The opening few seconds of Free’s 1970 mega-hit All Right Now – with Paul Kossoff’s cranked-up Les Paul keeping a steady pace with Simon Kirke’s thumping beat – have to go down as one of the most recognisable intros of all time. Budding air guitarists, wedding-disco grans and serious rock aficionados all love the song with passionate, equal measure, proven by the fact that it’s still one of the most played tracks on the airwaves.
By the time they had laid down the song at Island’s Basing Street Studios during the early months of 1970, Free had released two poor-selling but sure-fire killer blues-rock albums and had spent two years of gruelling, non-stop club touring up and down the UK. The guys’ ages belied their incredible talent. Sticksman Simon Kirke and vocalist Paul Rodgers were by now 20 years old, while prodigiously talented guitarist Paul Kossoff was still 19 and bassist Andy Fraser only 17.
With All Right Now, the youthful London rockers bounced straight into the big-time, hitting No 2 on the UK charts and No 4 in the USA while their third album Fire And Water, which featured the track, would remain Free’s most successful during their brief five-year career.
Paul Rodgers, who co-wrote this track, still remembers fondly how the song first came together. “I remember thinking about the kind of song we needed and I remember discussing it after a gig,” he told Total Guitar in 2012. “I said, ‘What we need is a song that is just really simple that everyone can sing… something like, ‘Aaalllll riiiiight noow!’ and I just went, ‘Wait a minute, that’s it!’
"Then I think Koss took it away and came back with those chords and I came up with [the lyrics]. I thought, ‘OK, all right now – what’s all right now? Right… well probably, you’re going to be all right if you meet a chick or a girl in the street, and what happens is there’s she stood in the street, what’s she doing? Well, smiling from her head to her feet and ‘Hey, what’s this? She’s in need of a kiss’, y’know.
“And the lyrics just rolled out very, very quickly from there… It was one of those mind flow things that comes to you,” he continued. “They almost write themselves. You want to do it, you want to achieve something, you get into the zone of where you want to be and you get lucky really and the lyrics just pour out.”
Rodgers believed a key ingredient to the song’s mass appeal comes from Kossoff’s inimitable tone and technique. “I do think Koss’ sound was a big part of it,” he explained. “When I listen back now, he had such an amazing sound on that opening chord and with his chord structure on the A chord. He had such a long reach and could actually hold the A note on the E string on the 5th fret. He could get a real ripping sound and it had a lot of depth to it.”
When arranging the song, the guys decided it would add more impact if they held back on the bass during the song’s verses. “That was a very conscious decision because of the chord structure,” says Paul. “The chords were so strong and it’s very different and unique to have the chords and the drums. Once you’ve set that pattern and you bring the bass in, it really elevates it and it builds, basically.”
Over the years a few different mixes of All Right Now have been released, from simple re-masters to alternative guitar and bass takes from the original recording sessions. The actual differences amount to no more than the odd change to the strumming pattern. Some single releases, however, see part of the guitar solo and the final verse cut out all together.
Paul Rodgers still clearly remembered the original recording sessions that took place inside the converted Notting Hill church-cum-studio.
“There were two studios and there was one downstairs, which I always used to call ‘the crypt’ – I’m sure it was never a crypt but it caught on and everybody called it ‘the crypt’ after that!” laughed Rodgers. “We were downstairs when we recorded that and I remember the guys laying the backing track down. We used to put the vocal on afterwards to avoid spillage but immediately afterwards so that I was still very much a part of it. I think they did about 16 takes and I got them to do one more – ‘just give me one more!’
"I remember Chris Blackwell [head of Island Records] came in and walked into the studio right in the middle of my vocal, which was very interesting. You could see he was really nodding and thinking, ‘Wow, this is special!’”
Guitar-wise, Paul Kossoff was playing one of his several Les Paul sunbursts on All Right Now, plugged into a Marshall stack. “Many years later, I purchased one of Paul’s guitars and it was a sunburst,” explained Rodgers. “I thought it was ‘the [All Right Now] guitar’ but it actually wasn’t. It was the one that had belonged to Eric Clapton.
“With Koss and I, the chemistry was very, very strong right from the start,” Rodgers added. “We listened to a lot of the same blues records – Albert King, BB King, John Lee Hooker and all those guys. We were very much in the same frame of mind so there was a great question and answer between the two of us. I can find that with other guitar players but I guess the first person you hook up with like that stays with you. I do miss Koss, bless him.”
While Rodgers has played with some of the best guitarists on the planet over the years – Jimmy Page, Slash, David Gilmour, Gary Moore, Buddy Guy, Brian May and Jeff Beck – he still rates Paul Kossoff, who died so tragically at just 25 years of age, as his favourite.