1976 UK issue
|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", or "Freebird", 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, including the unfaded-ending version of the original recording (featured on Skynyrd's Innyrds).
Released as a single in November 1973, "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.
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. Rossington has stated in many interviews that many wanted them to reduce the duration of the song in order for it to fit radio station air play format, typically about 3-4 minutes. Van Zant and the others refused and kept the song's length as-is, even though they were warned that "It will never get air play being that long". Despite the length of the song, it is often played in at least a 10 minute length on many rock stations to the present day.
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.
The song—half ballad, half up-tempo guitar duet—quickly became a staple for Lynyrd Skynyrd at their live performances. Many recognize its 5:12 triple guitar duet section that closes it out. It often turned into an extended jam session at concerts. The band consistently played it as the last song of their shows, as it was their biggest crowd pleaser. The song was a huge hit for Lynyrd Skynyrd and it remains a fan favorite to this day. It is also a classic rock radio staple.
|Live performance of "Free Bird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd at the Oakland Coliseum, February 7, 1977|
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 the Nirvana 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 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 calls for "Free Bird" led into a 14-minute rendition of the song. During the beginning of the song he would make the comment about "playing it pretty" (e.g., "Play It Pretty for Atlanta"). Kevin Matthews claimed to have further popularized it in the 1980s from his Chicago-area radio show.
In some contexts, requests for musicians to play "Free Bird" may be viewed or intended as a form of heckling.
In recent tours, since the song returned to their set list, it has become common for the band to again close concerts with it, with photos and film of the former band members being shown on a screen behind them, while lead singer Johnny Van Zant points his microphone to the sky as a tribute. This can be seen on the band's 2003 Vicious Cycle Tour concert video.
Chart and sales performance
The song has sold 2,111,000 downloads in the digital era.
- Studio version
|Canada RPM Top Singles||58|
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100||19|
- 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
- Billy Powell – piano
- Bob Burns – drums
- "Roosevelt Gook" (Producer Al Kooper) – organ, mellotron
Additional personnel (live version 1976)
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-person lead guitar sound. Collins' "Free Bird" solo at the end was changed so that the two guitars were complementing and challenging each other throughout that solo.
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.
The song was also covered by Bronx Casket Co. on their 2005 album Hellectric in goth style.
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The track that, more than any other, defined the southern rock genre.
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