Free Bird

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"Free Bird"
Lynyrd-Skynyrd-Free-Bird.jpg
1976 UK issue
Single by Lynyrd Skynyrd
from the album (Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd)
ReleasedNovember 1974 (1974-11)
RecordedApril 3, 1973
StudioStudio One, Doraville, Georgia, U.S.
Genre
Length
  • 9:08 (album version)
  • 4:41 (single version)
  • 10:07 (Sknyrd's Innyrds version)
LabelMCA
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)Al Kooper
Lynyrd Skynyrd singles chronology
"Gimme Three Steps"
(1973)
"Free Bird"
(1974)
"Sweet Home Alabama"
(1974)
Audio sample
Free Bird

"Free Bird",[3][4][5] also spelled "Freebird",[6][7][8] is a power ballad written and performed by American rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. The song first featured on the band's debut album in 1973 and has been included on subsequent albums.

Released as a single in November 1974, "Free Bird" entered the Billboard Hot 100 on November 23 at No. 87[9] and became the band's second Top 40 hit in early 1975, peaking at No. 19 on January 25.[10] A live version of the song reentered the charts in late 1976,[11] eventually peaking at No. 38 in January 1977.[12]

"Free Bird" achieved the No. 3 spot on Guitar World's 100 Greatest Guitar Solos.[13] 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.[14]

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 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".[15]

The song is dedicated to the memory of Duane Allman by the band in their live shows.[16] 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".[17][18]

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.[19]

Legacy[edit]

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.[8] 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.[20]

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.

During a gig in Chicago during 1989 (later released as the bootleg I'm Sorry, Folks), American comedian Bill Hicks responded to a heckler repeatedly shouting "Free Bird" by screaming, "Hitler had the right idea; he was just an underachiever!" Hicks followed this remark with a misanthropic tirade calling for unbiased genocide during the whole of humanity.[21][22]

Chart and sales performance[edit]

The song has sold 2,111,000 downloads in the digital era, as of 2013.[23]

Studio version
Chart (1974–1975) Peak
position
Canada RPM Top Singles[24] 58
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 19
Live version
Chart (1976–1977) Peak
position
Canada RPM Top Singles[25] 47
US Billboard Hot 100[26] 38
US Cash Box Top 100[27] 32
Chart (1979–1980) Peak
position
UK Singles Chart 43
Chart (1982) Peak
position
Ireland (IRMA)[28] 13
UK Singles Chart 21

Personnel[edit]

Lynyrd Skynyrd[edit]

Studio version (1973)

Additional personnel (live version 1976)[edit]

Notable cover versions[edit]

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.[29]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The History Of Southern Rock In 30 Songs". Classic Rock Magazine. June 5, 2016. Retrieved June 2, 2019. The track that, more than any other, defined the southern rock genre.
  2. ^ Cavanagh, David (2015). Good Night and Good Riddance: How Thirty-Five Years of John Peel Helped to Shape Modern Life. Faber & Faber. p. 158. ISBN 978-0-57130-248-2.
  3. ^ Lynyrd Skynyrd. (Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd). Songs of the South (Universal City), 1973. Hosted at Discogs Archived April 24, 2006, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved June 9, 2014.
  4. ^ Lynyrd Skynyrd. "Free Bird / Searching". MCA Records (Universal City), 1976. Hosted at Discogs Archived April 24, 2006, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved June 9, 2014.
  5. ^ Whitburn, Joel. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, 9th ed., p. 403. Billboard Books (New York), 2010. Retrieved June 9, 2014.
  6. ^ Lynyrd Skynyrd. "Free Bird / Sweet Home Alabama / Double Trouble". Leeds Music Ltd. (London), 1976. Hosted at Discogs Archived April 24, 2006, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved June 9, 2014.
  7. ^ Lynyrd Skynyrd. Official Website. "(pronounced leh-nerd skin-nerd) Archived February 27, 2012, at the Wayback Machine". Retrieved June 9, 2014.
  8. ^ a b Fry, Jason. "Rock's Oldest Joke: Yelling 'Freebird!' In a Crowded Theater" in The Wall Street Journal. March 17, 2005. Retrieved June 9, 2014.
  9. ^ "Billboard Charts Archive, November 23, 1974". Billboard. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  10. ^ "Lynyrd Skynyrd Chart History". Billboard. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  11. ^ "Billboard Charts Archive, December 4, 1976". Billboard. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  12. ^ "Billboard Charts Archive, December 4, 1976". Billboard. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  13. ^ "100 Greatest Guitar Solos: 3) "Free Bird" (Allen Collins, Gary Rossington)". Guitar World. October 14, 2008. Retrieved March 7, 2012.
  14. ^ "Lynyrd Skynyrd Biography". Rolling Stone. Retrieved November 7, 2014.
  15. ^ "Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd Songfacts". Songfacts.com. Retrieved March 7, 2012.
  16. ^ Paul, Alan (March 4, 2009). "Prime Cuts: Lynyrd Skynyrd". Guitar World. Archived from the original on May 15, 2013. Retrieved September 9, 2013.
  17. ^ "Lynyrd Skynyrd-Free Bird Live Old Grey Whistle Test 1975". YouTube.
  18. ^ The Old Grey Whistle Test (DVD). Warner Home Video. 2003.
  19. ^ "spreadit.org music". Archived from the original on February 12, 2009. Retrieved February 7, 2009.
  20. ^ https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/rock/7408080/bob-dylan-plays-free-bird-fan-request-video
  21. ^ True, Cynthia, American Scream: The Bill Hicks Story, Pan Macmillan, 2008, p.127.
  22. ^ Hound, Rufus, Stand-Up Put-Downs, Random House during 2011, p.59.
  23. ^ Grein, Paul (November 27, 2013). "Chart Watch: Eminem Returns to #1, Gaga Sinks to #8". Yahoo Music. Retrieved November 27, 2013.
  24. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. January 25, 1975. Retrieved March 8, 2019.
  25. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. January 15, 1977. Retrieved March 8, 2019.
  26. ^ Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955–1990 - ISBN 0-89820-089-X
  27. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 Singles, January 15, 1977". Archived from the original on March 27, 2019. Retrieved March 7, 2019.
  28. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Free Bird". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved March 8, 2019.
  29. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, 8th Edition (Billboard Publications)