Music-versary: Lynyrd Skynyrd released ‘Freebird’ on Nov. 23, 1974

FreebirdRelease date: November 23, 1974

Credits: Ronnie Van Zant (vocals); Allen Collins (guitar); Gary Rossington (rhythm and slide guitar); Ed King (bass); Billy Powell (piano); Bob Burns (drums); Al Kooper (production, organ, mellotron)

Album: Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd

Backstory: Before it became the punch line of every rock show idiot’s shout-out request, Freebird was an epic that wove from power ballad to searing guitar solo over the final nine minutes of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s debut album, Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd. But the song, which went on to become one of the band’s most enduring hits, nearly never came to be. Guitarist Allen Collins had been playing with the opening chord progressions for two years before frontman Ronnie Van Zant was inspired to put lyrics to it. Collins helped, though, offering up a line his girlfriend (and later wife) Kathy had said to him while watching him practice guitar in his mother’s living room: “If I leave here tomorrow, will you still remember me?” It became the eviscerating opening line to this love song, one of the few that the southern rock band would ever record.

Single TK: For the single, the band decided to cut the song down by half, leaving it at 4:41 — but that was never how the fans preferred it, and they didn’t stop releasing it there. It clocked in at 11:30 on their 1976 live album One More From the Road, and on the 1988 live tribute to their fallen members, Southern By The Grace of God, it’s nearly 15 minutes long.

The Only Band That Plays It:
Since the 1980s, shouting Freebird at a band has become a crowd-troll tradition. But according to Ricky Medlocke, who left the band in 1976 only to return 20 years later, they still see it as an anthem, not a heckle. “I think every band walking wishes they had a ‘Free Bird,’” he told the Miami New Times in early 2015. “We have one, and for us, we don’t mind them screaming it. They know we’re gonna get to it. There’s no way we could leave an arena and not play it. I believe that would be a really bad mistake.”

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