This year, Lynyrd Skynyrd announced that their coming tour will be their last. In that spirit, we should agree as Americans to never subject ourselves to “Free Bird” ever again.
The first and greatest sin of “Free Bird” is length. This dumb song is over nine minutes long. You could listen to all of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and still have time to hear “Killer Queen” as a chaser in that space of time.
The length is why “Free Bird” is the go-to jukebox choice for people who don’t understand how enjoying things work. They’ll play the nine-minute Lynyrd Skynyrd song at a bar on a jukebox and say they’re “getting their money’s worth.” Yes, technically you are buying more minutes of music. But those minutes are not pleasant. You’re ripping yourself off and cheating everybody at the bar.
“Free Bird” starts as a slow rolling bummer then crests into a tsunami of bullshit. It aspires to be epic. But like an Ayn Rand novel, it has epic length and epic pretensions but never achieves epic importance.
“Free Bird” is a break-up song told from the perspective of the person initiating the break-up. Weirdly, there’s no catalyzing incident behind the breakup. They didn’t fight with or cheat on each other. The guy is a shitty dude bailing on a girl who doesn’t want him to go. The lyrics read like what a deadbeat dad would scribble in a birthday card sent out months too late. He has to leave because there are “too many places [he] has to see” and that “things just wouldn’t be the same” if he stayed. 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 for some change. I wish a woman would sing a “Real Roxanne” style rebuttal about how the guy is pushing 30 and needs to shape up and take himself seriously.
Instead, the song ends with a guitar solo played by three 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 or build to it. It starts fast and ends fast. There’s no soul or personality. Just a blur of blues notes. It’s like sitting in the middle of a Guitar Center while balding dudes wail on Les Pauls they’ll never buy.
But credit where credit’s due: the “Free Bird” scored church scene in Kingsmen: The Secret Service owns. But part of what makes “Free Bird” a perfect choice for that scene is the song’s inherent cynicism. The song plays while an elite spy slaughters scores of innocent people in a pulse-quickening frenzy of tightly choreographed murder. It’s a hat tip to the brutal heartlessness at the core of a song for people who only have empathy for themselves.
“Sweet Home Alabama” sucks too, but at least it’s only half the length.