After the release of their gold-selling 1973 debut record, Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd, and subsequent triumphant opening slot on the Who’s Quadrophenia tour, they no longer were a struggling “little” band. Lynyrd Skynyrd had conquered the international rock scene, convincingly. With the release of their sophomore set, the boys from Jacksonville were positioned to “close the deal” in a big way. And 45 years ago this week (April 15, 1974), they delivered a platinum-selling slam dunk.
Produced by Blood, Sweat & Tears co-founder, Al Kooper, Second Helping was brimming with southern-bred authenticity and — great songs. Kicking off with the iconic chart-buster, “Sweet Home Alabama,” the eight cut collection sounded raw, and felt real.
Fueled by Gary Rossington, Allen Collins and Ed King’s heart-stopping triple-threat guitar riffs, beefed-up by Leon Wilkeson’s fast-ass bass lines and glossed to perfection by Billy Powell’s warm Fender Rhodes and rib-tickling piano work, the LP absolutely crackled with urgency.
A rock anthem know by millions the world over, this is “Sweet Home Alabama.”
For many (myself included), the most engaging component of the Skynyrd brand — particularly on Second Helping was the unique storytelling aspect of the songs. Leading that charge, the band’s legendary frontman, the late Ronnie Van Zant. His notoriety as a master storyteller had been cemented on the group’s debut. On record #2, his distinguished reputation was enhanced further. Peppered with gritty growls and hell-raisin’ woo-hoos, Van Zant’s vivid tales were honest and pure. In terms of his lyrics, he simply couldn’t lie. Whatever Ronnie Van Zant was “selling,” I was “buying,” hook, line and sinker.
Although “Sweet Home” was (and still is) a super-hit, other Second Helping slices were (and still are) equally satisfying. A heartfelt, blues-inspired love song, “I Need You” is a gorgeous piece of work, along with “The Ballad of Curtis Loew”— the blues-driven tribute to “a black man with white curly hair and an old dobro.”
Still one the heaviest and nastiest riff-driven tracks this side of the Florida/Georgia line, “Workin’ for MCA” reveals the band’s first-hand experience of signing to a major record label, while “Don’t Ask Me No Questions” spells out Van Zant’s frustration with his newfound stardom and evaporating privacy — “I got to find a break in this action, or else I’m gonna lose my mind.”
A shot of the band in 1974.
A riveting cautionary tale of heroine use, “The Needle and the Spoon” and the dirty back porch-birthed boogie of “Swamp Music” also make for sizzling highlights. Second Helping concludes with a remake of the J.J. Cale classic, “Call Me the Breeze” — a gloriously raucous rendition that sounds like the soundtrack to a Saturday night barroom brawl.
In sum, Second Helping oozes ALL thriller and NO filler. 45 years on, it remains a timeless testament to one of rock’s most endearing bands.
Second Helping Track Listing:
01. Sweet Home Alabama (4:43)
02. I Need You (6:55)
03. Don’t Ask Me No Questions (3:29)
04. Workin’ for MCA (4:49)
01. The Ballad of Curtis Loew (4:51)
02. Swamp Music (3:31)
03. The Needle and the Spoon (3:53)
04. Call Me the Breeze (5:09)
Run Time: 37:15
Release Date: April 15, 1974
Record Label: MCA