Just because an album is a debut does not mean that the people behind it are inexperienced. In the case of Lynyrd Skynyrd, as we will explore today, the 6 man band had been together for at least 5 years with the founding members having played together for as many as 9. Having written songs and played local shows together for so long, the young artists gained more than just musical skill and performing chops. More importantly they developed chemistry and understood what they wanted their sound to be long before cutting their first record deal. By the time they got their recognition and got signed to a label in 1972 they were more than ready to make some magic happen, and oh boy did they. Today’s addition to the Musical Training Plan, Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd is that 1973 debut album by those boys from Jacksonville. An important piece of the first wave of so called “southern rock”, a mainstay on classic rock stations, and an all around awesome album, I am very glad that I get to write about this album and to give all of you an excuse to listen to it today.
Pronounced, and the Lyrnyrd Skynyrd catalogue at large, is classified as southern rock, a genre whose influences are numerous and pretty obvious to anyone with ears. As such, on this debut album Lyrnryd Skynyrd makes no effort to conceal their inspirations but they do it with a style and confidence that feels very much their own, never bordering on imitation. One of my favorite instances of this (and maybe my favorite song on the album) can be found in “Gimme Three Steps”. The song takes on a very country western style of storytelling that would be at home on any Johnny Cash or Jim Croce record. In fact, when I listen to “Gimme Three Steps”, I picture it taking place in the same bar that Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” and “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” are set in. The story being told is undoubtedly a stressful one, depicting an innocent man having a gun pulled on him at a bar, but nonetheless the song is irresistibly entertaining. I can’t put this song on without singing along to those opening lines “I was cutting a rug down at a place called the Jug with a girl named Linda Lou” and while I’m sure a lot of that was my dad’s influence, it doesn’t make the song any less delightful. In spite of its lyrics, this song is instrumentally a far cry from any country western stylings, filled with loud electric guitars, a thunderous bassline, and booming drums. While “Gimme Three Steps” might be the most fun song on the album, it is far from the greatest. Just before “Gimme Three Steps” is “Tuesday’s Gone”, a nearly 8 minute long melancholic song about a man leaving home and abandoning a woman named Tuesday. We are never told why he is leaving, where he is going, or what the future holds for either the narrator or Tuesday, rather, the listener is left to find their own meaning. The song is beautiful, remorseful, uncertain and would make an incredible closer to most albums. Lynyrd Skynyrd, on the other hand, has something even better up their sleeve.
Part of what makes Pronounced such a great southern rock album is the way that it uses the genre, exploring the variety of styles that it offers. Along side the upbeat rocking fun of “Gimme Three Steps” and the heartbreaking ballad of “Tuesday’s Gone” are “Simple Man”, “Things Goin’ On”, “Poison Whiskey”, and “Free Bird”, among others. “Simple Man” is probably the heaviest song on the album sonically but lyrically it’s about a mother’s love for her son and what is really important in life. “Things Goin’ On” is an upbeat electric ragtime that contains sociopolitical commentary about how the powers that be ignore the people most in need. “Poison Whiskey” is a heavy, swinging song about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. And of course there’s “Free Bird”. What need be said about this song that hasn’t already been said? It’s iconic, towering, powerful magnificence goes beyond sub-genre and it is recognized as one of the finest rock songs ever cut. “Free Bird” is such a part of rock and roll culture that it has become a joke to yell “FREE BIRD!” at anybody performing music onstage. Despite the humor behind this running joke, I don’t think many people would be too upset if the artist started playing “Free Bird” anyways. “Free Bird” is famously super long thanks to it’s legendary 4+ minute guitar solo that begins about 5 minutes into the song. Pronounced as an album might be overshadowed by the fame of “Free Bird”, but its glorious closing track is to Pronounced what “Stairway to Heaven” is to Zeppelin IV: the crown jewel to an already stellar album. I never play this album chiefly excited to hear “Free Bird”, rather, I play this album because it is an awesome album start to finish, it just so happens that “Free Bird” is one of the best closing tracks ever recorded.
For all of Pronounced‘s power, themes, and variety, it’s also just so damn fun to listen to. I know that I’m in total control of this whole Musical Training Plan thing, but oh boy am I glad to have Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd join the ranks. I know that I’m going to enjoy giving this album a spin today and I hope you will too.
And this bird you cannot chaaaaaaaaaaange!