In 1973, Lynyrd Skynyrd released their first album, (Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd). It immediately put them on the rock and roll map. Over the next few years, they continued to build on their legacy with one great album after another. And then tragedy struck. On October 20, 1977, lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backup singer Cassie Gaines were killed when their chartered airplane crashed. For a long time, it seemed the band was over. Then, in 1991, they returned with a new lineup but the same brand of southern rock. The reformed group have now released more albums than the original lineup, contributing to over 28 million records sales in total. Here, we take a look back at their career as we rank all 14 Lynyrd Skynyrd albums.
14. Christmas Time Again
Over the years, there’ve been some great Christmas albums from rockers. Slade, Wizard, and even the Darkness have all managed to inject plenty of festive cheer into their work without sounding like a complete novelty act in the process. Lynyrd Skynyrd didn’t. Kids might get a kick out of their version of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but even they’d turn their noses up at the rest of Christmas Time Again.
13. Vicious Cycle
2003’s Vicious Cycle was made with good intentions (to pay tribute to original bassist Leon Wilkeson, who’d passed away two years prior) but unfortunately, the end result didn’t live up to expectations. The songs are superficial, and the sound is tired. It’s maybe understandable that the band had dug themselves into a bit of a rut by this point in their career, but it doesn’t make it any more listenable.
12. Edge of Forever
Edge of Forever isn’t a terrible album. Not that we remember anyway. The problem is, it’s almost impossible to remember a single thing about it. The band sounds tight, but the songs themselves are the very opposite of earworms. If any album had the power to induce collective amnesia with its listeners, this is it.
Like Edge of Forever, Twenty, its 1997 predecessor, is an easily forgettable, mediocre collection of country-rock songs. The Ronnie and Johnny Van Zant duet (enabled by the wonders of technology, not time travel) is a nice diversion, even if largely for the novelty, but the rest of the album is about as memorable as elevator music.
10. The Last Rebel
By 1993, Lynyrd Skynyrd were tired. And they sound it. The world was changing around them, grunge and alt-rock were taking over the radio, and Skynyrd were rapidly in danger of becoming yesterday’s news. Their ever-revolving lineup seemed to be draining them of energy, rather than invigorating them, and the result, The Last Rebel, is predictably lackluster.
9. Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991
After a fourteen-year hiatus, Lynyrd Skynyrd returned in 1991 with their first album since the fateful plane crash that killed three members of the band. Late singer Ronnie Van Zant’s brother Johnny was recruited as his replacement and Randall Hall was bought in to replace Steve Gaines. Original guitarist Ed King, who’d left the band during the Nuthin’ Fancy tour in 1975, was back, as was drummer Artimus Pyle. Unfortunately, the album doesn’t quite cut it. It’s got plenty of swagger, but very little game. The dynamics of the original lineup are noticeable only by their absence.
8. God & Guns
By 2009, the only member of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s classic lineup still standing was Gary Rossington. Unsurprisingly, God & Guns barely sounds like a Skynyrd album at all. It’s not a terrible album, and some of the songs have their charms. It’s just not Skynyrd.
7. Endangered Species
Three years after their underwhelming return, the reunited Skynyrd were back with Endangered Species. It’s not up to the standards of the band’s 70’s efforts but it’s still a solid album, with a good combination of old classics (the stripped-back versions of Sweet Home Alabama and Saturday Night Special are particularly noteworthy) along with some very decent material. It’s a calmer, quieter affair than what Skynyrd would go on to do next, but that’s no bad thing at all.
6. Last Of A Dyin’ Breed
We all know what to expect from the newly reformed Skynyrd by now, and 2012’s Last Of A Dyin’ Breed found the band back on familiar territory. It’s loud, relentless, and rooted firmly in country-rock. It’s not subtle, but at this point, it wouldn’t be Skynyrd if it were.
5. Gimme Back My Bullets
1976’s Gimme Back My Bullets didn’t achieve the same level of commercial success as its predecessor, Nuthin’ Fancy, but it’s still a great listen. Ronnie Van Zant didn’t like it much, claiming that producer Tom Dowd had made it too “refined.” He didn’t, and Ronnie got it wrong about the album too – it’s far from weak, with plenty of grit and gravel to keep things rocking. The swaggering title track is particularly fine.
4. Nuthin’ Fancy
Nuthin’ Fancy is exactly that. There’s no-frills, no fancy business – just straight up, workmanlike southern rock. From the bluesy Saturday Night Special to the woozy, booze-soaked Whiskey Rock-A-Roller, it’s proficient, tough-talking, and very, very listenable.
3. Street Survivors
Up next is 1977’s Street Survivors. Released just three days before the fatal plane crash, the album is the last to feature the classic lineup. After the crash, the original cover photo of the band surrounded by flames was replaced, although very little could be done to lessen the blow of the cruelly ironic title. The album was simply too good to be overwhelmed by events though. Energetic, adventurous, and packed with great songs, it’s a sensational piece of rock and roll.
2. Second Helping
Topping their debut was an impossible task, but Lynyrd Skynyrd almost managed it with their epic second album, Second Helping. If they had any concerns about falling victim to the ‘difficult second album’ syndrome, they were misplaced. Ed King’s promotion to full-time guitarist introduced us to the band’s signature triple-guitar attack (at its finest here on Call Me the Breeze), while his lyrical contributions helped co-author three of the album’s most iconic songs – Workin’ for MCA, Swamp Music, and Sweet Home Alabama, the bullish answer to Neil Young’s song, Southern Man. Southern rock rarely gets better than this.
1. (Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd)
In 1973, Lynyrd Skynyrd released their debut, an album that summed up everything we needed to know about the band in one neat, perfect package. As Louder Sound, says, it’s filled with great songs, from Simple Man, a track that set the template for ’70s southern rock, to the wistful Tuesday’s Gone, the anthemic Free Bird, and humorous Gimme Three Steps. This, more than any other album, ensured their legacy. Almost 50 years on, it’s still as vital as ever.