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Lots of Space
November 23, 2010 9:31 AM   Subscribe

There were few more important bands in the 1970’s than Free, and even fewer whose significance has been so underestimated or misunderstood by posterity. Lyrically utterly conventional, sonically they were revolutionary.

Best known for their pop hit All Right Now, Free's deeper cuts are well known among 70s music aficionados for being "a music of clean, clear, angular surfaces."

Fire and Water
Mr. Big
The Stealer
Ride on a Pony
Seven Angels
The Worm
Be My Friend
I'll Be Creepin
Heartbreaker
Songs of Yesterday

"Never having quite fulfilled their vast potential, they split in 1973, with the tough professionals Rodgers and Kirke forming the kernel of the slicker Bad Company, while Kossoff and Fraser were left to make their own tragic and (in Fraser’s case) ultimately heroic journeys."

Documentary in 6 Parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
posted by Potomac Avenue (75 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't know about "revolutionary" - there are some great blue-eyed soul moments in there, though.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:36 AM on November 23, 2010


I hate that song "All Right Now" more than life itself. Some focus group has decided that all radio audience always love it. I must have heard it 5,000 times by now. What a piece of stupid, uninspired hackery.
posted by msalt at 9:38 AM on November 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


This is a fantastic post, and I can't wait to dig into it more. But first, a message to the author of that first link: The next time you consider adding an unnecessary adjective to a description, put down the thesaurus. Immediately.

The result is a music of clean, clear, angular surfaces, in which Simon Kirke’s unfussy, metronomic drumming provides the deep-piled foundations for Andy Fraser’s sensitive, tentative bass and Rodgers’ misty vocals. Most remarkable is the guitar playing of Paul Kossoff, which, forever weighing the balance between restraint and cathartic release, is at times almost impossibly piquant. A tragic character even by the desperate standards of rock music, Kossoff was an utterly broken man even before he had left his twenties.
posted by googly at 9:42 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Free were a very good hard rock band with a great vocalist in Paul Rodgers, but I'd hardly call them revolutionary. I think they did what lots of other bands at the time were doing, just a little better. That said, I'm really looking forward to watching that documentary and most likely breaking out a few Free albums, which I haven't listened to in ages.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 9:47 AM on November 23, 2010


When I think "rock singer", what I hear is Paul Rodgers. What a voice.

And while I understand msalt's distaste for the egregiously over-played "All Right Now", the song doesn't bother me at all. I'm a sucker for three-minute pop tunes with a good "whoa whoa YEAH!" in them.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:48 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


What a piece of stupid, uninspired hackery.

it must be so incredibly, horridly cold, dark and lonely where you are.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 9:49 AM on November 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Fuck you for putting the horrible, horrible All Right Now in my head. I wish you much physical harm and mental anguish.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 9:50 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Great band but the author definitely did some heroic over-thinking. Free was one of the finest British blues rock bands and their stripped down spacious sound was a contrast to The Who and Led Zeppelin's walls of sound. But you can find plenty of space in early Fleetwood Mac as well, or Blodwyn Pig, Savoy Brown, not to mention Bad Company or even Black Sabbath.
posted by Ber at 9:53 AM on November 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I love All Right Now. I put it in the same category as Joe Walsh's Walk Away, another song that always gets my fists pumping and my shower karaoke chops going. But then again I'm a child of the 70s and my first musical love was Kiss. All Right Now is just a great hook. And hooks rule when you are 10 and have tennis racket, a Fisher stereo, and a bed to jump up and down on.
posted by spicynuts at 9:54 AM on November 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


Who knew "All Right Now" was so polarizing?
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:55 AM on November 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


Certainly no one can resist the bong-rattling bass of Andy Fraser in the "All Right Now" break.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:56 AM on November 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


What a piece of stupid, uninspired hackery.

I wouldn't go that far, but I do know that I would die happy if I never had to hear that song again, given that it was pretty much all I heard during my college years (it was the school's fight song).
posted by blucevalo at 9:57 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


All right now baby, it's all right now
All right now baby, it's all right now
All right now baby, it's all right now (Baby)
All right now baby, it's all right now (Baby, baby, baby, it's all right)
All right now baby (All right now), it's all right now (It's all right, it's all right, it's all right)
All right now baby, it's all right now
All right now baby (We're so happy together), it's all right now (It's all right, it's all right, it's all right, everything is all right)
All right now baby, it's all right now

posted by Threeway Handshake at 9:59 AM on November 23, 2010


"All Right Now" is one of the great rock singles of the era, but I prefer that huge riff in "Fire and Water" (and "Heartbreaker" is a killer great blues rocker). As uncool as it is to say, I prefer Paul Rodgers work in Bad Company with Mick Ralphs on guitar. I'm a pop nerd and Bad Company made catchier singles (but the albums were a bit on the thin side).
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 10:01 AM on November 23, 2010


Oh threeway handshake, you're making my feet smile!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:02 AM on November 23, 2010


it must be so incredibly, horridly cold, dark and lonely where you are.

Oh, it is! Bereft of the warm, bright and heartfelt blast of joy that is "All Right Now," that magical tale of a street pickup turned into a loveless one-night stand, I weep and gnash my teeth, struggling vainly to console myself with inferior music of that same era such as Exile on Main Street, Live at Leeds and Townes Van Zandt's Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas. Thank you for your kind, caring empathy, kind sir!
posted by msalt at 10:04 AM on November 23, 2010 [9 favorites]


in before anyone raises the parking rate
posted by Eideteker at 10:04 AM on November 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


Rodgers voice got alotta chest hair on it.

Music in general could use a bit of that right now.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:08 AM on November 23, 2010


Also how many bands has that dude been in?
I never realized he was the voice of Free.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:09 AM on November 23, 2010


Never got them myzelf, but I look forward to checking out some of these tracks. The Gang of Four, Generation X, punk journalist Jon Savage and Mick Jones of the Clash all idolized them, which seems pretty weird and makes me wonder of there's some element I missed.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:13 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Senor Cardgage: Also how many bands has that dude been in?

Paul Rodgers sang in the reunited Queen which, even though he did a fine job, seemed wrong. He was also in the Firm with Jimmy Page in the 80's. They're probably best know for "Radioactive".
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 10:17 AM on November 23, 2010


What a piece of stupid, uninspired hackery.

the tone and vibrato on that guitar solo is not as easy to get as it sounds - the bass part's not as easy as it sounds, either - just because they don't hit people over the head with how good they are doesn't mean there's not some great technique going on

the lyrics are kind of dumb, but you don't listen to 70s hard rock bands for the lyrics, anyway

but they didn't invent space - hell, grand funk railroad used space in some of their songs
posted by pyramid termite at 10:18 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


All Right Now is a prime example of the evil of corporate radio. It's very possible this song wouldn't anger/disgust so many people had it not become heavy-rotation fodder for the Classic Rock™ format. I mean...it could have easily survived being played, maybe, a couple of time a week. Maybe even once a day. But, seemingly, every freaking hour? When there's so much good "classic" stuff that never gets played? C'mon...
posted by Thorzdad at 10:20 AM on November 23, 2010


I like Free. I like All Right Now. But at any moment in time, there were several hundred more "important" bands and Free has in no way been underestimated or misunderstood. Free were about as important as Foghat, whom I also like but don't overestimate.
posted by 3.2.3 at 10:21 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


There she stood in the street
smilin' from her head to her feet;

I said, "Hey, what is this?
Now baby, maybe,
maybe she's in need of a kiss."


I mean, that's just aggressively dumb. If Free and Bad Company deserve credit for anything, it's as buttrock pioneers whose tradition of songs about girls, partying, and partying all night long would be perfected by bands like Grand Funk and Foghat and carry through 80s hair metal all the way to modern-day equivalents like Nickelback and Buckcherry.

Not that that's entirely a bad thing.
posted by calculon at 10:21 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Townes Van Zandt has pretty good space on his songs, too. And Lungs rocks harder than All Right Now any day, even acoustic.
posted by msalt at 10:22 AM on November 23, 2010


the key to the Free sound to me is the lyrical, simple melody lines that kossof often tosses in mid-song or mid-solo, among the amazingly restrained and warm beats. Gang of Four may have bit the hollowness, but to me the best analogue is early Weezer. It's like being caressed by a bludgeon.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:22 AM on November 23, 2010


Not that that's entirely a bad thing.

No, it is.

And I think a lot of people are confusing "space" for "watered down."
You know who else had space?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 10:25 AM on November 23, 2010


I really hate the idea that we can't go back and reconsider one or another artist from an earlier time, without having to call them the second coming. Free was not one of the most important bands of the 70's, that does not mean they weren't any good or that their music didn't deserve more attention.They were not, however, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles or Bob Dylan (or Led Zeppelin, or the Stones or the Stooges) or any number of musicians who were very influential. There were a few hundred bluesy rock bands in 1970 or which Free was one. They are mostly noted for being the precursor to Bad Company, who were much more popular while being much less interesting (not an uncommon phenomena in pop music).
posted by doctor_negative at 10:26 AM on November 23, 2010 [11 favorites]


doctor_negative wins thread.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:27 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


msalt: "What a piece of stupid, uninspired hackery."

I think you may have mistaken them for 'Spiritualized' but hey - we all make mistakes.

I love that first link because it's obvious the guy is an over-the-top fanboi and he has no shame about it. Good for him.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:29 AM on November 23, 2010


Why hasn't jonmc commented yet?
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:32 AM on November 23, 2010


Spiritualized®.
posted by blucevalo at 10:33 AM on November 23, 2010


Thanks for this! Back in secondary school, one of my mates' elder brother had a 45 of Wishing Well. We thought this was very cool. I think I put it on a mix tape next to Golden Earring's 'Radar Love.'
posted by carter at 10:43 AM on November 23, 2010


Oh, Free.

For a second I thought this was about Sweet, and I got really excited. Now there's a band I want to learn more about. (Off to Wikipedia now.)

Carry on...
posted by jetsetsc at 10:46 AM on November 23, 2010


I've been enjoying Free's "Mouthful of Grass," since hearing it on Jon Savage's Meridian 70 comp.
posted by ajourneyroundmyskull at 10:55 AM on November 23, 2010


What Senor Cardgage said.
posted by elmaddog at 11:02 AM on November 23, 2010


Yeah seriously.

The Sweet were a million times cooler than this stuff.

jetsetsc, make us an FPP and be sure to include a video for "Hell Raiser"
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:03 AM on November 23, 2010


And hooks rule when you are 10 and have tennis racket, a Fisher stereo, and a bed to jump up and down on.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:08 AM on November 23, 2010


If everyone here thinks it's so overplayed, why are you still listening to the radio? 'All Right Now' is a fine song to hear once a year or so. If you're listening to corporate radio stations all the time, you deserve to get sick of hearing it.
posted by echo target at 11:13 AM on November 23, 2010


Not only were they the first modern band, they were also the first truly European one.

this is completely ridiculous and meaningless. Free were one of a dogpile of contemporaneous European bands who syncretized existing american traditions. 'space' wasn't even a particularly European innovation in blues-rock (case in point, the first couple Canned Heat records). Free were exceptionally good at what they did, but nothing about them was particularly 'European' in my estimation, no trace of any European musical or artistic traditions. Henry Cow and Fairport Convention and even Procol Harum did a lot more to introduce European musical idioms into rock music in the same era.
posted by tealsocks at 11:14 AM on November 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


As uncool as it is to say, I prefer Paul Rodgers work in Bad Company with Mick Ralphs on guitar.

I prefer Mick Ralphs' work with Ian Hunter in Mott the Hoople.

Now, there was an underrated band.
posted by timeistight at 11:17 AM on November 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


What doctor_negative said, x2.

Also: it's pop music, people. It was written to be popular immediately, not popular forever. There were far, far worse things that came out of the same period. Where's your God now? And where's my ear bleach?
posted by mosk at 11:25 AM on November 23, 2010


agree with post. Free certainly wins the "hardest rocking band you don't think of as quite A-list" ribbon. Maybe not exactly the award musicians might choose when fantasizing about their future careers but a lot better than never making it past open-mic Tuesdays.


> Where's your God now? And where's my ear bleach?
> posted by mosk at 2:25 PM on November 23

mosk, being an experienced hand with the clicker I clicked on that one with the sound off and now don't have to use up any of my dramamine.
posted by jfuller at 11:33 AM on November 23, 2010


I totally see them now as laying the groundwork for AC/DC. Thanks for this post.
posted by not_on_display at 11:46 AM on November 23, 2010


Hey, man. Is that Freedom Rock?
posted by sourwookie at 12:00 PM on November 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


The Sweet were a million times cooler than this stuff.

Bay City Rollers revival or STFU!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:03 PM on November 23, 2010


When I was about ten (so I'm excused), I owned a Three Dog Night Album on which they covered the stalker anthem "Creepin'". I didn't know it was a cover till now. I never thought I'd hear it again - and am perfectly happy to make this the last time.

Good post though.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 12:09 PM on November 23, 2010


> mosk, being an experienced hand with the clicker
> posted by jfuller at 2:33 PM on November 23 [+] [!]

Heh, maybe not so much after all. Forgot I already dropped by yootoob earlier today and still had scripting and cookies allowed for the site from then. Now it thinks I like "hooked on a feelin'" and suggests it. Pride? The gods, they laff. Oh well, off scripting dump cookies dump .sol files grumble hmpf.
posted by jfuller at 12:27 PM on November 23, 2010


If you badmouth Spiritualized again I will cut you.
posted by Babblesort at 12:34 PM on November 23, 2010


Later innovators like Hendrix and The Who

The influence of Hendrix and The Who came years before Free.
posted by Ardiril at 12:36 PM on November 23, 2010


The Sweet!!! Ballroom Blitz rules.

Great song for covers, too -- Batmobile - Krokus - or how about Motorhead and The Damned together?
posted by msalt at 12:41 PM on November 23, 2010


Sorry, jfuller.

>Now it thinks I like "hooked on a feelin'" and suggests it.

So very, very sorry...
posted by mosk at 12:42 PM on November 23, 2010


There were far, far worse things that came out of the same period

Terribly blah song that somehow wound up with a kick-ass hook. Believe it or not, earlier today I had a snippet of a few seconds of the intro running in a loop on my MP3 player for a minute or two. Love me some chanting caveman lyrics.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:44 PM on November 23, 2010


> I never thought I'd hear it again - and am perfectly happy to make this the last time.

If you like "I'll be creepin" fullertoob suggests you'll probably also love Night prowler by AC/u-know. Linked version of this heavy ditty, I'm glad to say, includes the tagline quote by Mork from Ork. 6:18.
posted by jfuller at 12:46 PM on November 23, 2010


the lyrics are kind of dumb, but you don't listen to 70s hard rock bands for the lyrics, anyway

I've mentioned this before, but I'm convinced that the key to AC/DC's longevity is that all their songs can be boiled down to the following themes: Rock and Roll, getting drunk, getting into it with the law, and simple metaphors involving "Hell" and and puns relating to "Electricity".

When it's that simple, it becomes much easier to be timeless.
posted by quin at 12:53 PM on November 23, 2010


Budgie. Now there was a band.
posted by Sailormom at 12:55 PM on November 23, 2010


Night prowler

Well, it was fun to count 6/8 time for a bit.

If the derail is in favour of stalker songs, then here is my vote.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 1:07 PM on November 23, 2010


Best known for their pop hit All Right Now,...

Ah, what would strippers dance to had they not been such a break-through band?
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:20 PM on November 23, 2010


Takes me right back to hanging out with my older cousins who were allowed to listen to cooler music than I was. Thanks!
posted by aught at 1:35 PM on November 23, 2010


I've mentioned this before, but I'm convinced that the key to AC/DC's longevity is that all their songs can be boiled down to the following themes: Rock and Roll, getting drunk, getting into it with the law, and simple metaphors involving "Hell" and and puns relating to "Electricity".

You forgot making sweet love with nice ladies (AKA "Giving the dog a bone"). I'm convinced that the key to AC/DC's longevity is that they make hard rock that really grooves, which is all too rare. Free also grooved at least some of the time, thus making this comment on-topic.
posted by biscotti at 2:02 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I totally see them now as laying the groundwork for AC/DC.

I knew there was a reason that I didn't like Free...
posted by greymullet at 2:04 PM on November 23, 2010


> I'm convinced that the key to AC/DC's longevity is...

can't help thinking that Malcolm Young's being either the best and cleverest or the just-barely-second-best (to Pete Townshend) rhythm guitarist ever to drive a rhythm-guitar driven band has something to do with it. I grant you searching for profundities in ACDC lyrics will never distract anyone from listening to What's Important.
posted by jfuller at 2:16 PM on November 23, 2010


the key to AC/DC's longevity is...

I once razzed my son about how dumb AC/DC is. He countered with the simple fact that they have never recorded a ballad. That is the key to their longevity.
posted by timeistight at 3:00 PM on November 23, 2010


Not true. They did one. And I've always thought that it worked pretty well because it's a traveling song. And while so unlike their other work, at the same time, so instantly identifiable as them.
posted by quin at 3:07 PM on November 23, 2010


I agree - AC/DC has a solid groove which most of their brethren did not. This little number is still the groove champion for hard rock - borrowing your keyboard riff from Stevie Wonder doesn't hurt but the key is The Beast on the drums. I believe Rolling Stone magazine called this song "the hardest rock ever played by humans"
posted by Ber at 3:09 PM on November 23, 2010


SWEET - Set Me Free (1974)
(note: fast tempo, flangers)
posted by ovvl at 4:31 PM on November 23, 2010


correction: (fast tempo, flangers, reference to "Free")
posted by ovvl at 5:00 PM on November 23, 2010


The first song I ever played in my first ever band was Fire and Water. I was on foreign exchange from the US to UEA in Norwich and had just learned guitar at age 19. I had never heard of Free and a Brit friend who had that big rock voice turned me on to it. Good times, and the riff was easy enough that I could feel like a rock star. The lead guitarist in my band was a coke addict, but it took me a while to figure it out because I didn't really know what cocaine was or consider the possibility of people being drug addicts (I hung out with the math and d+d geeks in high school). I think we actually did a pretty decent cover.

Nthing the "don't listen to corporate radio" thing. When I hear All Right Now, or Stairway or some other overplayed chestnut, it's generally the first time I've heard it in a couple of years and I can just enjoy it. In my case the temptation to ever turn to the local classic rock station was ended when it became Rush Radio a while back.
posted by freecellwizard at 7:48 PM on November 23, 2010


Not only were they the first modern band, they were also the first truly European one.

this is completely ridiculous and meaningless.

good catch - it is ridiculous (and dead wrong), but it's not meaningless - i'm thinking that bands like amon duul ii and can were some of the first truly european bands
posted by pyramid termite at 9:23 PM on November 23, 2010


There were far, far worse things that came out of the same period

oh, i can do a LOT WORSE than THAT

don't click on those - you will be sorry you did
posted by pyramid termite at 9:29 PM on November 23, 2010


but nothing beats the horror of this - do not click - you have been warned
posted by pyramid termite at 9:36 PM on November 23, 2010


Yeah, "All Right Now" is not a bad song so much as one that it's pretty easy to get sick of; if I'd heard "Rock and Roll All Night" half as much, I'd be sick of that too. I probably heard Bad Company's "Feel Like Making Love" as often, and I never got sick of that one.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:25 AM on November 24, 2010


"Bad Company" (the song) ain't half bad either. Don't know many of their other songs.
posted by msalt at 9:24 AM on November 24, 2010


OK, I just actually watched/listened to the wealth of links in this post (most of 'em anyway), and damn if you haven't really made me like Free, Potomac Avenue. I always really liked Paul Rogers' voice and singing style, but I never really gave this band a second thought beyond "All Right Now". Damn, there's some good music there.

So thanks.
posted by biscotti at 1:11 PM on November 24, 2010


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