Listen: Stealer / Free FreeStealer.mp3
Listen: Travellin In Style / Free FreeTravelin.mp3
Free had terrible luck with followups. I’ve always been a bigger fan of the single that came just after the big hit, there are endless examples. Used to say if I loved it – the act was in trouble – at least I know how to read my own barometer.
Free did it twice. ‘All Right Now’ was a monster global hit in May ’70. I still can’t listen to it all these years later – and I love the song. Unfortunately, you couldn’t escape it, almost to the level of ‘Good Vibrations’ or ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ in being hammered into a negative impression by radio. FIRE AND WATER, the album from which it came, was full of classic Free. The followup long player, HIGHWAY, seemed prime to do even better. It’s a better record too – I still maintain that. ‘Stealer’ was the lead single, and everyone had high hopes. They were selling more tickets than ever, their sound was now signature, with Andy Fraser’s bass strutting the songs forward and Paul Rodgers voice unmistakeable. Even the US label A&M thought it was in the bag, ordering a full color picture sleeve to house the 7″, not common in those days. Then plunk – didn’t even chart in the UK. What a shock. It stalled at #49 here – US radio would never touch them again.
Despite some occasional, and solid UK hits (‘Little Bit Of Love’, ‘My Brother Jake’), it wasn’t until ’73 that Free scored another big rock UK Top 10, this time from their solid HEARTBREAKER album, a bit of a comeback, regrouped, rejuvinated Free. ‘Wishing Well’ was as stormer, and just a perfect bit eerie, reaching #7 in January. One of the many top songs from that LP, ‘Travellin In Style’ was chosen as the followup. It’s loose, bar room sloppiness felt right in the ‘My Brother Jake’ pocket. Oh no, again plunk. Not a blip of sell through. Oddly enough a hard one to find in good shape.