June 26 – Free’s Breakthrough

6/26/70: Free – Fire and Water

The English rock band Free released their third album on this day 50 years ago. The band, consisting of vocalist Paul Rodgers, guitarist Paul Kossoff, bassist Andy Fraser, and drummer Simon Kirke, found themselves in a make or break situation with this recording after their first two albums garnered little attention. Recorded over the first half of June 1970 and clocking in at 35 minutes, Fire and Water reached number two on the U.K. album chart and 17 in the U.S. The album spawned the single All Right Now, a top five hit on both sides of the pond which remains a classic rock radio staple. Due to the album’s success, Free was invited to perform at the Isle of Wight Festival a few months later in front of 600,000 people.

Free - Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970 - Amazon.com Music

This is a tight, rocking album which critics have favorably compared to Blind Faith, Cream, and Derek & the Dominos. I don’t disagree with that, but to me what stands out is that it was a harbinger of an album rock sound going forward in the 1970’s, whereas albums by those other bands mentioned were (in my mind, anyway), the sound of the end of the 60’s. The obvious comparison would be with Bad Company, and the reason I find that interesting is because Free released three more albums after this one in rapid succession, but didn’t find much acclaim. Yet when Bad Company – including Rodgers and Kirke from Free, Mick Ralphs of Mott the Hoople, and Boz Burrell from King Crimson – released their eponymous debut in ’74 they were off to the races with a sound not unlike Fire and Water – just with better production and presumably better promotion.

Andy Fraser, Free's Bassist, Dies at 62 - The New York Times

The title track could’ve also been the radio hit from the album (though off the top of my head I can’t think of another example of a song fading out to a drum solo). Oh I Wept displays Rodgers’ ability to have a soft touch with his vocal when called for. Remember has a nice, mellow groove with its congas (I can hear a bit of Traffic on this one), and Heavy Load sounds very much like a preview of Bad Company (Ready for Love, for example). And, of course, the enduring All Right Now: To me, this song is a good example of the power of great rock ‘n’ roll guitar riffs and driving rhythm that more than make up for lyrics lacking much depth.

Tracklist

Side One:

  1. Fire and Water
  2. Oh I Wept
  3. Remember
  4. Heavy Load

Side Two:

  1. Mr. Big
  2. Don’t Say You Love Me
  3. All Right Now

-Stephen

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/free-fire-and-water/

https://www.allmusic.com/album/fire-and-water-mw0000198572

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire_and_Water_(Free_album)#Track_listing

 

4 thoughts on “June 26 – Free’s Breakthrough”

  1. I’ve recently started to appreciate Free. A good word is tight… I’ve heard more than one Southern Rock band mention Free as a major influence. You can see the blueprint also…hard guitars, groove drums, and straightforward lyrics. Paul Rodgers is perhaps one of the best white rock/blues singers ever. I’ve didn’t like some of his lyrics with Bad Company but with that voice…who cares?

    I do like the title track a lot and All Right Now is a perfect pure rock song.

    What surprised me when I did a post on A Little Bit Of Love is that they sold over 20 million records…which I never suspected.

    Liked by 1 person

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