The Real Reason Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Free Bird' Is So Long

Some songs are sprints, and others are marathons. On the shorter end you have "My Ding-A-Ling" by Chuck Berry, which lasts about four minutes, according to the BBC. The song, Berry's only number one hit, isn't quite a quickie, but the time you muster up the courage to sing, "My ding-a-ling, my ding-a-ling, I want to play with my ding-a-ling," out loud, the music has long stopped. Far longer than "My Ding-a-Ling" is Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," which clocks in at a tad over 17 minutes, according to Ultimate Classic Rock, and sounds like it was written by barbiturates. But as recounted in the book Behind the Lyrics, Iron Butterfly drummer Ron Bushy explained that singer Doug Ingle drank a gallon of Red Mountain wine for recording their iconic word slurry.

In between "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" and "My Ding-A-Ling," is Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird." The studio version runs about 9 minutes long, per How Stuff Works, and has become a running joke to request the song at concerts. During Skynyrd's concerts, the song might last an extra 5 minutes, or slightly more than a ding-a-length. It didn't start off that way, though. So how did "Free Bird" become a run-on song?

Giving you the Free Bird

People always ask for "Free Bird," so this article is unapologetically giving you the bird for free. On a broadcast of the Ultimate Classic Rock Nights radio show Lynyrd Skynyrd's Gary Rossington recounted how "Free Bird" came to be so long. "[Guitarist] Allen Collins had the chords all written, and he had planned a lot and he was trying to get [vocalist Ronnie Van Zant] to write lyrics to it," Rossington recalled. Van Zant took issue with the number of chord changes, so the musicians spent a few weeks trying to achieve creative harmony. "

Initially, "Free Bird" was meant to be "a real simple love song about leaving you." The book Whiskey Bottles and Brand-New Cars explains that the opening line, "If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?" was actually something that Collins' then-girlfriend, Kathy, had asked him. But during the band's jam sessions, "it got longer and longer," and according to Rossington, "At first it didn't have the end, the long guitar end; it was just the slow love song. Then we came up with the end, and as we practiced every day, it came along."

So there you have it: "Free Bird" is long because the band made it long. Maybe not the most exciting reason, but after hearing Chuck Berry sing about playing with his ding-a-ling, everything else sounds like an anticlimax anyway.