Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Hard Rock Calling: Free: "All Right Now"

And now we step, dear readers, away from the dance floor and into…the arena, if not the rock festival, amongst blokes, dudes, the kind of guys who are unequivocally guys, who were there when Free rocked the Isle of Wight and have been hard rock adherents (note – not heavy metal, that’s for kids, son)ever since. Even if they were teenagers at the time (and it should be noted that Free were all teenagers when they started in ’68) they were still dudes, really. (As Dellio and Woods state: “Probably no two songs [Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen” being the other] in rock history have inspired as much ritualistic grunting among males between the ages of fourteen and twenty-five*.”)

Wherefore all this grunting? I can just imagine a kid in his bedroom playing air guitar to this (why is it that I think of air guitar as a 70s thing?), trying his best to be Paul Kossoff, laid back as hell but still razor sharp. Or perhaps he’s trying to be Paul Rodgers, a gruff Middlesborough-born singer who fled to London to participate in the blues boom, who co-wrote this song with Andy Fraser, the bassist. Youth and young manhood; grunting; an early dedication to rockin’ and boogie and then more rockin’. There can hardly be a more blokey song than this (fear not readers, I do get to others – the looming beast called pub rock is in the works), a song wherein a young woman’s fears are heard out (which by hard rock’s terms is almost gallant) and then shushed away.

Quite how a woman can smile “from her head to her feet” remains a mystery, but clearly she’s interested in him, he’s interested in her (enough to ask her name, take her home in his car – you might think he’d take her somewhere else, but hard rock’s not interested in superfluous things like dating). Once they are presumably ensconced on his sofa, he watches her like a hawk; you’d think he would have thought of doing that a bit earlier, in the car maybe, but perhaps he was too busy grunting along to the car radio. No matter. Now she starts to get suspicious (for someone who was all smiles a minute ago, oddly) and wonders if he’s “trying to put me in shame.” He reassures her he doesn’t want to move too fast (well, thank goodness for that) and asks the poignant question “Don’t you think that love can last?” Again she suspects he wants love, that he is all but Pluto, springing his trap on poor hapless Persephone. The song takes a lot of time – a whole lot of title singing – to reassure her that things aren’t like that, when to any rational observer they most certainly are. Why are they at his place when they could be anywhere else? Why is she so suspicious all of a sudden? All of this concern is batted away by the easy-going jazzy riffs, the smile in Rodgers’ voice, the sense that maybe he just wants to get high with her while listening to Wheels Of Fire. Who knows?

One obvious thing was that this was an instant hit, catapulting these young men into stardom, stardom that they weren’t quite prepared for. Kossoff had drug problems that eventually led the band to split up, reform and then split again for good in ’73; this was their big hit, their figurative moment in the sun. They effectively became a one-hit wonder and this must have been frustrating as well. But that is how music works sometimes – you work in clubs and gig all over the place, have your one satisfying moment and it gets so cemented in the public’s minds that a second hit is hard to get, the first one is so stuck there. (Yes, I know they had a second hit – “Wishing Well” – but never heard it growing up, just this.) Kossoff died in 1976, by which time Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke had started up Bad Company, picking right up where they left off, effectively.

But now, in 1970, this stuff (which Dellio and Woods dub Hard Rockin’ Shit, for obvious reasons) was new and carried the rock flag proudly, wearing denim, rockin’ out whenever and wherever possible, and taking an easy – maybe too easy – attitude towards women, women who are smart to men’s tricks, tricks men barely see as that’s the way they roll, baby, whether you like it or not. Give in, the song seems to say, I’m not that bad, am I? No reason to hesitate if the moment is right, and in HRS the moment is always right. Young, eager men have been agreeing wholeheartedly ever since, grunting and singing along, a whole genre summed up pretty much in one song.

Next up: what if she’s not a, um, she?

*”What Winston Churchill would have looked like in Sumo wrestling garb, that’s what “All Right Now” sounded like.” Really, is there anyone better than Dellio and Woods, folks?

1 comment:

MikeMCSG said...

I'm surprised you haven't mentioned the key ingredient to this song's success - Andy Fraser's prowling bass and the way he sits out the verses before leading the way through the extended middle eight as the tension builds. Bad Company were only half the band Free were because Fraser wasn't on board.
I think it's a bit unfair to call them one hit wonders - both "Wishing Well" and "My Brother Jake" are well-remembered including by a certain Mr A Blair (assuming his recollections on this point were more honest than the Jackie Miburn "memory").