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Album Of The Week Club Review: Lynyrd Skynyrd - Second Helping

The album that introduced Lynyrd Skynyrd's three-guitar attack and provided many with their first sweet taste of Southern Rock...

Lynyrd Skynyrd - Second Helping
Lynyrd Skynyrd - Second Helping

Lynyrd Skynyrd - Second Helping

1. Sweet Home Alabama
2. I Need You
3. Don't Ask Me No Questions
4. Workin' for MCA
5. The Ballad of Curtis Loew
6. Swamp Music
7. The Needle and the Spoon
8. Call Me the Breeze

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Few bands have followed a great first album with an equally great second, but Lynyrd Skynyrd did.

Second Helping introduced the three-guitar attack that would become the band’s signature, with Ed King promoted from stand-in bassist. And King was co-author of the album’s three key tracks: the satirical heavy hitter Workin’ For MCA, the self-mythologising boogie Swamp Music, and the band’s biggest hit, Sweet Home Alabama.

Famously, the latter was Van Zant’s riposte to Neil Young’s civil rights protest song Southern Man. And although Van Zant’s defence of the south was bullish,Young later said, “I’m proud to have my name in a song like theirs.”

“Every song was brilliant, and the album was really diversified," Winger and Whitesnake guitarist Reb Beach told us, talking about the albums that changed his life. "You’ve got honky-tonk stuff, rock stuff, funky grooves, and the guitar solos are insane. I didn’t know which guitarist was doing what, but it didn’t matter. Here was a big guitar band with a huge sound, doing stuff that was too complicated for me to even attempt to play.”

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. Join the group now.

Here’s what we learned about Second Helping!

Background

The oft-told, star-crossed saga of Lynyrd Skynyrd has been portrayed as the convergence of opportunity, preparedness, talent and luck. What were the chances of Dylan associate, Blues Project founder and producer extraordinaire Al Kooper walking into an Atlanta dive in the summer of 1972 and spotting this band?

Kooper had just persuaded MCA records to bankroll his Sounds Of The South label in an effort to compete with Phil Walden’s Capricorn Records (home of the Allman Brothers). He was bowled over by Skynyrd’s professionalism, arrangements, guitar work, and mostly by short and stocky lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, who showed up in a black T-shirt and droopy jeans.

In Kooper’s eyes, Lynyrd Skynyrd were his Allman Brothers – the jewel in the southern rock crown. Skynyrd transcended the southern rock genre with their swaggering, dangerous music that conjured the dark fury of betrayal, perfidy or just plain orneriness and hopelessness over the diminished prospects in the rural south.

But Skynyrd was always more influenced by second wave British invaders (Eric Clapton, Free, and the tough, garagey thud of the Stones, Kinks and Yardbirds) than the jazzy, free-falling improvisation of the Allmans. With their tales of beautiful losers, thwarted romance and dashed ambition, Skynyrd were a more menacing bunch. Peace, love and understanding never made it to Jacksonville. 

Van Zant’s lip would curl into a surly half moon as he spat out the lyrics to Working For MCA, a song he wrote for the Sound Of The South launch party held at Richard’s in Atlanta on Sunday July 29, 1973, where the band played in front of jaundiced record executives, radio programmers, disc jockeys, promoters, rock critics and T.Rex’s Marc Bolan, all of whom flew in on MCA’s tab.

Other albums released in April 1974

Poco - Seven
Johnny Cash - Ragged Old Flag
Caravan - Caravan And The New Symphonia
Robin Tower - Bridge Of Sighs
J.J. Cale - Okie
Elf - Carolina Country Ball
Procol Harum - Exotic Birds And Fruit
Focus - Hamburger Concerto
New Riders Of The Purple Sage - Home, Home On The Road
West, Bruce and Laing - Live 'n' Kickin'
Gryphon - Midnight Mushrumps
Loggins And Messina - On Stage
Ten Years After - Positive Vibrations
The Guess Who - Road Food
Blue Oyster Cult - Secret Treaties
Sweet - Sweet Fanny Adams
Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band - Unconditionally Guaranteed
Tom Fogerty - Zephyr National

What they said

"This group is frequently compared to the Allman Brothers but it lacks that band's sophistication and professionalism. If a song doesn't feel right to the Brothers, they work on it until it does; if it isn't right to Lynyrd Skynyrd, they are more likely to crank up their amps and blast their way through the bottleneck." (Rolling Stone)

"Great formula here. When it rocks, three guitarists and a keyboard player pile elementary riffs and feedback noises into dense combinations broken by preplanned solos, while at quieter moments the spare vocabulary of the best Southern folk music is evoked or just plain duplicated. And any suspicions that this substantial, tasteful band blew their best stuff on the first platter should fall in the wake of the first state song ever to make top ten, which will expose you to their infectious putdowns of rock businessmen, rock journalists, and heroin." (Robert Christgau)

"Of course, the band had already developed their own musical voice, but it was enhanced considerably by Van Zant's writing, which was at turns plainly poetic, surprisingly clever, and always revealing. Though Second Helping isn't as hard a rock record as Pronounced, it's the songs that make the record." (AllMusic)

What you said

Maxwell Martello: From start to finish I think that this is a better album than the first one, BUT the peaks of the debut are unreachable (Simple Man, Tuesday’s Gone and Free Bird). Apart from the now obvious and FM ubiquitous Sweet Home Alabama, my personal favorites include the dirgy ballad I Need You (killer licks spread all over the song), the total Clapton worship of The Needle and the Spoon (courtesy of the late Allen Collins) and the savvy, ballsy, badass Working for MCA (check out Raging Slab’s version retitled as Working for RCA). In my book, another 10/10. God bless Ronnie and the boys.

Uli Hassinger: I'm a great Skynyrd fan and I love all of their albums. But the Pronounced album is way cooler than their follow-up. The best songs of this album are in fact the ballads Curtis Lowe and The Needle and the Spoon.

Tony Collins: My favourite album by my favourite band of all time. Never tire of listening to this. Includes some of there best ever songs. Swamp Music, Working for MCA, Needle and the Spoon and the best cover ever, Call me the Breeze.

StuPop Huepow: What an amazing album. Its got all the swagger of slide, honky tonk and blues, and you can boogie to it. And what a voice! This made me work harder on my guitar... who didn't want to sound like these guys? 

Jim Linning: Genuine classic. Has worn remarkably well, and raises the bar way above where any of today's so called "southern boogie" bands could hope to reach.

Richard Cardenas: It defines an era, represents a unique quality of musicianship, etc. etc... but it’s much more than that. It's southern music that connects with the souls of people from all walks of life. Too often – and sometimes rightfully so – the south is identified with some horrific qualities. The music here represents all that is good in life.

John Edgar: Being from the Southern United States, this album put down deep roots in my musical psyche, long ago. It's a collection of some of the finest Southern Rock ever recorded, but for me, it also defines a specific time in my life. This album, along with Nuthin' Fancy were both soundtracks to that period in which one moves from junior high school to high school. As a result of this, I still cannot listen to either of the albums (and I do still listen to both regularly) without thinking of specific people and specific events. 

The songs on this album have definitely taken on a life of their own. Another aspect of this album is just how much I heard it played for the first year after it's release. It was 1974. It was springtime. It was The South. Everyone that enjoyed rock music owned this release. It played in friends' bedrooms, it played at parties, it played outside at the lake and it was blasting from the rolled-down windows of every teenage driven car that passed you. This album is wonderful in every way, and it is ingrained my my Southern Fried Soul.

Ed Brown: "As much as I didn't want to I did anyway. No sir, I don't like it. Nope. I know it's going to piss a lot of people off because I have discussed my disgust of this band many times before, and anyone who loves them genuinely gets pissed at me. Sorry but not sorry guys. Next."

Matthew Graham: Overall I felt it a more consistent album than the first. The production seemed more even-handed, and it really works as a whole... but then it was my first Skynyrd album, and you know how those albums become more special because of it. One of my essential albums.

Michael Piwowarski: Sweet Home Alabama is one of those songs you either love or hate, but you can't deny the high quality musicianship that was a part of it, and the whole album. Second Helping lives up to its name, as a "second helping" of delicious southern rock that was served in Pronounced. My absolute favorite tracks are Don't Ask Me No Questions and Working for MCA, not only because of their unapologetic hard rock style, but also their lyrics inspired by the band members' lives as musicians. All five Skynyrd albums are southern rock classics and an essential part of any record collection.

Mike Knoop: I generally know/like the Skynyrd hits, and Second Helping doesn’t change that much. Sweet Home Alabama is still catchy even though I’ve heard it infinity times and Call Me the Breeze is great boogie rock. But kind of ambivalent about the six tracks in between. I did get a better appreciation of Ronnie Van Zant as a lyricist, especially on The Ballad of Curtis Loew and The Needle and the Spoon. But overall, not an album that I will play much after this week.

Matias Paniagua: Greeeeat album, love No Questions, Needle and The Spoon and Curtis Loew plus their greatest hit Alabama. I found in Ronnie Van Zant one of the best frontmen in rock history, great lyrics and his voice is so honest you believe every story he sang. And guitar works are amazing of course, what a band.

Lynott Sykes: A milestone in the discography of the greatest southern rock band of all time. But i still prefer the peaks of the first album. Even if Second Helping contains the unforgettable Sweet Home Alabama and a bunch of all-time classics, I think I Need You doesn't live up to Simple Man or Tuesday's Gone, and Don't Ask Me No Questions doesn't reach Gimme Three Steps. That said, some of their best songs are on here, Workin for MCA, Needle and the Spoon, Swamp Music and a fantastic cover of Call me the Breeze, with amazing guitar and piano solos.

Bradley Mabbutt: Listening to Second Helping has made me realise how stuck I had become in listening to just the "Hits". As an album it shows there is more to Skynyrd than Free Bird and Sweet Home Alabama (great as those songs are). Throughly enjoyed this one.

Roland Bearne: This really is a life soundtrack album. Every song is a gem. The production is such that the sound is a cohesive whole yet lets every instrument shine through. The guitars almost literally sparkle. Still can't listen to Curtis Loew without goose bumps. Wonderful.

Mike Bruce: So much for "difficult second album" syndrome. Skynyrd knock it out of the park here. The only thing that lessens the impact is the ubiquity of Sweet Home Alabama today. But it's like a lot of life's pleasures, if you go back to it after a fast; magic!

Pete Mineau: I remember I was in high school when this album came out. I had not heard of Lynyrd Skynyrd yet. Their first album came and went without any notice from me or my friends. Of course, we lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan... about as far away from the Southern Rock scene as you can get. (To us, Southern Rock was Ted Nugent, The MC5, The Stooges and anything else coming out of Detroit! We were/are isolated on this side of the Mackinac Bridge!) 

One day, my buddy Bill came to school with the album Second Helping and said, "You gotta check these guys out!". My first question was, "How do you say their name?" (Guess I should have checked out their first album for that one!) My other buddy, Bruce, walked up and said "Oh cool... you brought it! Me and Bill were playing it all night long last night! I think you'll dig it!". I asked, "What do they sound like?" Bill said, "Kinda like The Allman Brothers..." "...But kind of country-rock too." , chimed in Bruce. "But not like The Byrds or Eagles! Kind of heavy country-rock!" I was intrigued and couldn't wait for school to end so that I could hear this new discovery that my buds were touting! 

I recall studying the album cover on the way home. I wasn't really all that impressed by the front picture. It looked to me that a kid my age designed it in his high school art class. Although, it did sport a couple of pot leafs on it which scored big points with my fifteen year old self! The back sported photos of the band... a bunch of your typical long-haired freaks of the day, so... more points for that! (Anticipating the parental disgust factor if they should happen to catch a glance of it!)

From the first song I was blown away! "They are cutting down Neil Young and George Wallace in this song! Who do these guys think they are!?! I mean George Wallace... yeah, he's an asshole, but Neil Young... he's as cool as you can get! And his songs, Alabama & Southern Man are anti slavery/segregation tunes! Does that mean Skynyrd was for those things?" My teenage brain was overloading!

As I got to Working For MCA, my young mind began to overwork it's self again! "Now they're singing about MCA records. Isn't that the label that Neil Diamond, Cher, & Olivia Newton-John are on? These guys are proud to be in those ranks?"

Then came Needle And The Spoon. "Wait a minute...didn't Neil Young come out with a song a couple years ago called The Needle And The Damage Done? First they're saying they "don't need him around", then they're stealing song ideas from him!?!" Again I was freaked out by the audacity of these guys!

I listened to the album a few more times that night and realized that I really did like the music regardless of the "controversies" I had conceived in my barely developed cranium. The next day, me, Bruce, and Bill discussed my findings and rehashed our thoughts of the album. By the end of the day, we had decided that we had a new favorite band to follow...Neil Young be damned! 

As it turns out, you couldn't go to a party while I was in school without hearing a Lynyrd Skynyrd album being played... especially Second Helping! Real Southern Rock had finally made it up north. 

I graduated high school in 1977 and joined the Navy in August of that year. The plane crash was in late October of '77. I came home on leave that December for Christmas. While I was home, Bruce, Bill, myself, and two other buddies (Jim and Tim), got together to mourn our fallen heroes. The tragedy was still very fresh for us. We smoked, drank and listened to Second Helping, (Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd), Street Survivors, and One More From The Road straight through. I still have pictures somewhere of that night!

On a personal note: I have never to this day, listened to a Lynyrd Skynyrd album that didn't include Ronnie Van Zant in the lineup, and don't intend to in the future.

Final Score: 8.38 ⁄10 (206 votes cast, with a total score of 1728)

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