“What Song Is It You Wanna Hear?”


Lynyrd Skynyrd (Internet Image)

In 1976, rock musicians were still limited in their physical movement by the length of the cords that connected them to their amplifiers. Attached as they were to the volume control, they could leap and dance about while they played, but only so far.

Music can act as a link for many of us with certain songs tethering us to old memories like those amp cords allowing us to gain distance, but never completely disconnect. We may hear a song in a different location years on, but within a few notes we’ve shifted back to the time when everything around us imprinted along with the music, linking it forever in a sort of soundtrack for our lives.

Last night I was at our village pub celebrating my friend Kate’s 50th birthday. It was quite the party with live music and great food and I had fun chatting with the people who’ve become my friends. It was at the end of the evening after having put on my coat while giving my husband a look that said, ” I’m ready to go if you are … ” that I heard the opening chords to a song that only has one memory for me.

It’s the summer of 1976. I’m fifteen and lost in the screaming energy of southern rock fans who don’t want the show to end. I have a perfect seat although I have spent little of the concert in it and from my position in the center section of the balcony, I can see the stage clearly and part of the audience below.

It’s one of three sold out shows being recorded for their live album, ” One More From The Road ” and fans of the band are making their thoughts heard. They want to hear another song before they go and I join in with the others shouting and clapping as we try to bring back the band for another encore because there’s one more song we need to hear before we say goodnight.

My voice is strained and I’m sweaty from dancing in place. I’m dancing alone, but together along with 4,677 other fans calling out and demanding in a way, to hear that one last tune.

The crowd roars as the band retakes the stage and Ronnie Van Zant, lead singer for Lynyrd Skynyrd, asks that now famous question in southern rock circles, ” What song is it you wanna hear? ” It’s in the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia that a sort of musical history is made when the crowd responds in what sounds like one explosive voice with only two words,

Free Bird!

Listening last night as the lone musician played the southern rock classic, I closed my eyes a few times remembering myself at 15 and that night when for a few minutes all that seemed to matter was a song. In a funny twist towards the end, I realized I was looking down at his shoes with no particular thought.

There was nothing wrong them, they were just ordinary shoes, but after about the third glance and somewhere around the words, ” Lord, I can’t change … ” I realized that I was looking at his feet because Ronnie Van Zant always went barefoot on stage and I remembered that I’d read that he did it because he liked to feel the stage burn.

While I was never the Confederate flag waving, Dixie loving, fan of southern rock music, that some of my friends were, I loved certain songs and ” Free Bird ” was one of them.

For years it has been a song that people shout out at inappropriate times at concerts or on other occasions when they think it might be funny. I’m sure many have no idea of the origin or why they do it. They just do it because their buddy did it once and got a laugh so they try it too.

I think it deserves better than to be used in a bad bid for attention by someone with no more creativity than that, but then that’s coming from someone who was actually there when the question was asked, and had a chance to answer.

It’s a special memory that 35 years later still has the power to make me remember a time when shouting, ” Free Bird ” was no joke, but simply a song request.

If you have a special song or a concert memory that takes you back maybe you could share it in a comment below. Don’t forget to leave a comment on Monday’s post if you’d like a chance to win my contest and thanks to everyone who has left one there already. I’m loving finding out new things about old friends as well as having the opportunity to meet more of you for the first time.

10 thoughts on ““What Song Is It You Wanna Hear?”

  1. First of all, let me thank you. Summer of 1980, I was singing in a barbershop quartet at Six Flags over Georgia. On a daily basis – sometimes more often – I would hear those fateful words from the audience: “Do Free Bird!” I really wanted to put together a barbershop arrangement of it, but, alas, that’s not where my limited talent lies.

    As to associating songs with a particular time/place: I don’t do much of that. Most songs are associated with a swath of my life – a college dorm room, a workplace drive I did for years, etc. There is one that you might have been present for, though. There was a set building/light hanging session going on in the Large Group Instruction Area, and somebody put on “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder. I believe it was the first time I’d heard it, and I was transfixed. So I always associate “Sir Duke” with the LGIA. Weird, huh?

  2. I have just remembered that I was in Bridgeport Connetticut and then New York for the bbicentenial celebrations that year, on HMS Lowestoft.

  3. I was not a big concertgoer as a teen, but I remember seeing Janet Jackson when I was in my 20’s, and although I wasn’t a huge fan [my friend John gave me a free ticket] it was impossible not to spend most of the concert on my feet, dancing in place, along with everyone else. It was an electrifying experience.

    I can’t believe you were at the Fox for Freebird?! Wow.

  4. I wonder how many of the LS concert goers remember that concert as vividly as you do. =) They still tour and have small outdoor concerts every year where I live.

    I went to see U2 at Wembley Stadium in 1987 and wow…that was a wild concert. I still can’t believe to this day that my parents let me go with a friend (I was 16). I think they must have had no idea what they were letting me go do. There was 6 bands opening up for U2 and a lot of people. There were a few times I was actually scared because I was close to the stage and the wave of people kept pushing me and I didn’t like it. I went to see U2 in 2009 in DC and liked it much better. First, I had my own up-close seat and secondly, I understand their music so much more now that I am older. My husband and I are going to see them again in June and really looking forward to it.

  5. “Free Bird”… takes me back to a bus trip in high school in 1979 where where we debated,”What is the best song, ever?” and it was between Free Bird and Stairway to Heaven. Good Times!

  6. So very many songs. I was the booking manager at a recording studio in San Francisco from ’69 thru ’72 and all the big S.F. bands recorded there.
    I guess the song that always stops me and whisks me back to that time is Santana’s “Black Magic Woman,” because I was so madly in love with one of the band members. Which one? That’s my little secret.

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