Saturday, February 05, 2005

8-Track Memories - Lynyrd Skynyrd

In honor of the Super Bowl being played in Jacksonville this weekend, I'm writing about the most famous band to hail from that city, Lynyrd Skynyrd (no, they weren't from Alabama!).This legendary Southern-rock band featured the three-guitar attack of Gary Rossington, Allen Collins, and Ed King (later replaced by Steve Gaines). Ronnie Van Zant sang and co-wrote almost all of the group's songs.

When the band's plane crashed in a Mississippi swamp, killing Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and Cassie Gaines (a back-up singer, Steve's sister), I was only seven years old. A couple years later, my dad bought Gold & Platinum, a two-record collection of the band's best songs. He taped the LPs onto a 90-minute 8-track, filling up the extra time with several songs by faux-Southern Creedence Clearwater Revival (coincidentally, CCR frontman John Fogerty is going to perform at the Super Bowl Tailgate Party on Sunday). I liked that 8-track so much that I collected all of Skynyrd's albums, no easy feat for a nine-year-old kid.

Gold & Platinum was the first of many Skynyrd compilations, and it turned out to be a decent sampling of their career. The hits are all there, of course, as well as all of the good songs from their mediocre middle albums. The collection's most glaring flaw, however, is that Second Helping, one of their best albums, was represented solely by "Sweet Home Alabama." I suppose they were limited by what would fit on two records, and songs like "Free Bird" and "Tuesday's Gone" took up a lot of space. For a new fan, I would recommend The Essential Lynyrd Skynyrd (2 CDs) or the Lynyrd Skynyrd box set (3 CDs) instead.

I've never listened to the "new" Skynyrd with Ronnie's brother, Johnny, but I still enjoy the older stuff. In fact, this is the first "8-Track Memories" band that I actually went back and listened to before writing. Their first two albums were my favorites, even with all the cracks and pops of my old LPs. I reveled in every change in pace of the guitars on Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd's "Free Bird" (still a great song despite overexposure), and hearing "Call Me The Breeze" from Second Helping again was downright rapturous (perhaps the most egregious omission from Gold & Platinum).

The Drive-By Truckers put out a great concept album about Ronnie Van Zant and George Wallace, among other things, called Southern Rock Opera a few years ago. I was completely blown away the first time I listened to it.


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