The most beautifully misunderstood featurette on our website is the “Daily Throwdown,” in which we pull two tenuously related video clips from YouTube, generally featuring guitarists of some merit, and ask readers to duke it out in the comments section to determine which one is “the winner.” Really, though? It’s just an excuse to put some cool old clips on the site and generate traffic. But boy, do people get angry about it. Last week, I put Joe Bonamassa on the same page as Stevie Ray Vaughan and you would have thought I’d burned SRV’s Strat and peed on his grave. How dare I imply that Joe was in the same league as Stevie Ray! I don’t think I did, actually, but who cares? That one Throwdown is at 1625 hits and counting. And we do these things every day.
Anyway, the point is that there is some amazing footage out there on YouTube and it’s legally cool to embed it on your site (at least, for now). Sometimes, though, things you think, for certain, will be all over YouTube and will be easy to find turn into little trips down the old rabbit hole. Today, I made such a Carrollian journey…and for that, I blame the rednecks. Or the redneck archivists, to be exact.
Tomorrow was going to be the king of all Throwdowns: “Free Bird” vs. “Stairway to Heaven.” Yes, I can see you music snobs out there preparing your tut-tuts as you oh-so-smugly listen to your rare Kate Bush imports and discuss the finer points of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, but come on…“Free Bird” and freakin’ “Stairway!” Duking it out on our site! That’s gold on the interwebs, kiddies.
And of course, I was looking for video footage of classic lineups only (no 2007 reunions from either party), and reasonably good audio. But alas, it turns out that there does not exist a single live clip of the Ronnie Van Zant-era Skynyrd playing “Free Bird” from beginning to end. Not a single one. Oh, there are plenty of versions with Gary Rossington’s slide intro removed or with that long, long, long outro clipped. Or with horrible audio, apparently recorded across the street from the venue, possibly from inside a broken hair dryer. And there are plenty of versions that are split into two YouTube clips, one assumes so that listeners can re-live the thrill of hearing One More from the Road on 8-track tape. But damn it, there exists absolutely nothing I can put on the site next to Zep’s beautifully shot and recorded The Song Remains the Same performance of “Stairway.” My duel of the millennium is dead. So I feel compelled to say…
Really, Skynyrd fans? Really?? This is your freakin’ national anthem (what with “Dixie” being a bit out of favor in the Obama Era, a.k.a. Post-1865 America)! How do you not have a definitive live version of “Free Bird” on YouTube, for God’s sake?! What the hell do you watch when you’re waiting for your Roland Martin bass fishing shows to load?
It’s not a complete loss, though, because I learned something today — something I hadn’t foreseen when I embarked on this journey. I learned about the many miraculous, hither-to-unseen powers of “Free Bird.”
For instance, I learned of its transformative powers. Yes, this FM staple can metamorphose mere video game mouth-breathers into godlike rock stars able to do what Skynyrd nation could not, and that is to post a definitive live version of themselves rocking out to that ultra-badass Allen Collins guitar solo…even if they are doing so on wanky pieces of plastic.
The song also has the power to heal the soul, as prescribed by mourners of everyone from Dale Earnhardt to Akira the boxer puppy. Ah, there’s no more meaningful tribute than a photo collage adorned with the lyrics of a guy telling his girlfriend, “Please don’t take it so badly, ’cause the Lord knows I’m to blame.” I guess, technically, Earnhardt made the decision to take that turn a little too fast, but it’s a bit harsh to point that out in your tribute, don’cha think? God knows what poor, little Akira did to warrant his trip to doggy heaven.
The song also empowers bands with names like Stone Heart and Smokey & the Jokers to feel like, for one shining moment, they are playing on better stages to better audiences (using, presumably, better band names). It certainly must have some confidence-boosting power, or else all those tubby, pimply marching band kids (from middle school to college) wouldn’t play it…and have their parents post it.
Exactly what power Tammy van Zant is harnessing in “Freebird Child” (no, seriously), I can’t say. Presumably, the power to cash in on one’s deceased father. Nevertheless, let me just state that I have a newfound appreciation for this Classic Rock chestnut. And for Skynyrd (seriously, that is a badass guitar solo). So yeah, boys, one more time. Play it purdy for Atlanta.