The last three songs on this list are the toughest to write about – their pleasures aren’t as easy to articulate as the infectious punch-line guffaw. These three have amorphous qualities that swim in and out of each other’s borders; putting them in order is almost as cruel as naming a favorite child. Nevertheless, Song #1 is my clear fave, while songs #3 and #2 do in fact rest uneasily on a slightly lower plain.
Lynyrd Skynyrd has itself become something of a cultural punch-line, due only to its inescapable and entirely unchosen anthem, Sweet Home Alabama. The recent movie 8 Mile (a questionable, if cleverly-staged Eminem apologia) delivered a back-handed compliment to LS by staging a rap-along to SHA as the song was pouring out the hero’s screen door, into the trailer park. The white hero and his black friend substitute “I Live In A Trailer” to SHA, and take it from there.
The viewer can interpret this scene any number of ways. The most generous take on it might be this is an apt demonstration of and homage to the inherently subversive work of LS, which starts with what seems like a position of self-ridicule, only to highlight the weakness of the original critic. For the moment, all I’ll say to that interpretation is, I have my doubts, but hey: thanks for the olive branch.
Singer, guitar-player, lyricist Ronnie Van Zant mastered a form of rock & roll that we’ve seen precious little of since: the court jester, bubbling over with morbid humor and, in the words of Johnny Rotten, “a sense of distaff” that highlights humanity’s fundamental absurdities. In his short, violently truncated career in the jester’s court, Van Zant punched out one hilarious dispatch after another. Gimme Three Steps was his calling card, originally released on LS’s first album, Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd. The text is straight-forward enough: set to infectious Southern juke-joint rock & roll, the singer relates an incident when a dance with a girl was interrupted by her gun-totin’ boyfriend. The singer (a “fella with (his) hair colored yella”) wets his pants, the girl and the boyfriend exchange words, and the singer flees. End of story. Except the sub-text is the standard technique of the jester, a rollicking laugh at the singer’s own expense; the pronouncement: “Man, I am such a total loser, don’t you worry about a thing I say!”
And so you listen and laugh at your own expense – because you find you can afford to.
Chuckle-Head Song #2!