Top Fifty 43: Free – Tons of Sobs, 1969

[Originally posted September 2011]

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As we all know, the album begins with the beautiful and acoustic slow Rodgers ballad Over the Green Hills [Part I] with its gorgeous harmony rise and then suddenly, out of nowhere, comes the chugging and pulsating guitar, bass, drums and piano beat of Worry, and one of rock’s greatest debut albums is launched – indeed greatest rock albums of all time.

I first heard Free on The Old Grey Whistle Test and despite my research I can’t find what year this was. And it was Paul singing Over The Green Hills [the ‘complete’ version I think] that excited me most – another example of my love of ‘pretty’ music having its impact. It was the voice of course that made its instant impression too, and soon after I bought the album Tons Of Sobs.

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Third track Walk In My Shadow is signalled by the wail of Kossof’s guitar and the thumping simple bluesbeats continue. Kossof’s guitar is staccato and edgy until it dances around Fraser’s three repeated rhythms and takes over from Rodgers until he returns to woawoo woawoo with a voice turning all sounds immaculate.

You don’t need your horses baby, you got me to ride/You don’t need your feathers baby, I’ll keep you warm inside and the Rodgers/Fraser writing partnership gets its first metaphor-laden spot: pre-politically correct ethnic naming of Wild Indian Woman and with a simplicity to presage so much memorable songwriting excellence to come.

Fifth track Goin Down Slow by St Louis Jimmy is a measured blues around which the album seems to revolve because the blues is such a fundamental part of Free’s early sound. Kossof keeps it so simple and yet dynamic throughout. One of the greatest Rodgers/Fraser songs I’m A Mover is the sixth, and the Fraser bass lines do their brilliant walking up and down the line. Seventh The Hunter is one os the strongest versions out there.

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Perhaps my favourite on the album is the Rodgers /Fraser Moonshine. Another slow and simple blues, Kossof’s guitar haunts in the background whilst Paul and Andy lay down the foundations. Kirk’s drums roll heavily to introduce another succinct Kossof solo.

The album closes on a return to Over the Green Hills [Part 2] and it is as if the 34 vibrant minutes wrapped within this sombre song’s warm embrace have been an outburst, an eruption to announce the following lava flow wherein we were all melted by its advancing glow.

I never got to see Free live but I’ve seen Paul Rodgers twice: once in Cardiff [1993] at the launch of the Muddy Water Blues album [with Steve Lukather on guitar] and in Poole [1997] at the launch of Now. Outstanding both times, naturally.

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