Saturday, January 28, 2012

Standards: Free Bird

Lynyrd Skynyrd: Free Bird


I have thousands upon thousands of cover songs in my collection, comprising hundreds upon hundreds of takes on scores and scores of songs generally considered standards, from all genres and source types - Tin Pan Alley, Childe Ballads, Appalachian songs, American Jazz, the Christian hymnal, overcovered country, bluegrass, motown, pop, folk and rock and roll classics, and more. I mean, isn't pretty much every Dylan and Beatles song a standard by now? Do I really want to post yet another favorite version of bluegrass classic Rain and Snow? Heck, I just spent the afternoon compiling 18 of my favorite covers of Townes Van Zandt's If I Needed You for an in-depth exploration of divergent coverage over at Cover Lay Down, and I'm not even convinced that THAT song should be considered a standard, given how often my concert-going guests fail to recognize it as a cover when they hear it alongside me.

Which is to say: the challenge of being the resident coverblogger when this sort of theme comes up is that I get completely overwhelmed: after years of deep pursuit and collection, I know too much to approach this topic any way but sideways. But I couldn't let this week go by without posting something. And so I spent the week thinking, and rejecting dozens of ways to take on our theme sincerely. And, in the end, I decided to come in at the eleventh hour to post a goddamn ORIGINAL - in part because, as it turned out, to both my initial surprise and, upon further thought, my sincere acceptance and relief, I had not a single cover of the song in my collection at all.

In fact, I even had to go out and track down the original track just to bring it to the table. And then I actually listened to it, all the way through.

And you know what? It turns out Free Bird is a really great song.

This song - which fittingly first found release as the final track of Lynyrd Skynyrd's debut album - is hardly ever covered in the studio, giving it but a dubious claim to the status of "classic song" or standard as typically defined here this week. But thanks to the long-running cultural meme of yelling out its name at concerts, despite the Wall Street Journal's assertion that most artists hate the song and never play it, I'd argue that this song is both a) the most heard song title of all time, and b) almost definitely the most covered song in live performance ever, even if many of those covers are but fragments played to tease and acknowledge the joke before moving on.

Oh, sure, Yesterday is famously the most covered song in the history of recorded music. I'm sure you all know a couple of verses of Blowing In The Wind, too, and hear it in a totally different voice than the one that echoes in my head. But if you're a regular concertgoer, I bet you've heard the first few bars of Free Bird played and sung in concert more than any Beatles or Dylan song, bar none. And I'll bet you can sing along, too - for the first four lines or so, anyway. I bet you know all the air guitar moves for it, too.

And if that doesn't make it a standard, I'll eat my 1-terabyte external hard drive.

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