Seven Skynyrd Songs Better than "Sweet Home Alabama" or "Free Bird"
Allow Rocks Off to let the cat out of the bag for a second: this evening at the Woodlands, Lynyrd Skynyrd will close with "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Free Bird." Taking nothing away from either song - they are, after all, a serious rebuke to Dixie-haters and Southern racists alike disguised as a poolside party anthem and the American "Stairway to Heaven," respectively - they are, shall we say, a shade overexposed at this point. Unfortunately, "Alabama" and "Free Bird" have come to dominate the public's idea of Skynyrd so completely that these days only diehard fans and serious Southern Rock scholars know the band's catalog is loaded with lesser-known treasures - a couple of which the boys and girls from Jacksonville might even play tonight. "Call Me the Breeze": Written by Oklahoma-born boogie man J.J. Cale ("Cocaine," "After Midnight"), "Breeze" is five minutes of pure freewheeling pleasure. Frontman Ronnie Van Zant extols the itinerant rock and roll lifestyle at a time before he realized he might be in over his head. Find It: Second Helping (MCA, 1974)
"That Smell": A few short years later, Van Zant was burnt out and knew it, capturing it all in this druggy, bitter blues. "Oak tree you're in my way" is one of the most evocative lines he ever wrote. Find It: Street Survivors (MCA, 1977) "The Ballad of Curtis Loew": After the first half of "Free Bird," "Simple Man" is probably Skynyrd's best-known ballad, but this slow acoustic slide drips authenticity as Van Zant humanizes the archetypal story of an elder black man teaching a wide-eyed white kid all about the blues. Find It: Second Helping
"Gimme Back My Bullets": Van Zant at his surliest, chafing against the "pencil-pushers" who run his record company and vowing he's done with rock-star excess. Built around a whopper of a guitar/bass riff that recalls Houston-born funk doctor Johnny "Guitar" Watson. Find It: Gimme Back My Bullets (MCA, 1976) "Workin' for MCA": In the days before punk, bands criticizing their record companies in song was generally frowned upon. The Rolling Stones' "The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man" is one example, but Skynyrd's hard-rocking, dead-on "Workin' for MCA" - "Along come Mister Yankee Slicker, sayin' maybe you what I want" - is probably the best. Find It: Second Helping "I Know a Little": Even casual fans know Skynyrd is all about the chops, and this deep cut swings so hard it'll give you whiplash. Find It: Street Survivors "Honky Tonk Night Time Man": Skynyrd's country roots were never very far from the surface, and the band brings them front and center on this boogie-woogie Merle Haggard cover. Find It: Street Survivors Close Calls: "Simple Man," "You Got That Right," "Whiskey Rock-a-Roller," "I Need You," "I Ain't the One," "Tuesday's Gone," "Down South Jukin'"
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