(NOTE: Music That Sucks is the correct opinion of the author. If you disagree then this Northern Man don't need you around, anyhow.)
In the 1970's, there was a popular movement in Rock music; a movement from the Dixon side of the Mason-Dixon line. Don't get me wrong, there have been plenty of Southern acts before then (Elvis, to name a big one), but they didn't have that certain redneck je ne sais quoi that the bands of the '70's had. At the forefront of the Redneck Rock movement is, of course, Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Allen Collins, and guitarist Gary Rossington formed a band named My Backyard while attending high school in Jacksonville, Florida. Later on, bassist Leon Wilkeson and keyboardist Billy Powell came aboard and Rock's answer to the Beverly Hillbillies was born. They changed their name to Lynyrd Skynyrd as a joke on their gym teacher Leonard Skinner, who apparently had a thing for punishing students with long hair. They added drummer Bob Burns and began playing throughout the South, but with little success. With the Stars and Bars displayed prominately behind them, they slowly began to gain a following. The band then got lucky in 1972, when they were spotted by producer Al Kooper during a gig in Atlanta and signed to MCA Records.
In 1973 they released their debut album, Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd. The album contains four songs of note, including "Tuesday's Gone", which is slower than the usual Skynyrd fare but prominantly displays Van Zant's slow Southern drawl that I tend to believe is over-exaggerated. I mean c'mon, we all know Southerners love to throw their accents into overdrive everytime a Yankee is within earshot. The song itself makes the listener think they've taken way too many Quaaludes. The second song worth mentioning is "Gimme Three Steps", which better displays Skynyrd's crappy redneck hard rock style. I can imagine a group of toothless banjo players slapping their knees to this little ditty. Next up is "Simple Man", a song in which Van Zant screams about his mother having told him to be a"simple kind of man". Well he certainly didn't have to worry about that.
The major song on this album, and the most popular Skynyrd song of all, is "Freebird". This is actually a good song, with an excellent triple guitar duel after Van Zant has finished singing, but the rednecks have taken the one good Skynyrd song and driven it so far in the ground it was last spotted in Beijing. "Freebird", sometimes its original 12 minute album version but mostly the chopped up radio version, continues to get heavy radio play on classic rock stations throughout the South. "Freebird" was also the most popular song on tour, with fans pratically begging the band to play it. On these tours the band would routinely use their wives (who were also their cousins or sisters) as backup singers. With "Freebird" playing pratically non-stop, Skynyrd took off and a slew of Redneck bands began popping up on the scene.
Late in 1973 the band opened up for the Who on their Quadrophenia tour. The tour, along with the success of "Freebird" helped propel their second album, Second Helping (1974) to #12 on the album charts. The major single on this album became their biggest hit on the charts, the Redneck Opus "Sweet Home Alabama". The single, in which Skynyrd takes umbrage with Neil Young and his hit song "Southern Man" (which depicts the lynching of a Black man in good ol' Dixie), made the Top Ten singles chart. Having been born and raised in Connecticut, I cannot feel the whole Southern vibe of this (or any other) Skynyrd song. In fact, it gets tiresome thirty seconds into the track. Yeah, you're Southern, you're proud; we understand that. Is that all you have to say?
In '75-'76, Artimis Pyle would replace Burns on drums and Skynyrd would release two more studio albums and a live album, to moderate success. They had a minor hit off of 1975's Nuthin' Fancy with the annoying "Saturday Night Special". 1976's Gimme Back My Bullets was considered a failure, and their fans thought the band was getting soft. A double-live album, One More For The Road got the band back on track chart wise, becoming their second album to make the top ten.
In October of 1977 the band released their sixth album, Street Survivors. The record-pressing machines had barely cooled off when a privately chartered plane taking Lynyrd Skynyrd from Greenville, SC to Baton Rouge, LA crashed near Gillsburg, MS. Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and his sister/lover Cassie died and several band members were injured. The cover of Street Survivors had featured a picture of the band surrounded in flames, but the flames were taken away in future pressings. Just because people love freshly dead mucisians, the album became one of the band's biggest hits.
The ensuing years have not been kind to the surviving members of the band. A couple of bands that went nowhere were formed, Collins was in a car crash that left him paralyzed in 1986 and eventually killed him four years later. In 1987 the group reunited, replacing Van Zant with his younger brother Johnny. They went on a long reunion tour and began recording new material in 1991. During this time they were also made honorary colonels in the Alabama State Militia. I shit you not. The new Skynyrd eventually signed with the graveyard for washed-up '70's bands, CMC International, and continue to make sucky music that now no one but the most ardent redneck listens to. Perhaps Ronnie, Steve, and Allen got off lucky.
Lynyrd Skynyrd, music...that sucks!