Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Free - Tons Of Sobs

Free
Tons Of Sobs


Released 1968 on Island
Reviewed by Fitter Stoke, 25/06/2002ce


The decending four note acoustic lick that accompanies the mighty Paul Rodgers at the very start of 'Tons Of Sobs' sets the down 'n' dirty tone of one of the greatest debut albums ever made. 'Over The Green Hills' begins and ends this awesome collection, a quiet, pensive yet restless paean to the open road. But after only one verse something mega happens: the most crude yet spine-tingling guitar fade-in in the history of rock 'n' roll. And this ain't no ordinary guitar. This is THE KOSS. The song is called 'Worry' and is heavy, heavy, HEAVY in the best, traditional "file under progressive" sense of the word. Wonder at the tightest rhythm section of all time, with bass licks so fluid they run the risk of oozing out of your speakers and staining your carpet. Wonder at the vocal dexterity of the (amazingly) still-teenage Rodgers, who sounds as if he's been sneaking class and smoking weed since his mum left him at the kindergarten gates. Wonder, even, at the understated and underrated Steve Miller (nah, not the 'Abracadabra' scrote, but the late Canterbury veteran of great unsung bands like Delivery, Caravan and Matching Mole), whose bar room joanna adds so much to the overall feel and sound. But wonder most of all at the wondrous Les Paul of THE KOSS, whose god-given fingers seem incapable of playing a note more than six frets down from the uppermost limits of that mighty instrument, and whose strings must need tuning or changing after every song, such is the level of bend abuse applied. The song is tense to the point of breakdown, and the distortion in the master tape seems to accentuate the agony. Delicious.

Barely has 'Worry' faded out before a Koss feedback wail takes us into the three-chord bordello that is 'Walk In My Shadow', the first of several Rodgers compositions that tell of sexual fever so extreme that you fear for his women's safety. Three chords it may be, but atop that hackneyed blues structure is one of the catchiest riffs in the western world. And, of course, THE KOSS doing his thang. 'Wild Indian Woman' and 'Sweet Tooth' are more of the same. Listen to the vocal inflections and hear where David sodding Coverdale got the idea to be a singer. Rodgers should have sued.

'Goin' Down Slow' and 'Moonshine' are two deadly slow blues burners with the best guitar and vocal interplay on the album. Listen to the gorgeous, precisely controlled feedback that backs the vocal in the latter's verses, then marvel at the dynamic build up that follows. A word here for Guy Stevens, the legend, who captures the sound just right and knows exactly where to apply the volume to the best effect.

Which leaves 'I'm A Mover' and 'The Hunter', perhaps the record's most celebrated tracks as staples of Free's live set throughout their all-too-brief existence. 'Im A Mover' has another of those perfect, octave-based riffs that risk terminal St Vitus Dance on the listener, and, in common with most of the album's songs, loud searing choruses that give Kossoff his chance to glow. 'The Hunter' is a cover that Rodgers made entirely his own (and yes, I'm aware of Plant's brief rendition on the contemporaneous first Zep LP) and lyrically, of course, fits in perfectly with the lustfully perverse songs here under his own name. I hate the expression 'classic rock', but if such a beast exists, this might as well be it. The album ends as it begun, with 'Over The Green Hills Part 2': in fact the second half of the same song (hear it uninterrupted on the 'Songs Of Yesterday' box set - terrific).

'Tons Of Sobs' is one of those debut releases that create such an punch that you can't imagine its creators ever bettering it. And I am of the humble opinion that they never did. Every subsequent album bore less emotion, invention and out-and-out GUTS as this one. This is the sound of a bunch of cocksure, precocious teenagers getting their rocks off. Hear this marvellous record and you'll end up hating 'All Right Now' even more than you do now.


(Now available as an Island mid-priced CD, recently reissued with extra tracks)


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