I got my love gun loaded
With hundreds of kisses
Soon as I pull the trigger baby
There will be no misses
Twenty two Years before they wrote that brilliant song for that chewing gum advert in 1990, Free debuted with Tons of Sobs in what has to be one of the very best British debut LPs ever* and easily walks off with the 1537 award for Best British Debut LP With The Shittest Cover Art Of All Time Ever In History. True story.
Free were almost indecently young when they cut Tons of Sobs, bassist Andy Fraser was 16 – Christ when I was that age I still wanted to be an elf, never mind spending my time conspiring with Simon Kirke to lay down a pulsing heavy blues groove for Paul Rodgers to swagger his manly (19 year-old) stuff all over and for Paul Kossoff (18) to lay his own particular brand of immaculate pyrotechnics on. Considering how old they were that Free were even a half-decent band was pretty miraculous – that they were miraculously great was a whole different thing <Note to self: Check thesaurus for word meaning ‘nine times better than a freaking miracle’>. That Island Records picked up on them was remarkable too and that they handed the project over to Guy Stevens** was equally serendipitous.
Want to know what the fuss is about? well overlook the big hitters like ‘The Hunter’ and ‘I’m a Mover’ for now and zero straight in on ‘Goin’ Down Slow’. In the wrong hands this track could have been a slow and lingering death for the listener; an 8-minute Muddy Waters cover? ordinarily I’d show you the door for that, yawning mightily and possibly helping you to a chunk of my shoe leather in the process. In the hands of an excited and excitable young band a rare alchemy takes place right before your very ears. Heavy electrified blues never sounded as raw and potent as this again^. It’s a team effort of course but just listen to the playing of Kossoff here, never a note wasted, never a string bent unnecessarily, never a flourish for its’ own sake anywhere; it exhilarates and saddens me at the same time. The ‘piano thumping’ of Steve Miller adds mightily to the track too. Perfection.
This being 1968 we’re treated to a slight pastoral oddity to open and close Tons of Sobs called ‘Over The Green Hills’, parts I and II, donchaknow. It’s a rather nice opening too, evincing a gentleness and softness that ‘Worry’ swiftly boots into the long grass, menacing the listener thusly:
If its the cold black night
That’s eating up your heart
The cold damp sweat
Keep you and sleep apart
But it’s all about the strut by this point, the whole band are clearly having a ball, none more so than Rodgers who gives it some serious welly. Has there ever been a better white blues voice?^^ if so, I haven’t heard it yet. He never strains, he never shrieks, even when he’s giving it absolutely everything. Whenever I play Free, which is a lot at the moment, Mrs 1537 always comments on just how manly Mr Rodgers’ voice is and who am I to contradict her?^^ You want manly? you got it on ‘Wild Indian Woman’, with lots of juvenile double entendres (‘You don’t need your horses baby, you got me to ride’), like it was put together by a bunch of horny teenagers, or something.
Free hit manly overdrive on ‘I’m a Mover’ and ‘The Hunter’ on the flip side of the LP and damn, damn fine they are too. Especially their supercharged version of the latter, I mean I love the Albert King original but Free strip all its’ slickness away and exchange it for some real fight and bite. As an aside, it is good to finally trace the origins of the love gun imagery back to Albert King in terms of recorded music (Born Under a Bad Sign, 1967), renowned musicologist as I am my unpublished research does show that there is a reference to ‘le trebuchet d’amour’ in certain overly ribald 17th century love ballads.
‘Moonshine’ is another real favourite of mine, a slower meaner blues, with some great quiet/loud transitioning and another great exercise in precision and poise for Paul Kossoff as well as a set of lonely lyrics that a certain Mr O Osbourne would have been very proud to call his very own,
Sitting in a graveyard
Waiting for the dawn
Leaning on my tombstone
Till the night is gone
This is just a brilliant track, flawless even. I hereby undertake to listen to it in a graveyard at night, just to maximise the awesomeness of it all in context^* and you know me, I consider that a challenge before the whole human race and I ain’t gonna lose. We’ll brush past ‘Sweet Tooth’ (Spoiler Alert: It’s just all about shagging and an unsubtle sex/sugar metaphor) which is the only real misstep on Tons of Sobs, despite some more excellent guitar and piano interplay.
I am/was/will be just completely knocked out by Tons of Sobs, Free would go on to record some better tracks and in their next LP, umm, Free would come very close to equalling it but they never bettered their debut album. The very fact that we never seem to worship Free as openly and devoutly as we do some of their contemporaries is a mystery to me, they were a source of so much greatness, four brilliant players who came together and made something even greater than the sum of all their individual talents.
That LP cover is still a bit shit though!*^
*yes, HMO I am including Roachford’s one in that count too! Strong words, I know.
**loony/impresario/Chairman of Chuck Berry’s fan club beloved hereabouts for his work with Mott The Hoople.
^yes, I do know what I’m saying there vis-à-vis that other, quite famous, crew who debuted the following year with their own eponymous album. Give me Free any time.
^^that’s one of them tricky rhetorical thingys; you know like ladies use when they say things like ‘Would you like to cook tonight?’, or ‘How about it then, big boy?’
^*but only if it’s a warm well-lit and not remotely spooky graveyard. And ‘night’ is a very relative term really, it could well mean any time after midday in my view.
*^I mean, a leopard, a bunny wabbit, a Mickey Mouse toy in a see-through coffin (?), cacti and gravestones? What the puck?! Maybe they should also have invested in a cool metal logo, with loads of rivets and a cartoon zombie mascot thing too; that would have worked.