Lynyrd Skynyrd is widely regarded as one of the most recognizable rock bands of all time. The band was formed in 1966 in Jacksonville, Florida, with lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, Gary Rossington and Allen Collins on guitar, Larry Junstrom on bass guitar, and drummer Bob Burns.
Rossington died on Sunday (March 5), making him the last surviving founding member of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Here are ten of the renowned band’s best hits.
1.) “The Free Bird”
Without “Free Bird,” rock music would be unrecognizable. The song, co-written by Van Zant and Collins, was inspired by a question expressed by Collins’ partner at the time, which lead them to write a song on freedom with a bird as the emblem.
Rossington’s trademark slide guitar technique helped the song reach the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974. “Free Bird” is featured in 500 Tracks That Shaped Rock and Roll, a permanent exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But if I stay here with you, girl
Things just couldn’t be the same
‘Cause I’m as free as a bird now
And this bird you cannot change
Oh, oh, oh, oh
And the bird you cannot change
And this bird, you cannot change
Lord knows, I can’t change
2.”Sweet Home Alabama”
With “Free Bird,” it’s difficult to picture the rock genre without “Sweet Home Alabama.” As a response to Neil Young‘s “Southern Man,” which criticizes racism in the South, Van Zant and Rossington collaborated with then-Lynyrd Skynyrd bassist Ed King to write the song that would soon become the band’s hallmark tune.
Rossington is responsible for the song’s characteristic guitar riff, which inspired the song’s conception. “I had this little riff,” he explained to Garden & Gun in 2015. “It’s the small picking section and I kept playing it over and over when we were waiting on everyone to arrive for rehearsal. We were sitting there, and Ronnie kept repeating, ‘Play that again.’ The words were written by Ronnie, and the music was composed by Ed [King] and me.”
Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet home Alabama
Lord I’m comin’ home to you
3.) “That Odor”
“That Scent” was especially close to Rossington’s heart. After Rossington was involved in a serious vehicle accident while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, bandmates Van Zant and Collins were inspired to write it, with Van Zant composing it as a warning tale for substance addiction. “I got a horrible sense things were going against us, so I thought I’d blow lines, slam some [heroin], and create a morbid song,” Van Zant is reported in Tim Morse’s book, Classic Rock Tales, as stating.
Ooh that smell
Can’t you smell that smell
Ooh that smell
The smell of death surrounds you
4.) “I’m the Breeze”
J.J. Cale wrote and recorded “Call Me the Breeze,” which was released in 1972. When Lynyrd Skynyrd used it on their album Second Helping, they made it their own. “Call Me the Breeze,” although being a cover, is one of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s hallmark songs.
“I believe the greatest praise a songwriter can receive is when someone else sings your tunes,” Cale told Professional Songwriter. “I’m more proud of the long list of individuals who have done my songs than, say, the money or the records I’ve made. You feel terrific when someone cuts your song, whether it’s excellent or awful.”
Call me the breeze
I keep blowin’ down the road
Well now, they call me the breeze
I keep blowin’ down the road
5.”Saturday Night Special,”
Lynyrd Skynyrd was ahead of their time, and “Saturday Night Special” exemplifies that. Van Zant and King wrote the song, which was released in 1975, about the contentious issue of gun control. Despite Van Zant claiming to be a gun owner, the song claims that the guns are only good for putting guys six feet in a hole. The song peaked at number 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 and may be heard in a variety of media, including the soundtrack to the 1978 film Blue Collar, starring Richard Pryor, and the video game Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned.
Mister Saturday Night Special
Got a barrel that’s blue and cold
That ain’t good for nothin’
But puttin’ men six feet in a hole
6.”What’s Your Name?”
The opening tune from their 1977 album Street Survivors was also a top 20 smash for the band. The song was written by Van Zant and Rossington and is based on a genuine occurrence. The song describes how one of their tour staff members got into a brawl at a bar, causing them all to be booted out. They took advantage of the situation by heading to another pub and ordering a bottle of champagne. The song was well received by fans, peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100.
What’s your name, little girl?
What’s your name?
Shootin’ you straight, little girl?
Won’t you do the same?
7.”Don’t Ask Me No Questions,”
Despite its lack of chart success, “Questions” is an important song in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s canon. The song, co-written by Van Zant and Rossington, is a response to those who didn’t believe in the band until they became renowned. But I don’t ask you about your business, and you don’t ask me about mine, Van Zant sings sharply. The song is on the band’s second album, Second Helping, which debuted at number 12 on the Billboard 200.
So don’t ask me no questions
And I won’t tell you no lies
So don’t ask me about my business
And I won’t tell you goodbye
Although not being published as an official single, “Simple Man” struck a chord with listeners, reaching No. 13 on the Billboard Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart. (Pronounced ‘Lh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd), a deep cut on the band’s debut album that catapulted them to superstardom, the song was composed in the aftermath of Van Zant’s grandmother’s death. It has sweet lyrics such as oh, take your time, don’t live too fast / Troubles will come and they will pass, as the title suggests, with Rossington providing the guitar solo.
And be a simple kind of man
Oh, be something you love and understand
Baby, be a simple kind of man
Oh, won’t you do this for me son, if you can?
9.”Red, White, and Blue (Love It or Leave It)”
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Red, White, and Blue” is a patriotic song. Composed in the wake of the September 11 attacks, the song nearly seems like the band’s own mission statement, extending a hand to individuals of all different backgrounds, professing in the lyrics, we’ve always been here / Just trying to sing the truth to you. In 2003, the song peaked at number 30 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.
Well, my hair’s turning white
My neck’s always been red
My collar’s still blue
We’ve always been here
Just trying to sing the truth to you
Guess you could say, we’ve always been red, white and blue
10″Good Love’ Is Hard to Come By”
When this jazzy piece comes on, it’s difficult not to get a spring in one’s step. Rossington leads with his energetic guitar playing on the opening tune of the band’s album, The Last Rebel, released in 1993. Johnny Van Zant, Ronnie’s younger brother, croons, “Good lovin’ so hard to find / Might this be the perfect location, at the right moment,” a decade after Ronnie’s death in the 1977 plane disaster. The song danced its way to No. 6 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.
Good lovin’ so hard to find
Could this be the right place, at the right time
Good lovin’, feels so fine
I just can’t get enough
Cause good lovin’s hard to find, so hard to find