One of the most prolific blues-rock acts to emerge from Britain in the late 60s, Free released six albums in the space of four years. Boasting the powerhouse vocals of frontman Paul Rodgers, the virtuoso fret-work of guitarist Paul Kossof, and the rock-solid rhythm section of drummer Simon Kirke and the late Andy Fraser, Free commandeered the charts in both the US and UK with their undisputed classic album Fire And Water, laying the template for the hard rock sound that would find prominence in 70s.
Released on 9 September, the 7LP box set Free: The Vinyl Collection pulls together all six of the group’s studio albums, plus their 1971 concert recording, Free Live!, providing the fullest picture yet of the band in all their glory.
‘All Right Now’ might remain Free’s calling card – it reputedly receives radio play at least once every minute somewhere around the globe – but the group’s entire discography is worthy of reappraisal. Recorded for a mere £800, their debut, Tons Of Sobs, was issued in March 1969 and charted higher in the US than it did the UK. Containing many band favourites, it set the scene for Free, produced by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, and an album that, released just seven months after its predecessor, leapt up the UK charts to hit No.22.
By now the world was primed for the blues-rock behemoth that would become Fire And Water (now available as part of the acclaimed Abbey Road Half Speed Mastering series). Released in summer 1970, it effortlessly hit No.2 in the UK and No.17 in the US, while its evergreen second single, ‘All Right Now’, confidently shot to the Top 5 in both countries. Yet the remarkably prolific Free weren’t stopping there. Highway came hot on its heels, in December 1970: a more low-key recording that revealed the group’s versatility.
Following a brief hiatus (during which Island released Free Live!, a UK No.4 album that showed the world the sort of magic they worked up on the live stage – as memorably captured on film during their appearance at the 1970 Isle Of Wight Festival), the group’s original line-up reconvened for 1972’s Free At Last. Seven months later, it was all over – and all too soon. Final outing Heartbreaker was recorded without Andy Fraser, but with Tetsu Yamauchi in his place, along with additional member, pianist John “Rabbit” Bundrick. Free’s third Top 10 UK album, it also included ‘Wishing Well’, which, upon its original release, reached No.7 in the UK singles chart.
As if Free’s lasting legacy weren’t enough, these albums also set the band’s individual members on their highly successful career paths, not least Paul Rodgers, who would go on to found hard rockers Bad Company, form the Jimmy Page collaboration The Firm, and also front Queen from 2005 to 2009.
More than “all right now”, these recordings stand the test of time, remaining essential for any self-respecting blues and hard rock fan.