The Meaning of “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” is nine minutes long, but its cultural and musical impact is endless.
The song was first released in 1973 as the closing track of the band’s debut album Lynyrd Skynyrd (pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd). The lyrics carry the emotional depth that Lynyrd Skynyrd is known for, capturing both the liberation and the loneliness of freedom. Although the lyrics end around the five-minute mark, the song continues for four more minutes with one of the most notable guitar parts in rock history. In Lynyrd Skynyrd’s massive discography, “Free Bird” marks one of their greatest musical accomplishments.
If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me?
‘Cause I have to travel now
‘Cause there’s too many places I need to seeand
When “Free Bird” was released, some fans speculated that it was a tribute to Allman Brothers Band guitarist Duane Allman, who died in 1971. The guitar riffs at the end are reminiscent of those of Allman, making people think it was him. . While the band sometimes dedicated the song to Allman during performances, “Free Bird” was actually written years before his death.
The lyrics tell the story of a man who leaves a woman because he can’t bring himself to settle down with her. He expresses that he doesn’t want to hurt her, but there are too many things he wants to do before committing to a relationship.
But if I stay here with you, girl
Things just couldn’t be the same
‘Cause I’m as free as a bird now
And this bird that you can’t change
These words were inspired by a real-life experience of Skynyrd guitarist and songwriter Allen Collins. His girlfriend Kathy Johns actually asked him the question, If I leave here tomorrow, will you still remember me? He wrote his lyrics and used them as inspiration for the song.
Goodbye, goodbye, baby, it’s been sweet love, yeah yeah
Although this feeling that I can’t change
But please don’t take it so bad
‘Cause the Lord knows I’m to blame
Despite the finality of the lyrics, Collins and Johns eventually married in 1970.
Collins worked on the song for about two years before the band first performed it. When frontman Ronnie Van Zant heard Collins and Gary Rossington play it one night, he ended up writing the rest of the lyrics.
“We were seated, and [Van Zant] asked Allen to play those chords again,” Rossington recalled in an interview. “After about 20 minutes Ronnie started singing ‘If I Leave By Tomorrow’, and it was going great. It wasn’t anything heavy, just a love song about leaving town , It is time to move on.
When the band first recorded “Free Bird” in 1972, there were no guitar solos at the end. It lasted seven and a half minutes, but they still didn’t feel like it was over.
They continued to work on the song while creating the album, and the nine-minute “Free Bird” was picked up. Many label executives warned against putting such a long song on an album because it could not be played on the radio. To solve this problem, the group created a separate recording of “Free Bird”. The radio version was just under five minutes long, with the instrumental cut to just one minute.
Impact on fans
“Free Bird” worked perfectly as the album’s closing track, so it was always the last song the band played at gigs. After the tragic loss of Van Zant, his brother and bandmate John Van Zant became too emotional to sing it on stage. Instead, the band played the song like an instrument, letting the crowd fill in the lyrics.
One of the things that makes “Free Bird” so special is that it means something different to everyone who listens to it. In a commentary on the song in 2010, John Van Zant explained that each listener feels a different connection to it. “This kid was telling me they used it for their graduation song and not too long ago someone told me they used it at a funeral. And really it’s a love song. It’s one of the few that Lynyrd Skynyrd ever had,” he said.
Once the lyrics are cut, the song is left entirely to the listener. What emotions does the music release? How do you think the story ends? Everyone can have a different interpretation. There is no right answer. That’s the beauty of “Free Bird.”
Listen to “Free Bird” below and let us know your interpretation. (Comments below)
Photo: Doltyn Snedden / EBM Media PR