Back in the late 1960s, Free was just one of hundreds of blues-based bands that grew up under the shadow of the Rolling Stones
and, later, Cream
. Like Fleetwood Mac
, Free came together with a little help from those twin founders of the British blues boom--John Mayall and Alexis Korner--and like Led Zeppelin
, they hit lucky--and big--early on.
A chance meeting between singer Paul Rodgers and guitarist Paul Kossoff prompted the formation of Free; and early in 1970, barely a year after the release of their debut album, Free went straight to No.2 with the unforgettable "All Right Now". It may have been derivative (listen to the Stones' "Honky Tonk Women"), but the song has remained a rock & roll staple ever since--it is estimated that, even now, "All Right Now" is played somewhere in the world every 45 seconds.
Over the years, while Led Zeppelin attained mythic stature, Free have continued to be regarded as a second division blues band. But the history of Free was more troubled--starting in 1976 with Kossoff's premature death, from a heart attack, following his split from the band. And, of course, everything Free did subsequently was overshadowed by "All Right Now".
Songs Of Yesterday proves the point that there was always much more to Free than just one freak hit. Crammed full of previously unreleased studio tracks, mouth-watering demos, out-takes and other rarities, Songs Of Yesterday does the business and does it thoroughly. Among the gems are the first attempt at "All Right Now"; a loose-limbed alternate take of "Makin' Love"; and previously unavailable versions of familiar titles like "My Brother Jake", "Little Bit Of Love" and "Wishing Well". There is also an entire disc of hitherto unavailable live material from 1970, full of concert atmosphere. And, don't forget, Free also had a softer side, as "Love You So" and "Soon I Will Be Gone" demonstrate.
It is a triumphant achievement: a box set that actually makes you appreciate a band afresh. Free may never have attained the greatness of either the Stones or Led Zeppelin, but they had great potential, and Songs Of Yesterday displays it to the full. --Patrick Humphries