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"We were hell-bent on what we did. I didn't care if I lived or died but for the band."—Paul Rodgers on Free
Though Free enjoyed a respectable amount of critical and commercial success in its heyday, in many ways the band remains one of the most underrated of the early 1970s. Primarily known as the outfit that launched the career of singer Paul Rodgers, who, with Free's drummer Simon Kirke, later founded Bad Company, Free did enjoy one outright classic hit in 1970, "All Right Now." With its simple yet catchy guitar riff and Rodgers' exuberant vocals, it remains one of the era's defining songs, but it also pigeonholed Free as a generic three-chord hard-rock band. Consequently, though Free was often more subtle and creative than it was given credit for, the band never really got the opportunities it deserved. Far worse was that guitarist Paul Kossoff, a brilliant and gifted musician, became ensnared in a debilitating heroin addiction that helped torpedo Free's career before it could really take off. By the time Free disbanded in 1973, Rodgers and Kirke were ready to move on to Bad Company, a band that, while never as artistically ambitious as Free, was certainly far more consistent, and was therefore able to enjoy the kind of arena-rock superstardom that consistently eluded Free. Sadly, Kossoff stumbled through a brief and uneven solo career before his death in 1976, marking an end to any hopes that Free might one day be resurrected. Though Rodgers, Kirke, and bassist Andy Fraser remain justly proud of their work together, they've also made it clear that without Kossoff, Free can never again exist.
Now it's possible to reassess Free's talents as a live act with this release. Though there have been several excellent CD anthologies of the band's music, this is the first time that every possible scrap of film and video that Free ever recorded have finally been collected together. They reveal a band that was truly phenomenal. Free: Forever proves that had Free not suffered from so many personal and professional problems they could have reached the same heights as Led Zeppelin or the Who.
The first disc of Forever compiles various TV sessions, videos, and original interviews. Here is the listing for that disc:
Beat Club, Germany, 1970:
Doin' Their Thing, Granada TV, July 24, 1970:
These are all mostly live performances, and stellar ones at that. Free, it turns out, was a spectacular live act, particularly in the way it seamlessly blended the talents of Rodgers and Kossoff. Rodgers is a charismatic front man, Kossoff an accomplished guitarist, but the two of them together lead Free into some exciting musical adventures. The extended jams on the Granada songs, particularly "Mr. Big" and "All Right Now," show off Free's skilled ensemble playing. They reveal that Free was more than just a bludgeoning hard-rock machine—the band had musical chops to spare. The videos are mostly performance clips as well, although no information is given on when they were filmed. The only exceptions are "Love You So," which compiles archival footage and photos of Kossoff, and "Wishing Well," which appears to have been shot in the '80s with no appearances by the band itself. Instead, it consists of bad '80s effects and clichés surrounding bad '80s video actors with bad '80s hair. The disc also includes a section called the "Freelist," which compiles various odds and ends, mainly old interviews, a filmed early performance that unfortunately has no sound, Free lip-synching "All Right Now" on the BBC's Top of the Pops, and a couple of Fraser's solo videos. These make a nice addition but are not essential. The live performances are the meat of the disc, and fans will be thrilled to finally get a look at just how powerful a live act Free could be.
For another live document of Free hitting its stride, the second disc of this set includes a recording of Free performing at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. Here is the set list for that concert:
• "Ride On Pony"
Sadly, though the entire show was recorded on audio, only three songs from this performance were actually filmed: "Be My Friend," "Mr. Big," and "All Right Now." The remaining songs are accompanied by a slide show of Free albums, photos, and memorabilia that tells the band's story as the music plays. The three filmed songs, however, were captured on multiple cameras and viewers have the option of watching one of four possible angles on each. In addition, the music has been remixed into Dolby 5.1 Surround for maximum impact. Even just hearing the performance you'll be blown away by Free's stage power, and the three filmed songs prove how dynamic Rodgers could be as a front man so early in his career. Both this disc and the first one also come with about ten minutes of interviews recorded in 2006 with the surviving band members as well as Kossoff's brother. They discuss the importance of the Isle of Wight performance (which essentially made Free superstars in England) as well as the band's career and Kossoff's tragic fall. The overall effect of both discs put together will confirm just how important Free was and how the band should be remembered.
Technical specs are variable, depending on the performance. The Isle of Wight tracks have been remastered and look and sound the best, but the two TV performances look pretty good as well, even though they were shot on videotape and suffer from some "sound on vision" (black bands whenever the volume gets very loud) here and there. The remaining clips are less well-preserved, but only a couple of old interview segments are truly dreadful. The 5.1 surround mix, as is usually the case with Eagle Rock's music releases, is stellar. Even the performances that are not as well preserved sound exceptional. The set comes with a foldout poster that includes a fairly comprehensive history of the band as well liner notes for some of these performances. It also includes a miniature replica of a letter that Rodgers wrote to Kossoff's memory in 2006.
Forever, then, is an absolute must for anyone interested in Free's music. Here is every last piece of film and video footage available carefully remastered, remixed, and compiled into a package that meets Eagle Rock's usually superlative standards for music DVDs. More than that, though, Forever serves as a fitting tribute to Paul Kossoff's legacy and to Free's enormous talents.
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