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Highway is the fourth studio album by English rock band Free. It was recorded extremely quickly in September 1970 following the band’s success at the Isle of Wight Festival but with an attitude of relaxation, the band having achieved worldwide success with their previous album Fire and Water (26 June 1970) and the single “All Right Now“. It is a low-key and introspective album compared with its predecessors.

From a writing point of view Highway continued in the same vein as previous albums, with vocalist Paul Rodgers and bassist Andy Fraser collaborating on seven of the nine songs. For the most part it was the easiest of their albums to record as they had achieved their desire to have a hit single and returned to the studio with renewed confidence. Guitarist Paul Kossoff however found sudden fame more difficult to deal with, and remembered the aftermath of “All Right Now” as being “a great increase in pressure from every angle” (quoted in Phil Sutcliffe’s liner notes). He preferred the more serious, weighty songs on the album such as “Be My Friend”, which he saw as an antidote to the “frivolity” of “All Right Now”.

It was their last album to be recorded in a position of success and security, as its failure contributed to the emotionally insecure Kossoff’s growing drug addictionand the band’s temporary split, from which it never truly recovered. Some, including drummer Simon Kirke, also cite the death of Kossoff’s idol Jimi Hendrix (which occurred during the sessions for this album on 18 September 1970), as an important factor in his eventual breakdown.

Much to the band’s disappointment, the album only reached No. 41 in the UK album charts (the previous album Fire and Water had reached #2) and only reached No. 190 in the US. The single release “The Stealer” failed in the UK also, and only reached No. 49 in the US. (Rodgers and Kirke would later re-record “The Stealer” with Bad Company in 1975 during the sessions for band’s third album Run with the Pack (1976), but the track was not included on the album).

The album received a lukewarm critical reaction. The single release “The Stealer” had not been Island Records boss Chris Blackwell‘s first choice: He had wanted to release “Ride on a Pony” but this was changed at the band’s insistence. Some, such as engineer Andy Johns, blamed the album cover which was aesthetically flat compared to previous releases and did not prominently display the band’s name. It was believed that some fans who otherwise would have bought the album failed to notice it because of this.

They returned to the studio in early 1971 and managed to record four tracks before they eventually split, after fulfilling contracted tour dates. These ‘limbo’ tracks included the surprise UK #4 hit single “My Brother Jake“; the other three have surfaced on various other albums over the years. A notable cover version in 1971 is “Be My Friend” by Sylvia McNeill, produced by Tony Hall, on RCA 2058 (UK 45rpm).

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