Free

TrackAlbum
Broad DaylightFree
Easy On My SoulHeartbreaker
Oh I WeptFire and Water
Mr BigFire and Water
Ride On PonyHighway
Love You SoHighway
Little Bit Of LoveFree At Last
Songs Of YesterdayFree
Don’'t Say You Love MeFire and Water
All Right NowFire and Water

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Contributor: Neil Waite

Aristotle’s remark that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” had to be referring to Free. The chemistry between Free members was nuclear; Andy Fraser rocking back and forth with thumping bass riffs, Simon Kirke’s pounding concentration on drums, Paul Rodgers’ amazing bluesy vocals and Paul Kossoff’s guitar… well, no superlatives do Kossoff justice.

After Paul Kossoff’s death from a drug overdose in 1976, aged 25, his actor father toured schools with a one-man show called ‘Late Great Paul’, about his son. The show was an anti-drug message to young people. In 1993, I asked David Kossoff to come out of retirement and perform at the school where I worked and he agreed without hesitation. Over lunch he told me of Paul’s natural ability to watch someone play and then replicate the music, his passion for the guitar and his worry that the drugs would affect his playing, as of course they did. Afterwards, David’s dramatic performance captivated a crowd of 150+ 15-year-olds.

David Kossoff and me 1993

Above: David Kossoff with the writer of this post, Neil Waite.

Free’s debut album Tons Of Sobs hit the world in 1969. At the time of recording, the band were young and relatively inexperienced. Andy Fraser was a tender 16 years of age. Despite this it’s a dark but impressive debut. The big song was a reworking of Albert King’s The Hunter, written by Booker T. and the MGs & Carl Wells. But for me the highlight was the beautiful Over The Green Hills which topped and tailed the album. Free recorded a longer version for a BBC session clocking in at just under 4 minutes which later became available as a bonus track on the remastered CD release. For me though, this was all about Free showing their potential and so it’s their subsequent releases that will constitute my topperten.

Interestingly, Free’s biggest moment wasn’t typical. The hit was, of course, Fraser & Rodgers’ simple two-chord stomp All Right Now, which reached No.2 in 1970. It was re-released in the 90s when Wrigley’s chewing gum used it in their TV advertising campaign. Some would be disappointed to find that Free’s other songs weren’t as ‘rocking’ as this single, but for me their more typical, bluesy material was far superior. On Fire and Water you hear their musicality all the way through, such as in Don’t Say You Love Me and Oh I Wept with Rodgers’ soulful singing and Kossoff’s simple but expressive guitar work. Kossoff’s solos have been said to be more about the notes he didn’t play rather than the ones he did. Andy Fraser was a fine writer and bassist, as he shows in the haunting Mr Big where he delivers a superb bass solo.

Broad Daylight, a song not considered a classic, is my favourite Free track, from the mellow Free album. The slower BBC session version is just as good. Songs Of Yesterday from the same album is more upbeat, with a fiery guitar line.

Highway followed the successful Fire and Water but did less well. The heartfelt Love You So is all the more poignant with the Kossoff photo montage made to go with it later. After Highway came Free At Last, which Kossoff’s decline made hard to record. The band rallied round to motivate him and all the tracks were credited to every member regardless of who wrote them. The album reached No.13 in the UK charts, boosted by the superb single Little Bit Of Love, which consolidated the albums success.

By the time of Heartbreaker (1973), Andy Fraser had left and been replaced by Tetsu Yamauchi. Kossoff had become unreliable and so the band recruited John Bundrick on keyboards along with some session musicians. Even so, the album sold well. The hit was Wishing Well but for me the highlight is the melodic and lyrical Easy On My Soul. Paul Rodgers later did an upbeat version with Bad Company but it lacks the Free chemistry. This was Free’s last album, and Kossoff is credited on it as an additional musician (which shocked all the band members).

As with many bands who lost a key member, you wonder what they might have gone on to produce. For me, the legacy of six incredible studio albums with one official live release is enough to secure their place as one of the greatest bands of all time.

The whole really was much bigger than the sum of the parts.

 

Paul Kossoff (1950–1976)

Andy Fraser (1952–2015)

 

Free Official Website

All Right Now – ARN website and gateway for Free fans

Paul Kossoff Official Website

The official site of Paul Rodgers

Simon Kirke – official facebook

John Rabbit Bundrick official site

Free biography (iTunes)

Free spin-off toppermosts could include Paul Rodgers solo (including The Law), Bad Company, The Firm, Paul Kossoff solo (and you could include Kossoff, Kirke, Tetsu and Rabbit here), Simon Kirke solo, Back Street Crawler, Sharks etc.

TopperPost #279

4 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    May 19, 2014

    Lovely tribute and a great list. My ‘wot no?’ would be Wishing Well but you mention it and it’s a great song you’ve put in its place. Paul Rodgers remains one of the great rock vocalists, too.

  2. Peter Viney
    May 19, 2014

    Excellent overview. Annoyingly Free are one of those bands I saw, and noted I saw, but recall nothing of the actual gig … but it was early. I’d write Oh, I Wept and Wishing Well down second and third in my list. Those Island sampler LPs provided virtual singles at the time, being huge sellers. You Can All Join In (the first sampler) had I’m A Mover, the second, Nice Enough To Eat had Woman and the third, Bumpers had Oh, I Wept on an outstanding side with Go Out & Get It (John & Beverly Martyn), Cadence & Cascade (King Crimson) and Hazey Jane (Nick Drake). They don’t make samplers like that any more. But it makes those three songs prominent in Free’s catalogue. But All Right Now. I agree it was atypical, but it was also one of those rare moments when bands distil something into one towering single that transcends everything else they did. If I had to choose ten tracks to define rock (let’s not …), All Right Now would be one of them.

  3. Andrew Shields
    May 19, 2014

    Some interesting stories about Paul Kossoff and the time he spent touring with John Martyn here. Although a troubled time for both men, it did produce the excellent ‘Live at Leeds’ album. And ‘All Right Now’ is such a great, great song…

  4. Colin Duncan
    Jul 18, 2014

    Really enjoyed this post, but feel a tinge of sadness thinking about Paul Kossoff. I don’t think it was a good mix for Paul to play in a band with John Martyn, and I always feel Paul could have been helped. I would like to have seen the David Kossoff show. For me, in Scotland, I still love at a Xmas night out when All Right Now is played and the dance floor fills up with oldies transposed back in time, strutting their stuff. A truly great song. Also I had My Brother Jake as a single and would have this in my list. Still play The Free Story regularly. Thanks.

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