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“Free Bird” is the Worst Song of All Time

lynyrd_skynyrd_-_free_birdAfter writing twice about “Stairway to Heaven,” there’s an obnoxious voice in my head yelling “play ‘Free Bird.'” Bear with me as I get it to shut up.

Some people will defend playing the nine minute Lynyrd Skynyrd epic on a jukebox at a crowded bar by saying they were “getting their money’s worth.”

Those people don’t understand money or how to enjoy things.

“Free Bird” starts as a slow rolling storm of a bummer then crests into a tidal wave of irritation. Congratulations. For the low price of $.75 you’ve tested the patience of a room full of drunks.

“Free Bird” wants to to be an epic but, like an Ayn Rand novel, has epic length and epic pretensions without epic importance.

It’s a break-up song, but it’s told from a position of power in the relationship, which kills its effectiveness as a breakup song. It’s a shitty dude bailing on a girl who wants him to stay. His defense doesn’t even rise to the level of shallow, saying there are “too many places [he] has to see” and that if he stayed “things just wouldn’t be the same.” That’s the kind of shit that gets a beer bottle thrown at you if you say it in real life.

Frankly, it sounds like this Free Bird could stand some changing. I wish there a woman sung a last verse about how the guy is pushing 30 and really needs to start taking himself seriously.

Instead, the song ends with a guitar section played by several guitarists who, presumably, couldn’t hear each other while they recorded. The notes mesh together without any sense of relation to each other. There’s no dynamic, no build. It starts fast and ends fast. There’s no soul or personality. Just a blur of blues notes. It’s like a Guitar Center with three middle age men testing out mid life crisis purchases.

Say what you will about “Stairway to Heaven.” Its guitar solo tells a fucking story. Jimmy Page took a long break from kidnapping underage groupies, practicing witchcraft and dabbling in heroin to compose a memorable, simple and melodic musical break.

“Sweet Home Alabama” sucks too, but at least it’s only half the length.

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Oh, Wait. Maybe Jimmy Page did Steal “Stairway” After All

A reader comment has me reconsidering my stance on Jimmy Page’s authorship of “Stairway to Heaven.”

Not all the way reconsidering. I’m probably about a tenth less sure of my original position.

The thing is, however, I’m almost positive that Jimmy Page learned the guitar instrumental “Cry me a River” by Davy Graham, which includes several sections that sound far more like “Stairway” than Spirit’s “Taurus.”

The wistful black and white footage is taken from a 1959 BBC special about the then-rising trend of guitar music in Britain. Page would have been 15 when it aired. There were two television channels in the UK at the time. An already accomplished guitarist, Page almost certainly would have watched the show.

Also almost certain is Graham’s influence on Page as a guitarist. Graham pioneered the DAGAD guitar tuning, which Page used in Led Zeppelin. At the very least, Page would have been familiar with this performance. It’s probable that he would have learned how to play it and years later, either consciously or not, incorporate elements of it into “Stairway.”

But more importantly, it’s a really nice little performance. The film has a French New Wave feel and there’s a pretty girl and a funny racist balloon. It’s worth your time. Thanks to Sam for the recommendation.

UPDATE: And thanks to Rob for pointing out that the balloon has a witch doctor caricature face on it and not, as I initially thought, just a cartoon face. Woops!


May 29, 2014 · 12:31 pm

Radio DJs: Please Only Play the Album Version of “Let it Be”

“Let it Be” isn’t really that good a song, in the end. It’s a churchy, preachy heaping helping of Paul McCartney sugar, a distant echo of the far superior epic Beatles piano ballad “Hey Jude.” But it has one thing going for it: a pretty good—not great, but pretty good—guitar solo. Sadly it also has three mediocre guitar solos as well.

The album version of “Let it Be” was nuanced to a high shine by convicted murderer/record producer Phil Spector. There are horns and strings all over it. And right in the middle is this kick down the doors, swaggering guitar solo. It’s the second one on the video above and it’s the most confident sounding. Not only does it come in big right on the one, it doesn’t hide behind waves of Leslie speaker oscillation. It’s rough and basic, but it’s got a lot of feeling.

The other three are varying degrees of terrible. Unfortunately, the single version is the one that is most often played on the radio. It’s always a letdown. DJs: please either play the album version or the obsessive fan remix below. Thanks.


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Glam Metal Hot Dogs

I just watched this video about 7 times. The cook is never tired!

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May 19, 2014 · 11:31 pm