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Lynyrd Skynyrd

     (pronounced leh-nerd skin-nerd)
(1973; MCA, 2001)
     Second Helping (MCA, 1974)
     Nuthin' Fancy (1975; MCA, 2004)
    Gimme Back My Bullets (MCA, 1976)
     One More From the Road (1976; MCA, 2001)
      Street Survivors (1977; MCA, 2001)
    Skynyrd's First…And Last. (MCA, 1978)
      Gold & Platinum (MCA, 1979)
    Best of the Rest (MCA, 1982)
    Legend (MCA, 1987)
     Southern by the Grace of God (MCA, 1988)
    Skynyrd's Innyrds (MCA, 1989)
    Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991 (Atlantic, 1991)
      Lynyrd Skynyrd (MCA, 1991)
   The Last Rebel (Atlantic, 1993)
     Endangered Species (Capricorn, 1994)
    Freebird: The Movie (MCA, 1996)
   Twenty (CMC, 1997)
     The Essential Lynyrd Skynyrd (MCA, 1998)
   Extended Versions: Encore Collections (BMG Special, 1998)
     Skynyrd's First: Complete Muscle Shoals (MCA, 1998)
   Lyve (CMC, 1998)
   Edge of Forever (CMC, 1999)
     The Millennium Collection (MCA, 1999)
    Solo Flytes (MCA, 1999)
     All Time Greatest Hits (MCA, 2000)
     Skynyrd Collectybles (MCA, 2000)
    Then and Now (CMC, 2000)
  Christmas Time Again (CMC, 2000)
     The Collection (PolyGram, 2001)
   Vicious Cycle (Sanctuary, 2003)
    Poison Whiskey (Lilith, 2005)
    Family (Hip-o Select, 2006)
    Gold (2006, Universal)
    20th Century Masters: The Millenium Collection Live (Geffen, 2007)
    God & Guns (Roadrunner, 2009)
      Authorized Bootleg: Live at Cardiff Capitol Theatre, Cardiff, Wales, November 4, 1975
     Authorized Bootleg: Live at Winterland San Francisco, California, 3/7/76

If the Allman Brothers invented Southern rock at the dawn of the Seventies, then Lynyrd Skynyrd perfected it as the decade wore on. These shaggy guitar troopers from Jacksonville, FL, really weren't the unequivocal rednecks or wasted all-night jammers of popular description. Their renewed appeal in the latter part of the Nineties—surprising after nearly a decade of being the butt of late-Seventies arena-rock jokes ("Freeee Bird!")—led to a surge of reissues, repackaged hits, and rarities collections.

Lynyrd Skynyrd boiled down its potent regional influences—blues, country, soul—into a heady, potentially crippling homebrew. They liked to play; those three lead guitars weren't just for show. But a taut command of rhythm drives even Skynyrd's lengthiest excursions. Overexposed as it is, the studio version of "Free Bird" (from [pronounced leh-nerd skin-nerd]) climbs to a dizzying height.

Guitarists Allen Collins and Gary Rossington formed the nucleus of Skynyrd's frontline. Bassist Leon Wilkeson and guitarist Ed King (formerly of the pop-psychedelic band Strawberry Alarm Clock!) rounded out the sound. Lead singer Ronnie Van Zant was the band's anchor; the gruff authority of his voice was matched by his forthright and forceful way with words. On pronounced, his take on Washington politics ("Things Goin' On") is as startlingly fresh as his perspective of local customs ("Mississippi Kid," "Poison Whiskey"). Producer Al Kooper adds keyboard sweetening to the slow-building "Tuesday's Gone" that sounds unnecessary; Skynyrd's tuneful guitar interplay provides just the right touch of sugar—and salt.

Second Helping served up the band's feisty hard-rock twang to a broad national audience. "Sweet Home Alabama" is the consummate Skynyrd platter; the guitars sigh and sting like a stiff breeze as Ronnie Van Zant draws a line in the dirt: "Well, I heard Mr. Young sing about her/I heard old Neil put her down/Well, I hope Neil Young will remember/Southern man don't need him around anyhow." But if Neil Young's anti-Southern anthems wounded Van Zant's pride, the singer hardly sounds like a card-carrying segregationist on "The Ballad of Curtis Loew." Skynyrd's tribute to a black grocery store owner who played the blues underlines the crucial role music plays in kicking down racial barriers. Though songs about the business of rock and life on the road became clichéd in the Seventies, Van Zant wrote some of the best, beginning with Second Helping's searing "Workin' for MCA," the reflective "Was I Right or Wrong," and the cautionary "The Needle and the Spoon."

Nuthin' Fancy kicks off with further proof of Van Zant's independent thinking; "Saturday Night Special," Skynyrd's hardest rocker, is a full-bore assault against handguns. The rest of the album never exactly slacks off, but aside from that opener, Skynyrd seems to be repeating itself on tracks like "On the Hunt" and "Am I Losin'." That goes double for Gimme Back My Bullets, especially on the band's cover of J.J. Cale's too-telling "I Got the Same Old Blues." While Skynyrd's musical strength hasn't diminished on these albums, the pressures of constant touring had a clear effect on the group's creativity. That said, live albums don't get much more exciting than One More From the Road. With new guitarist Steve Gaines stepping in for the departed Ed King, Skynyrd roars through a set of mostly earlier material and two wholly appropriate covers: Robert Johnson's "Crossroads" (with a nod to Cream) and Jimmie Rodgers' "T for Texas."

Street Survivors is much better than might have been expected. Gaines stimulated Van Zant's songwriting as well as axemen Rossington and Collins' playing. "What's Your Name," "That Smell," "You Got That Right," and "I Never Dreamed" mine familiar Skynyrd territory with a sharpened melodic focus and wide-ranging instrumental reach. What should have been the band's second coming turned out to be its swan song; Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and his sister, backup singer Cassie, were killed when the band's private plane crashed in late 1977—just days after Street Survivors' release.

After recovering from their loss, Gary Rossington, Allen Collins, Leon Wilkeson, and keyboard pounder Billy Powell hooked up with an assertive female vocalist named Dale Krantz a few years later. The Rossington-Collins Band's two albums—Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere (MCA, 1980) and This Is the Way (MCA, 1982)—flash the expected guitar heat, but the songs fall short of Skynyrd's imposingly high standards.

Surprisingly, the revamped-for-the-Nineties Lynyrd Skynyrd comes much closer to realizing Rossington-Collins' goal. A decade after the crash, Rossington rounded up Ed King, a then-wheelchair-bound Collins, and lead singer Johnny Van Zant (Ronnie's brother)—along with a few extra Southern rock luminaries—for a wonderfully potent live reunion. On Southern by the Grace of God, the younger Van Zant sings his brother's songs with spit and vinegar, but the performance lacks the youthful passion of One More From the Road. Though Collins died in 1990, Rossington's reunited Skynyrd hit the studio for a satisfyingly brash boogie session. Ultimately, however, Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991 fails to deliver the songwriting bite that Ronnie Van Zant gave the original band.

The new Skynyrd continued to tour and release albums throughout the Nineties, winning younger Southern rock converts, but the Ronnie Van Zant–less group could never match the grit and drive of the original lineup. Still, when Skynyrd took a cue from "MTV Unplugged" for Endangered Species, performing a handful of its classic songs in the studio on acoustic instruments, the result was remarkably fresh; Van Zant's songs never sounded so appropriately rustic. By the time the Johnny Van Zant-led Skynyrd released God & Guns in 2009, their sound had morphed into the sort of slick Nashvillie-ified country perfected by groups like Montgomery Gentry and Brooks and Dunn. (The sound apparently resonated with contemporary country fans: it debuted at Number Eighteen, the highest-charting album since 1977's Street Survivors.) Yet Skynyrd's Seventies legacy still looms large throughout: "Southern Ways," with its gospel choir, saloon-style piano and chord progression, sounds nearly identical to "Sweet Home Alabama."

The various posthumous releases of the original Skynyrd's music are completely eclipsed by the 1991 box set. Lynyrd Skynyrd mixes early demos, unreleased tracks, acoustic outtakes, live cuts, and acknowledged classics in a swaggering, impressive, three-disc package. Most of the other repackaged hits and live collections suffer, to varying degrees, from weak song selections, too-brief overviews and sluggish performances. The early Gold & Platinum and later Essential Lynyrd Skynyrd are the best two-disc retrospectives, while the budget-minded would do fine with the single-disc The Millennium Collection. In recent years, the band has been digging into their live vaults, delivering promising (although slightly hissy-sounding) live shows from their Seventies, Ronnie-led prime. On the 1975 show from Wales, the band slays "Gimme Three Steps," cowboy-bell-percussion and all; the rendition "Tuesday's Gone" from the '76 San Francisco gig flows along elegantly like a lava lamp.

Essential for die-hard fans are Skynyrd's First, the band's complete earliest Muscle Shoals recordings, and the rarities set Collectybles. The European-import Poison Whiskey focuses solely demo versions of early hits (dig the languid, psychedelic vibe of "Free Bird."). Family is a decent (if too brief) 16-track overview of the entire Skynyrd dynasty, including tracks from .38 Special, Johnny Van Zant Band, Rossington Collins Band and Van Zant. Solo Flytes omits Lynyrd Skynyrd tracks entirely, focusing instead on the generic bar-band boogie by various post-Skynyrd projects.

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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