Released: October 1977
Chart Peak: #5
Weeks Charted: 34
Certified Double Platinum: 7/21/87
This is the last album from Lynyrd Skynyrd as we have known it, barring release of outtakes or other stuff taped earlier, since three members were killed in an airplane wreck just as Street Survivors was about to be marketed. And it's a pretty well-edited showcase of the band's strengths. It's Southern rock from the viewpoint popularized by the Allman Brothers, drawing much more from black than white country music, but the band had its own way of playing it. The songs aren't very deep; you don't need to play a cut ten times to find out what the song is about -- but playing it three or four times will help you appreciate the ensemble work, the blend of voices and instruments, instruments and instruments. And this batch of songs is fairly tuneful. Nothing stands out as a real grabber, beyond the irony of the word "survivors" in the title and the message of "That Smell" ("of death"), but then nothing slinks down as a real dud either. It doesn't strike me as the kind of album to play five times a day the first week you have it, but if you like the genre, it's the kind of album you can keep coming back to.
- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 2/78.
- Billboard, 1977.
Some rock deaths are irrelevant, while others make a kind of sense because the artists involved so obviously long to transcend (or escape) their own mortality. But for Ronnie Van Zant, life and mortality were the same thing -- there was no way to embrace one without at least keeping company with the other. So it makes sense that "That Smell" is the smell of death, or that in "You Got That Right" Van Zant boasts that he'll never be found in an old folks' home. As with too many LPs by good road bands, each side here begins with two strong cuts and then winds down. The difference is that the two strong cuts are very strong and the weak ones gain presence with each listen. I'm not just being sentimental. I know road bands never make their best album the sixth time out, and I know Van Zant had his limits. But I mourn him not least because I suspect that he had more good music left in him than Bing and Elvis put together. A
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
As others have noted, Street Survivors makes an eerily perfect epitaph for what may have been the last of the truly great Southern road bands. It was the last recording (other than Skynyrd's First... and Last issued posthumously the following year) as far as Ronnie Van Zandt, Steve Gaines, and Cassie Gaines, were concerned -- they were victims of a fatal plane crash shortly after Street Survivors' release. Easily the best of the albums produced by Tom Dowd, it was their best new work in several years. The first two tracks are the strongest, "What's Your Name," and the strangely prophetic "That Smell," which ranks with the band's very best work. Though a bit overbright, the recording has a tight, bright, dynamic sound. A
The addition of lead guitarist and singer Steve Gaines goaded Ronnie Van Zant and the band into a dramatic rebirth. Street Survivors featured tighter songs, strong melodies, and an exciting element of vocal interplay between Van Zant and Gaines ("You Got That Right"). The contrast between Gaines's clean lead style, Collins's flash, and Rossington's thick-toned lyrical phrasing is something to behold. Without a doubt, it's Skynyrd's most cohesive body of work since Second Helping. * * * *
- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
It doesn't get much better than Street Survivors, a molten slab of fiery three-guitar Southern rock with just the right amount of country and a fantastic collection of songs -- including "You Got That Right," "That Smell" and "What's Your Name." * * * * *
- Alan Paul, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
(2008 Deluxe Edition) Three days after the release of Street Survivors in 1977, Lynyrd Skynyrd singer Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Steve Gaines died in a plane crash that severely injured the rest of the band members. But even without the added resonance of tragedy, the album's second track, "That Smell," would have stood out in the band's catalog. It bites the chord progression and the apocalyptic vibe of "All Along the Watchtower" for a tale of the "smell of death" that surrounds a character trapped in drug addiction (and a pretty heavy habit at that: The lyrics allude to coke, weed, alcohol and ludes). The swampy groove and Van Zant's bluesy, understated vocals -- listen to his offhandedly contemptuous delivery of the line "stuck a needle in your arm" -- manage to sustain the ominous mood even when the female backing singers harmonize on the phrase "Hell, yeah!" Early versions of "That Smell" (including a slower take that comes in at seven and a half minutes, thanks to epic, "Freebird"-worthy guitar duels) are the highlight of the bonus disc here, which includes a more stripped-down early version of the entire album. Street Survivors was the most meticulously crafted record of the original Skynyrd's eleven-year career and, as a result, their most consistent. Album opener and classic rock-radio staple "What's Your Name" is the second-greatest groupie song of all time (next to "Stray Cat Blues"), and the Allmans-esque "I Never Dreamed" is its flip side, a redneck-emo tale of lady-killer machismo thwarted by love: "I've had a thousand, maybe more/ But never one like you," Van Zant sings, as the lead guitars match him, lament for lament. Perhaps best of all is the band's raucously virtuosic take on Merle Haggard's "Honky Tonk Night Time Man," which overflows with gorgeous country riffs that sound like pure chicken-fried joy. And Van Zant's voice is rich and authentic enough to make you mourn the pure country album he never got to record. * * * 1/2
- Brian Hiatt, Rolling Stone, 3/6/08.
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