Lynyrd Skynyrd and their first album "(Pronounced 'Leh-'Nérd 'Skin-'Nérd)" (1973)
We're talking about the first album by Lynyrd Skynyrd, an American rock band with a Southern sound. It was released in the summer of 1973 by MCA Records in the States, Japan, New Zealand, and some European countries. The British version didn't come out until 1974.
A glimpse into history
In the summer of 1964, in Jacksonville, Florida, Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins and Gary Rossington, friends since childhood, created the first version of the band, then called My Backyard. Over the years, the names changed frequently, including "The Noble Five," "One Percent," and, since 1969, "Leonard Skinnerd," a tribute to the physical education teacher at the school where the musicians had graduated. His name was Leonard Skinnerd, and he had a bad habit of pulling the kids' fancy grown-out hair. That teacher was the reason Rossington was expelled from the school - he flatly refused a haircut.
By 1970 the band had a wiser name, Lynyrd Skynyrd. With age, school conflicts began to be taken less seriously, the attitude to the former teacher softened, and after the guys became leaders in their hometown, they called in a school teacher to represent the band at a large-scale concert in the local Coliseum. From 1970 to 1974 the band toured the southern part of the United States, at the same time gaining a unique "signature" sound, which resulted from the mixing of different directions, from country style with blues notes to rock of the British tradition. This, perhaps, is the secret of the guys' incredible popularity, even from the debut album.
In the first half of the '70s Lynyrd Skynyrd changed their lineup. In 1972 Billy Powell was in the band as keyboard player. At the same time lead singer and another drummer Ricky Medlock and bassist Greg T. Walker were hired - they left periodically (to join Blackfoot) and then came back again.
The peak of Lynyrd Skynyrd's popularity falls on the beginning of the interaction with the musician and producer Al Cooper (who took part in the creation of "Blood", "Sweat & Tears"). He found himself at a live show in Atlanta and immediately signed the band to his own label, Sounds of the South, which published and promoted their product in conjunction with MCA Records. Cooper encouraged the team to start recording their first album in Atlanta.
Bassist Leon Wilkison was probably very skeptical about the possibility of success, so he returned home to work quietly in an ice-cream company after recording only two songs. He was, however, able to record the bass parts of all the other compositions before he left, so Ed King, the guitarist from the psychedelically inclined Strawberry Alarm Clock band, was brought in. But while the album was in progress, Wilkison realized there was something more interesting than trading ice cream, weighed the pros and cons, and came back. He was accepted back into the line-up, and his picture is on the famous album cover. But Ed King was also kept as the first guitarist, and thanks to that the band gave grandiose solos on three guitars at once at their gigs.
This is the sensational hit of the album and its final song - "Free Bird". It was released as a single in the fall of 1974 and reached no higher than the 19th position, but in spite of that it became the "all-time" song of American radio stations. Together with Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," the song was among the selected long songs that were allowed to be broadcast, in spite of the rather strict regulations of FM radio. At the live shows, as a rule, the song was performed closer to the end, and it lasted for 15 minutes at all.
The main chords of the song were created by guitarist Allen Collins. Once he played them during rehearsal, Van Zant listened and asked to play more. A couple of minutes later, both the music and the lyrics to it emerged. The long solo guitar parts allowed Van Zant a little rest during the performances, because the band had to play several concerts in the clubs at once in one night.
Everyone involved knew that Billy Powell played the piano, but after he created the initial chords of the composition, it was decided to use them, and Powell himself became a full member of the team. He had an academic background in music and could play complex polyphonic pieces. He often played with his left hand, which muffled the effect of the guitars in the recording. Cooper tried, much to no avail, to change this manner of Powell's playing, and then decided to simply tie the musician's left hand to the piano.
The opening words of the song, "If I leave you today, will you remember me?"
It's a question Allen Collins once heard from his friend Cathy. She later married him, but the phrase was remembered and became the beginning of the hit song "Free Bird.
Generally speaking, it was written in memory of Duane Allman, who was one of the founding members of The Allman Brothers Band. These guys were revered by Lynyrd Skynyrd as "southern rock" songwriters. A guitar virtuoso, Dwayne Allman was killed in an accident in 1971, and he was only 24 years old at the time. Once, during a performance on the famous British show "The Old Grey Whistle Test" in 1975, Van Zant noted that the song was written as a dedication to two people at once, Dwayne Allman and Berry Oakley, because the image of the free bird suited both of them. The latter was the bassist for The Allman Brothers Band and also died after an accident just a few blocks from where Dwayne died, a year later.
In the '70s rock concert audiences liked to chant for musicians to play an "all-time" hit. In the early 1970s, for example, they asked for "Smoke on the Water," the trademark of Deep Purple. And by the end of the decade, this permanent hit was "Free Bird". The composition was included in Rolling Stone's top 500 as one of the best in world music history (193rd position), it is also included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of 500 who influenced the formation of this trend.
"Tuesday Gone with the Wind" and others...
The hit is not at all the best composition of this rather well-made album of "southern rock" songs. The second track, "Tuesday's Gone," is similar in some ways to the previous one, especially in the ballad-type leanings. It sounds just as elegiac and probably embodies more or less Van Zant's thoughts:
"Everything was fine until we signed the contract with MCA. That's it, the good times are over - now we have to plow and plow.
It sounds unexpected, but Tuesday is a woman's name (in English-speaking culture, it is sometimes customary to call a child of either sex by the day of the week they were born). The soloist's unhurried articulation in the context of a strong musical flow recreates a whiff of change that makes everything drift into the past. Al Cooper's chorus features a fragment of strings on a mellotron and a vocal backing. By the way, the producer decided not to announce his own musical presence in the album directly, hiding behind the pseudonym "Roosevelt Cook". The composition "Tuesday's Gone" is among those rare Lynyrd Skynyrd songs that were not recorded with drummer Bob Burns. That part was played by Robert Nix, a guest from the Atlanta Rhythm Section.
The composition is underrated. It wasn't as crazy popular as the first song on the album, but despite that, it's one of the band's most famous. Allen Collins especially singled it out. The song reached the peak of recognition again already in the 1990s, when it was included in the American picture "Dazed and Confused" (1993). Five years later, the guys from Metallica recorded the popular cover and released it on the album "Garage Inc.
The sound of the ballad "Simple Man" is just as impressive, but the lyrics are more serious and simpler. They are available at amalgama-lab.com.
Ballad compositions are evenly interspersed in the album, about 1:1 ratio, with intense rock'n'roll compositions like "I Ain't The One" or "Gimme Three Steps" with light or tragicomic subjects, as in the latter, for example. The translation of this song is also available at amalgama-lab.com. But unfortunately, the first lines are interpreted with distortions - too literally, and this is totally unacceptable for English-speaking stable combinations:
I was cutting the rug
Down at a place called The Jug
With a girl named Linda Lou
I was dashing around with a girl named Linda Lou
at a place called The Jug
And then everything is translated correctly. Well, that's the privilege of countries where the right to own guns is accepted 🙂
The song "Poison Whiskey" caricatured alcohol addicts and the disease itself. The fact that the band members themselves, as many in the audience said, often appeared in front of the audience - almost every performance - tipsy adds to the comicality. "Poisoned Whiskey" is Johnny Walker Red Lable. Only a miracle can explain the fact that the Scots, who developed the brand, did not sue. Although, on the other hand, it is very good publicity.
Only one song is in the spirit of good old rock'n'roll, "Things Goin' On", and it's quite serious, though the playfulness and sarcasticness characteristic of the musicians' manner slip in here, too. This relaxed "honky-tonk" song by Van Zant doesn't seem protesting to anyone who speaks English superficially at all:
Have you ever lived in a ghetto?
Have you felt the cold wind blowing?
If you don't know what I mean,
Then stand up and shout,
Because there are things going on there that you had no idea about.
This is true for all times and for all nations.
Title and Cover
The album was named the same as the band, but it turned out that the public tended to accept the clarification (Pronounced "Le-nerd Skee-nerd") for it, even though it dealt with recommendations for proper pronunciation.
The cover photo was taken in Jonesboro on Main Street, Georgia. From left to right are photos of bassist Leon Wilkison, keyboardist Billy Powell, leader Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Harry Rossington (seated), drummer Bob Burns, guitarists Allen Collins and Ed King.
It so happened that after a 3-year interval, an episode of "Smokey and the Bandit" was filmed not far from this place.
Tandem of two groups
As for the promotion of the album, a funny story happened: Al Cooper, producing the team, was at first quite deeply worried about the name of the band, impersonal for beginners, and so more than once asked the musicians to come up with and approve another one. And after a categorical refusal, he ran a masterful marketing campaign to make sure that a wide audience remembered them. He designed an eye-catching logo: in the form of a skull with crossed bones (placed on the back cover), and promoted it to trade magazines and alternative weeklies in large cities in the United States. A very simple question attracted attention: "Who is Lynyrd Skynyrd?" And the intrigued public wanted to know the answer.
The volume of the ad grew weekly, enriching it with various details - and there were many of them - so by the time it was released, the ad had already taken up a whole double-page spread. And practically after this campaign, Pete Townsend of The Who began negotiations with MCA Records (where his band was listed) to find a good guitarist to warm up the tour of his recent Quadrophenia album. And who else could he count on, if not the loose and ambitious guys from Lynyrd Skynyrd? And then it was as if the promotional strategy had been planned with the further touring of both bands: "WHO is LYNYRD SKYNYRD?" A genius solution!
The album, which ironically came to be called "(Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd)", was published in the States in the summer of 1973. Although it was never at the top of the American top lists, it ensured the band's widespread popularity in America. By the end of 1974 it had already become a "golden" record (in terms of sales of over half a million copies), reaching the 27th position in 1975, and by 1987 it was twice acknowledged as a platinum rock album - and a modern classic. In 2003, it was ranked one of the 500 best in all of music history by Rolling Stone magazine (403rd position), and was listed in the book "1001 albums you must listen to before you die." Vinyl originals from the 1970s in acceptable condition are rated very highly today.