Even though I’m not a massive fan one of my main musical time-travel fantasies involves seeing Lynyrd Skynyrd on a swelteringly hot summer’s night in Alabama in 1974. It just always seems like a perfect conjunction of time, place and spirit to me; not to mention the chance to see a genuine, legendary shit-kicking band in full flight. Sadly the best I’m likely to get these days is to spin Skynyrd’s Innyrds a few times, whilst sitting against a radiator drinking whisky* and trying to look mean. Man, you should see my legendary mean look – one glimpse and you’ll be singing,
Won’t you give me three steps,
Gimme three steps mister,
Gimme three steps towards the door?
Gimme three steps
Gimme three steps mister,
And you’ll never see me no more
Everyone likes ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, everyone – Neil Young loved it** and it was a dig at him. Look there are tribes of undiscovered pygmies in (devilishly clever link to last post, ahoy!) Papua New Guinea who could sing along to it on the radio. It’s a moment of genius, such as is rarely given to any decade, let alone band. I love it, truly. You can’t believe that funkiness, that joy, that tune, that, umm, defence of unsophisticated political views. It is sweet perfection.
Apart from that and digging old footage (there’s a great Old Grey Whistle Test version) of the band letting ‘Free Bird’ take full flight and the fact that ‘Tuesday’s Gone’ is used at a pivotal point in my all-time favourite film, Dazed And Confused, the rest of their stuff just never really grabbed me. Maybe I was just too young, too green, too British. I bought Skynyrd’s Innyrds for Mrs 1537 (favourite song ever = ‘Sweet Home Alabama’) back in July 2001 and here I am only 12.5 years later fast getting obsessed by it. Helped, it has to be said, by an incredibly good 16 page Mojo article on the band from many, many years ago, which is particularly good on their rise and the survivor’s difficulties after the crash.
Put out by MCA in 1989 Skynyrd’s Innyrds feels like it was put together for the fans with all the love a rat catcher has for his prey – wallop! there you go Goddamn rats; crap cover – check; no liner notes – check; no inner sleeve – check! This is product pure and simple, cheap production vales = maximum profit. The carrot for existing fans consisted of outtakes of ‘Double Trouble’ and ‘Free Bird’ – fair enough, the latter, all 10 minutes plus of it is pretty damn amazing – it’s astonishing that they could find some free corners to shoe horn in some extra guitars, but they did.
The ten tracks here are pretty safe selections and I find myself drawn far more to the tracks from the first two Skynyrd LPs – ‘Swamp Music’,’ Gimme Three Steps’, the JJ Cale cover, ‘Call Me The Breeze’. What strikes me the most here is their lightness of touch, their funkiness abounds, their classic rhythm section of Ed King and Bob Burns was wonderful, up there with Dusty Hill and Frank Beard and I wouldn’t ever say that lightly. Al Kooper’s production is spot on too, each instrument sounds together, separate and loved in the mix. Oh and there’s Ronnie.
The legends around Ronnie Van Zant have drifted into folklore and, umm, legend. Like all semi-psychotic tomcatting bruisers, there are plenty of stories about how nice he could be on occasion, personally I’d have stayed well clear. This was his band and his vision and he had the clout, the drive and necessary devilment to propel them where he wanted to go; or at least until his own and the band’s alcoholic and narcotic proclivities got in the way. Whilst not the best musically, the lyrics of ‘That Smell’ are brilliant, the line ‘The smell of death surrounds you’ given extra resonance by his own death. I love his voice, it really is a proper man’s voice, you can tell he lived, loved and fought most of these tales for real.
I think that’s a real chunk of the fun for lilly-livered, pinko, happily-married me in any case, the chance to be a hard-brawlin’, unfaithful son of a gun vicariously, every time I spin the LP. Except a hard-brawlin’, unfaithful son of a gun, without a charge sheet, or various debilitating genital rashes and with a pension. Although I do quote the lyrics to ‘Free Bird’ to Mrs 1537 whenever she tries to get me to do stuff around the house (‘and this bird you cannot change’), it doesn’t seem to get me anywhere.
I’ve already branched out a bit and e-Bayed the first two Lynyrd Skynyrd LPs this week^, so I’ll be a bit less of a novice soon. But until I’ve ingested them properly Skynyrd’s Innyrds will do me just fine.
*although I’m not really manly enough for it; Southern Comfort’s about as close as I get and although it’s got the ‘S’ word in it, I’m not really sure It’d cut it in that company.
**apparently thrilled to be name-checked in a song of that quality, he became friends with the band soon after. Let’s face it ‘Sweet Home …’, kicks ‘Southern Man’s ass all day long.
^ Look into my eyes – you are feeling sleepy – you can’t remember when I foolishly said I wasn’t going to buy any LPs this year – when you wake up you won’t remember this footnote – 3,2,1 wake …