1993 MTV Unplugged in New York show, a shout-out for "Free Bird!" eventually resulted in a lyrically slurred, if short, rendition of "Sweet Home Alabama". In 2016, an attendee of a Bob Dylan concert in Berkeley, California shouted for "Free Bird" to be played, and Dylan and his band unexpectedly obliged.
The phenomenon began 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 calls for "Free Bird" led into a 14-minute rendition of the song.
Chart and sales performance
The song has sold 2,111,000 downloads in the digital era, as of 2013.
- Studio version
|Canada RPM Top Singles||58|
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100||19|
|U.S. Cashbox Top 100||25|
- Live version
|Canada RPM Top Singles||47|
|US Billboard Hot 100||38|
|US Cash Box Top 100||32|
|UK Singles Chart||43|
|UK Singles Chart||21|
Studio version (1973)
- Ronnie Van Zant – vocals
- Allen Collins – lead and acoustic guitars
- Gary Rossington – rhythm and slide guitars
- Ed King – bass guitar
- Bob Burns – drums
- Billy Powell – piano
- "Roosevelt Gook" (Producer Al Kooper) – organ, Mellotron
Additional personnel (live version 1976)
Notable cover versions
The song has been covered many times. Among the most notable is a version by American dance-pop group Will to Power who 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". The song spent one week at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
In popular culture
The song has been featured in Forrest Gump, Netflix's House of Cards and the Rob Zombie film The Devil's Rejects. The 2014 film Kingsman: The Secret Service, directed by Matthew Vaughn, sees the song play during the scene in which Colin Firth's character Harry Hart murders hundreds of churchgoers who have become dangerously violent as a result of a SIM card transmission.
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The track that, more than any other, defined the southern rock genre.
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