FREE – ” Highway ” Released 8th December 1970

Posted: January 28, 2018 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
Tags: ,
The Free Way Or The ‘Highway’

The summer of 1970 was a magic time for Free. They announced themselves to a wider audience as one of the most soulful rock bands of the new decade with an all-pervading tune called ‘All Right Now.’

Not only did the song reach No. 2 and help the parent album Fire and Water to the same runner-up spot in the UK, but ‘All Right Now’ became a top 15 hit twice more in just eight years, and charted four times in total in 12 years. Then came time for the follow-up album Highway, which made its UK chart debut on 23rd January, 1971.

This album was recorded very quickly after the band’s triumphant performance at the Isle Of Wight Festival. However, the band were now in a very relaxed frame of mind. They’d gained the big breakthrough in their career and could now capitalise on it.

Again Rodgers and Fraser wrote the bulk of the material, seven of the tracks. And there was an ease here that comes across in the way that all four members perform. However, it was Kossoff, despite his infamous problems at the time, who sounds best of all. It’s as if he’d found a new level. The disappointment is that the band broke up after this, and later regrouped under stressful circumstances.

There are those who decry ‘Highway’, regarding it as being a lesser work than ‘Fire And Water’, but when you look at the track listing, how many of those songs instantly bring to mind the melody involved. These were songs of a high calibre and stature.

But, given the enormous success of what had gone before, nobody should be surprised that ‘Highway’ wasn’t a big a success, only getting to number 41 in the UK and 190 in the US. But don’t undervalue what’s here musically.

Free had confirmed their place in the top division at the Isle of Wight Festival at the end of August. Appearing on the closing Sunday bill, they performed that big hit among other originals, ending with a version of Robert Johnson’s ‘Crossroads. That Isle of Wight set also saw Free confidently introducing several songs that not only weren’t out, but hadn’t even been recorded yet.

‘The Stealer,’ ‘Be My Friend’ and ‘Ride On A Pony’ were all about to be laid down in the September sessions at Island Studios that produced the Highway album. Seven of the nine songs were collaborations between lead singer Paul Rodgers and bassist Andy Fraser, with guitar hero Paul Kossoff joining them on the credit for ‘The Stealer.’ Drummer Simon Kirke co-wrote ‘Love You So’ with Rodgers.

free

Highway is an album of gentle pleasures, more low-key and less rocky than much of Free’s trademark material. ‘Sunny Day,’ ‘Love You So’ and ‘Bodie’ all exemplify the more thoughtful approach. But for whatever reason — the lack of a hit single doubtless a key factor — the stars weren’t aligned this time. Highway enjoyed much less of an endorsement than its predecessor, both from the media and the public. In the UK, it reached a mere No. 41 and was off the chart in two weeks, as it was in America, with a No. 190 peak.

The band fell into disharmony, their continuation together prolonged almost by chance, when they recorded ‘My Brother Jake’ early in 1971 before going their separate ways…and promptly saw it reach the UK top five, with which they resolved to work together again, happily for fans who snapped up both Free At Last and Heartbreaker.

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