Second Helping

Tuesdays should be for second albums, the infamous sophomore efforts that either hope to avoid the mistakes of first albums or meet the standards set on the first release. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Second Helping seemed as good a place to start with that theme, given its name and what-not. It’s also a great rocker of an album.

I’m going to say that I love all the songs on this album, save one, “The Ballad of Curtis Loew.” I never got into it when I was a kid and I never grew warm to it after a few attempts to “get it” since then. In over 25 years of ownership, I’ve never gotten to where I like that song. I don’t necessarily hate it, either, so it’s not really a drag on the whole album. It’s just a song I skip and I want you all to know up front that it’s going to affect my final score for the album. I can’t give it a perfect 10 if there’s something on it that I don’t like in some form or fashion and that’s that.

With that difficult bit out of the way, let me focus on the other seven songs. The album opens with a KFC commercial… I have to say I HATE KFC for taking that great anthem, “Sweet Home Alabama,” and turning it into a vehicle for the sales of its fried chicken which, truth be told, I find inferior to Golden Chick, Popeye’s, and Church’s. “Sweet Home Alabama” is a perfect answer song to Neil Young’s “Southern Man,” but it stands on its own merits as a guitar army anthem. Fun fact: Neil Young and Ronnie Van Zant were good friends and Van Zant wears a Neil Young t-shirt on the cover of Skynyrd’s third album, Nuthin’ Fancy.

“Sweet Home Alabama” is as necessary to a classic rock playlist as watts are to a radio station. If you want to hear it for yourself, find a classic rock station and wait about half an hour. You’ll hear it. For me, I my 10th grade Chemistry class seatmate Amy Etheridge… whenever the teacher was done for the day and retired to the supply room, we’d enjoy our free time by cranking up our air guitars and opening with “Sweet Home Alabama.” We’d sing those great chords and then, “Toin it up…” Good times. No way can I be objective about this one, so lucky for me it’s one of rock’s great tracks.

“I Need You” follows up with a deep, bluesy feel. It’s rich in emotion and pain and should be an object lesson to all young punks getting started these days: you can communicate your pain without having to scream. You don’t have to not play your instruments, either, so get back to the garage and practice some more.

How about the fun of “Don’t Ask Me No Questions?” Like “Gimme Three Steps” from their first answer, this one’s a great uptempo number with a smart lyric. It leads perfectly into “Workin’ for MCA” which ironically discusses the very topics the band distanced themselves from in “Don’t Ask Me No Questions.” Controversy, amirite? No, it’s rock and roll not taking itself very seriously, and that’s the best way to take it. The pair are a great couple and the guitar work is top-notch. When you get three guitarists that know what they’re doing, it makes for a great sound, let me tell you what.

Side two opens with… no, I skip that one… it opens – for me – with “Swamp Music.” This is what I call a deep cut. It doesn’t get much airplay, but since I don’t listen to the radio anymore, I can track it up on my MP3 playlists as often as I’d like and this one gets heavy rotation on my PC. The bass line does it for me on this track. It propels the popcorn guitar and drums on down the road like a pickup going over a dirt road somewhere in the pine trees… Not gonna lie, I get red dirt in my mouth when I play this song. I can practically smell the bait shack when this song is going. If you’re city folks that cain’t understand th’ country, then perhaps you best not mess with this one. Just head th’ tuther way and as you keep walkin’, you can wonder what “tuther” means. For those of us what understands “tuther,” we’re gonna enjoy this song, hear?

“The Needle and the Spoon,” ironically co-written by Allen Collins, whose drug abuse problems dogged him all his life, right up to when he had to be wheeled out on stage, paralyzed from the waist down and unable to play guitar, just before “That Smell” so he could address the audience about the danger of drug abuse as part of his plea-bargain for a vehicular manslaughter charge. Sadly, Collins turns in a great guitar line on what forms part of the epitaph of his life.

The album closes with a rousing southern-fried rendition of JJ Cale’s “Call Me the Breeze.” This is a song made for guitars to rock in unison to. It’s a great driving song, to boot. Solid rhythm, fun singalong lyrics, and awesome fills. It’s not for the interstate, with its straight, unimaginative flatness. It’s for the state highway, wending its way from town to town. Heck, even if you’re stuck in traffic, it’s a great song to have with you unlike some real racers that only frustrate at the stop lights and school zones. “Call Me the Breeze” is great any time, any where, and in any weather conditions – should be particularly ironic during a hurricane, now that I think about it.

In Second Helping, Skynyrd delivered on the promise of their Pronounced album. “Free Bird” and “Simple Man” find their matches in enduring enjoyability in “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Call Me the Breeze.” I keep coming back to this album after all these years and I still have a great time with it. I suppose that’s why I like writing these retrospective album reviews – it’s long after the initial shock or thrill of the album has passed and I get to answer the question, “how well has it stood the test of time?” In the case of Second Helping, I’m up for thirds, if there’s any left. It gets a 9 out of 10 because there’s hardly anything not to love about it.

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