With their legacy defined by the tragic, wasteful death of guitarist Paul Kossoff and the jukebox ubiquity of All Right Now (a song of requisite potency to eclipse an entire career) it’s often forgotten just how miraculous Free were. Clearly too perfect to be entirely uncontrived, Kossoff, vocalist Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke hooked up organically on London’s still burgeoning ’68 blues scene, but it was renowned blues alchemist Alexis Korner who introduced them to 15-year old bassist and John Mayall ‘veteran’ Andy Fraser and suggested the name Free.
Even in the 60s when everyone was young, Free’s youth was remarkable (aside from Fraser, Rodgers and Kirke were 18 and Kossoff 17), especially in light of the maturity of their extraordinary sound. Fraser and Kirke locked together and grooved like footloose JBs, prodigious hair-stack Kossoff squeezed entire lifetimes of emotional pain from every, never knowingly overplayed, solo. And Rodgers? Where to begin? You want classic rock singing? Look no further.
Others, sometimes more celebrated, have squealed more histrionically, grunted more gruffly or seared more nodes onto their larynx in search of the ultimate visceral vocal, but the template they invariably misinterpret is that of Rodgers. It’s honey, it’s Otis, it’s gravel, it’s Marvin, it’s tears, joy, pain, seduction, comfort and it’s Free. And not just in the capitalised sense of the word: it’s the wind blowing in your hair; the unfettered power that flutters your freak flag. And at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 it sold All Right Now to 600,000 hippies in no mood to disagree.
Free were phenomenal, are phenomenal, and they belong on vinyl. With that Island label in the middle and preferably in that sky-blue inner sleeve. So what have we here? All seven albums (including the stop-gap live one) newly plastic-ed to perfection and just as potent as ever. The only things missing are thumbprints on the vinyl and hash burns on the sleeves, but you get a cardboard box to slide them into, so… swings and roundabouts.
Highlights? From Tons Of Sobs: The Hunter; from Free: I’ll Be Creepin’; from Fire And Water: All Right Now (which you might have heard); from Highway: The Stealer; from the bafflingly undervalued Free At Last: Little Bit Of Love; and from post-Fraser swansong Heartbreaker: Wishing Well. There’s no question of whether you should buy this vinyl collection, it’s only a matter of when.