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Simple Man - Lynyrd Skynyrd

Back in the mid 1970's, some friends and I attended what was called an "Emancipation Disco", which was a disco where the women asked the men to dance, as opposed to the then norm, where the men alone would make the invitations. Also common at the time, was the habit amongst groups of young women who wanted to dance but didn't want to be pestered by men, of placing their handbags in a tidy pile on the dance floor, and then dance around them. This had the duel benefit of preventing them from being stolen and also sending out a clear "boys leave us alone" message.

In a sad attempt to satirize this practice, we "lads" put our wallets in the middle of the floor and danced around them. To compound our display of neanderthalism, eschewing the current trend for Philly soul and glam rock, we first asked the deejay to play "Freebird" by Southern US rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. The song, besides being a proclamation of outdated male independence,

( "...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 you cannot change

and the bird you cannot change

and this bird, you cannot change

Lord knows, I can't change..."

not to overstate things!) also was THE drunken blokey air guitar classic with a guit-ar solo that lasts for 4 minutes and 15 seconds, no less. It was a ineffectual act of defiance on our part: looking back, I presume no women wanted to dance with us so we were pretending we didn't care. But there's still no better rock track to drunkenly freak out to.

Lynyrd Skynyrd are an unique band. Few rock groups have attained such legendary status as they, largely because of just two absolutely classic genre defining tracks - the aforementioned "Freebird" and "Sweet Home Alabama", their riposte to Neil Young's "Southern Man" (see ) and the fact that two band members, lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Steve Gaines, died in a plane crash along with Gaines' sister and three others of the band's entourage when their chartered tour plane crashed on October 20th, 1977. The survivors and relatives of Van Zant and Gaines entered into an agreement that no-one would henceforth use the band's name again, for fear of exploiting the crash for profit. However, after a brief reunion tour in 1987, Van Zant and Gaines' widows sued the band, obtaining 30% of their earnings from the tour, and all future earnings, and agreeing that the band could continue to tour and record as long as it contained founder member and guitarist Gary Rossington and at least two pre-crash band members at any one time.

Rossington, the only ever-present band member since the crash and, indeed, since the formation of the group, died on March 5th of this year.

Of the band's 14 studio albums, the best is undoubtedly their first, "Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd", released in 1973 and containing several classic tracks including the aforementioned "Freebird". Rossington was the only living member of the original line-up that recorded it.

Rossington and Van Zant co-wrote the closer on Side One, the reflective and anthemic "Simple Man": it is what it preaches, sentimental lyrics, chunky, heavy chords, a straightforward but rousing guitar solo by Rossington, a catchy, uplifting chorus chorus and homely, honest vocals by Van Zant. Good wholesome Southern stuff.

Despite the fact that only one pre-crash member remains in the band now that Gary Rossington has died, Lynyrd Skynyrd will continue to tour and record. Time has passed and the legal constraints seem to have quietly lapsed. And why not? For over 50 years Lynyrd Skynyrd, more than any other band, has personified the simple but earthy virtues of good old-fashioned southern rock. And Gary Rossington has been the glue that has kept the band together. It's a tribute as much to him as Van Zant and Gaines, that it should carry on without him.


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