It's entirely possible that Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" wouldn't be as ubiquitous a song as it is today were it not for how simply how long it is.
The single version of "Free Bird" is under five minutes long. While the song holds up even at half the length of the album version, lots of people don't even know there is a radio edit.
Because when people ask for "Free Bird," they want all of "Free Bird." They want the organ intro, they want the acoustic guitar strumming that Ronnie Van Zant famously thought included too many chord changes and, most of all, they want all the guitar solos. You'd be hard-pressed to find a Skynyrd fan who doesn't want to hear the band extend the song even longer that 10 minutes during live shows.
Guitarist Gary Rossington, who played the iconic slide guitar lead on the original track, recently told Ultimate Classic Rock Nights that all the band was trying to do when it started arranging "Free Bird" was to make "A real simple love song about leaving — you know, [quoting Van Zant] 'Would you remember me?' It's a true story about him. He wrote [the lyrics] really quick."
For some time, Van Zant couldn't figure out anything to sing over Allen Collins' chord progression. But Collins didn't give up on the idea and eventually Van Zant heard a melody in his head. That prompted the band to start working on the song as a group, and the ideas didn't stop.
"With just jamming and playing, it got longer and longer as we played it," he said. "At first it didn't have the end, the long guitar end; it was just the slow love song. Then we came up with the end, and as we practiced every day, it came along."
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