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All Right Now – Free

“Right off the top of my head I said, ‘Look, lads, it needs to be a really simple chorus’…” Paul Rodgers

All Right NowFree

Island WIP 6082 (UK) / A&M 1206 (USA) / Island IS 486 (UK 1991)

Recorded at Island & Trident Studios, London

Released 15th May 1970

Writers Andy Fraser & Paul Rodgers.

Producers Free & John Kelly.

UK #2  7/70   USA #4  10/70   UK #8  3/91 (Remix)

If, like this author, you were in Britain and in your teens in 1970, you may well recall that the charts that year were chock-a-block with great singles and many of them have become classics. Aside from the all-time greats like Norman Greenbaum’s ‘Spirit In The Sky’, Mungo Jerry’s ‘In The Summertime’, John Lennon’s ‘Instant Karma’ (written, recorded and released in the course of a week), Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, Freda Payne’s ‘Band Of Gold’ and a string of Motown gems, there are 3 rock singles that particularly stand out in my mind: ‘Black Night’ by Deep Purple, Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’, and perhaps the best of the bunch, ‘All Right Now’ by Free. (It should however be noted that at least in the opinion of this author, ‘All Right Now’ bears more than a passing resemblance to the Rolling Stones’ hit of the previous year, ‘Honky Tonk Women’)

What set Free apart from many of the other rock bands of the period was their soulful R&B approach, enhanced by vocalist Paul Rodgers, which was particularly apparent on their string of hit singles between 1970 and 1973; ‘All Right Now’, ‘My Brother Jake’ (somewhat similar to Fats Domino’s classic ‘Blueberry Hill’), ‘Little Bit Of Love’ and ‘Wishing Well’, though ‘All Right Now’ was the band’s only visit to the US Top 40. Formed in 1968, like many of the new wave of rock bands that sprang up in Britain in the late 1960s, Free were signed to Chris Blackwell’s Island Records and had a fairly free hand in their choice of material and recording activities – though the label did at first suggest the band change their name to The Heavy Metal Kids, which in retrospect would have been quite inappropriate. Their first 2 albums, Tons Of Sobs (1968) and Free (1969) only sold about 20,000 apiece, but the inclusion of ‘All Right Now’ on their 3rd album, Fire And Water, was to change all that.

The idea for the song came at a dressing room discussion following a gig in Durham, England, when the band decided they needed a sing-along song to close their show that their audience could participate in. In Mark Cunningham’s excellent book on the history of record production, Good Vibrations, Paul Rodgers recalls; “Right off the top of my head I said, ‘Look, lads, it needs to be a really simple chorus…something like ‘All right now, baby it’s-a all right now.’ They said, ‘Yeah, great,’ and I grabbed a guitar, worked out the chords on the spot and we had the chorus immediately.” Rodgers and bass guitarist Andy Fraser worked out the rest of the song in the dressing room in about ten minutes and it was recorded at Island Studios on the 8th of March 1970 with Roy Thomas Baker engineering – Mr Baker later became a renowned producer, particularly for his work with Queen. Co-incidentally, in the new millennium Paul Rodgers has occasionally taken up vocal duties with Queen. At this point, it was just another track for the upcoming album, and ran to five-and-a-half minutes, but as luck would have it, Chris Blackwell happened to visit the studio while Rodgers was recording his vocal and insisted that ‘All Right Now’ should be released as a single.

However, when Blackwell heard the completed studio tapes, he wasn’t at all happy with the final result, and asserted that if the song were to be released as a single, it would have to be completely re-mixed and edited. Free were none too happy about this, but realised that it was far too long for a single and there is no doubt that the end result certainly justified Blackwell’s decision. The single edit of ‘All Right Now’, minus a slice of guitarist Paul Kossoff’s solo and a reprise of the second verse, had much more punch than the album version and swiftly rose to Number 2 on the UK charts in the summer of 1970.

It should of course deservedly have been Number 1, but Mungo Jerry’s 7-week run at the top with ‘In The Summertime’ put paid to that. ‘All Right Now’ was in fact re-mixed yet again in 1991 for a ‘Best Of’ collection, without the agreement or knowledge of Free, and made a return to the UK Top 10. The job was done by American super-producer Bob Clearmountain and gave the song even more clout, though Rodgers says that this version wasn’t to his liking. Whichever version you choose, ‘All Right Now’, with its ridiculously simple guitar phrase, is undoubtedly a rock classic and it has been estimated that the song is played on a radio station somewhere in the world every 45 seconds, which should keep Messrs. Fraser and Rodgers in royalties well into retirement. (Incidentally, ‘All Right Now’ was quite substantially ripped off by Steve Miller for his 1976 hit ‘Rock ‘n Me’ – or perhaps he was just ripping off ‘Honky Tonk Women’?!)

 

Copyright © 2017 SongStories/Tony Burton

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