Lynyrd Skynyrd were not the first, and certainly not the last, Southern rock band. They are surely the style's quintessential embodiment, however, and that began with their first album – the not-so-helpfully titled Pronounced 'Leh-'nerd 'Skin-'nerd.

The LP, which arrived in August 1973, essentially laid the foundation for Skynyrd's entire career with staples like "I Ain't the One," "Tuesday's Gone," "Gimme Three Steps," "Simple Man" and the universally known "Free Bird," perhaps the most requested song of all-time, making them seem like your classic overnight sensation to many outside observers and new fans.

That wasn't the case for high school pals Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins and Gary Rossington, who had been jamming together in their native Jacksonville, Fla., since as far back as 1964. Over the ensuing 10 years, they would cycle through numerous group names and short-termed band mates on a painfully slow and winding road toward becoming Lynyrd Skynyrd.

That effort obviously paid off in the outstanding quality of the tunes that the central Skynyrd trio of Van Zant, Collins and Rossington slaved over for years. Certainly, they impressed famed songwriter, performer and producer Al Kooper, who officially "discovered" the band and promptly signed them to his MCA-distributed Sounds of the South label.

Together, they created Pronounced 'Leh-'nerd 'Skin-'nerd, which threw Lynyrd Skynyrd into the leading role of Southern rock bands – a genre that had recently suffered a huge setback with the tragedy-stricken Allman Brothers Band. "Free Bird" even became associated with fallen guitar god Duane Allman, after Skynyrd began regularly dedicating the song to him from the stage.

Lynyrd Skynyrd's publicly perceived inheritance of that Southern rock mantle was entirely deserved, as they would carry on exposing untold legions of new fans to the style with a slew of spectacular albums and songs, right up to the day when horrendous tragedy befell them, too.

Since then, "Free Bird" has become Van Zant's tribute song, and it is bound to forever keep his memory alive -- as it will that of this landmark first album -- for as long as lonely voices in random clubs and stadiums everywhere interrupt the void between songs with cries for "Free Bird"!

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