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Free Bird is a ballad by Lynyrd Skynyrd. It is often considered their signature song, and was frequently played at the end of their concerts.

Origins[]

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".[1]

The song is dedicated to the memory of Duane Allman by the band in their live shows.[2] During their 1975 performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test, Ronnie dedicated the song to both Allman and Berry Oakley, commenting, "they're both free birds".[3][4]

Reception[]

"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|Rolling StoneTemplate:'s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time]]. In 2009, it was named the 26th best hard rock song of all time by VH1.[5]

The song—half ballad, half up-tempo guitar solo—quickly became a staple for Lynyrd Skynyrd at their live performances. Many recognize its 5:12 triple guitar solo section that closes it out. It often turned into an extended jam session at concerts. The band would consistently play it as the last song of every show, as it was their biggest crowd pleaser. Overall the song proved to be a huge hit for Lynyrd Skynyrd and it remains a fan favorite to this day. It is also a classic rock radio staple.

Legacy[]

It has become something of a humorous tradition for audience members at concerts to shout "Free Bird" as a request to hear the song, regardless of the performer or style of music.[6] For example, during the Nirvana 1993 MTV Unplugged in New York show, a shout-out for "Freebird!" eventually resulted in a lyrically slurred, if short, rendition of "Sweet Home Alabama". 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 deafening calls for "Free Bird" led into a 14-minute rendition of the song. Kevin Matthews claimed to have further popularized it in the 1980s from his Chicago-area radio show.[6]

In recent tours, since the song returned to their set list, it has become common for the band to 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.

In popular culture[]

An all-star band performed the song to conclude the final episode of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien. Will Ferrell sang lead vocals and played cowbell, and was backed by Beck, ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, Ben Harper, and O'Brien himself on guitar, drummer Max Weinberg and the rest of the show's house band. Some commentators found the lyrics especially resonant due to Conan's decision to leave the show rather than allow it to be aired in a later time slot.[7][8][9]

The song was featured in several video games, films, and television series, including Soylent Green, Westworld, The Towering Inferno, Logan's Run, The Doors, The Last Boy Scout, Soldier, Blood Diamond, Time Bandits, Spaceballs, Wayne's World, Josie and the Pussycats, Sid and Nancy, This Is Spinal Tap, Airheads, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Dude, Where's My Car?, Empire Records, High Fidelity, Rock Star, The Rocker, The Full Monty, Napoleon Dynamite, Idiocracy, Speed, Broken Arrow, Entrapment, Lethal Weapon 4, Exit Wounds, Mad Max: Fury Road, Guitar Hero II, Forrest Gump, American Pop, House of Cards, The Devil's Rejects, Guitar Hero: Smash Hits, Rock Band 3, ER, Everybody Loves Raymond, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Californication, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Free Birds, That '70s Show, Flushed Away, Chicken Little, The Simpsons and Family Guy.[10][11]

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  6. 6.0 6.1 Fry, Jason. "Rock's Oldest Joke: Yelling 'Freebird!' In a Crowded Theater" in The Wall Street Journal. March 17, 2005. Retrieved June 9, 2014.
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