On June 26, 1970, "Free" released "Fire and Water" !!
This is the band's third album and its breakthrough album which was a huge commercial success. The album that managed to put them on the top list of artists who performed at the "Isle of Wight Festival" in August of that year, in front of over 600,000 people. Who does not know the video clip of the mega-hit "All Right Now" shot in the same mythological show.
So for those unfamiliar with "Free", this is a hard rock/blues rock band formed in 1968 by guitarist Paul Kossoff who came from the band "Black Cat Bones" and singer Paul Rodgers. The two added drummer Simon Kirke and bassist Andy Fraser from "John Mayall's Bluesbreakers", whom he joined when he was only 15 years old.
They recorded their first album - "Tons of Sobs" in late 1968 and it was released in March 1969. They were really young and inexperienced, all under the age of 20, when Andy Fraser was then only 16, which is noticeable in the results. The album failed to elicit a response from audiences and critics.
Although the second album bearing the band's name - "Free" was released only a few months later, one could already feel the difference, especially in Paul Rodgers' voice which sounded like a combination of James Brown's voice with Robert Plant's depth and Rod Stewart's hoarseness. Another significant change was in the quality of the material, which was written almost entirely by Rogers and bassist Fraser, who studied classical music and also knew how to play the piano. At the same time, this album also did not arouse any significant interest, nor did it enter the charts.
In January 1970, "Free" opened the decade at the Trident recording studio in London, where they entered to record their third album. They decide to make a change and for the first time produce the album themselves. They knew they had to have a "hit" this time. After two albums that failed to take off, it was clear to them that if they failed to produce a serious hit, their fate was doomed and no record company would be interested in continuing to fund them.
The opportunity to produce the "hit" they so longed for, came precisely after the band's failed performance in Durham England. Drummer Simon Kirk recalls that they got off the stage at the sound of their footsteps because the audience did not even clap. They went into the locker room and realized they desperately needed a good rock track with which they could end their performances. And so all of a sudden, the inspiration fell on young bassist Andy Fraser and he started dancing while singing the phrase "All Right Now". Kirk noted that the entire song was written in the same locker room within 10 minutes.
This song was a meteoric success and jumped straight to number one on the charts in over 20 different countries. It is one of the greatest rock anthems of all time, which has a place of honor next to other great anthems like "Smoke On The Water", "Satisfaction", "Whole Lotta Love", and more. In 2006 the American Artists' Rights Organization BMI announced that the song had been played over 3,000,000 times on radio stations since its release. Do the math yourself, it means this song was played 10 times an hour, every day, every month, for 26 years !!!
This song of course saved "Free" from doom, but it is the one that also eventually led to its end. The band failed to recreate such a big hit which would eventually lead to their disbandment after two years and another two studio albums.
Even today, more than 50 years after its release, you can hear in "Fire and Water" the boldness and innovation that the band brought with it. Unlike the English blues-rock / hard-rock bands that performed at the time, such as "Cream", "Blind Faith", and "Derek and the Dominos", "Free" knew how to incorporate soul and groove, into their music, while the other bands were missing.
Listen to the theme song "Fire and Water" that Paul Rodgers noted he wrote with the thought that a soul singer would have to sing it. He said that when he wrote it during the band's US tour in which they warmed up "Blind Faith", he felt that Sly Stone and James Brown were present in the room, but it is clear that the song is closest to Wilson Pickett, who even performed a cover version of it a year later. The guitar playing in this song, is a genius of simplicity, just pure gold.
"Mr. Big" was written by all four members of the band. A great track that showcases the talent of each of the band members. Kosoff's amazing solo that almost sounds like feedback and Fraser's cruel bass with Kirk's precise drumming - a-la Charlie Watts, prove how talented these guys are. The song inspired the name of the American hard rock band "Mr. Big", which even performed a cover version of it in their third self-titled album from 1993.
"Remember" could easily have been part of Rod Stewart and the Faces' repertoire. A song of longing, written by Rodgers and Fraser in Fraser's apartment after Paul moved in. This is a remake of Outtake from the band's first album called "Woman by the Sea".
And how is it possible not to mention the blues-soul ballads “Heavy Load” with Fraser’s piano playing, the mesmerizing “Don’t Say You Love Me” and the “Oh I Wept” that guitarist Paul Kossoff led its writing.