Heard It in a Love Song

By Bobby Neal Winters Published on June 13, 2023

I like Southern Rock, particularly Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, and The Marshall Tucker Band. I’ve known them from my youth. I was listening to Marshall Tucker’s “Heard it in a Love Song” the other day, and it occurred to me that this is the same song as Skynard’s “Free Bird” and the Allman Brothers’ “Ramblin’ Man.”

For those of you who are not familiar with “Heard it in a Love Song,” it is written from the point of view of a man singing to a woman he is leaving. He’s explaining to her that it’s not her fault; it’s just the way he is; he’s leaving her; and that’s okay:

I’m the kind of man who likes to get away
Like to start dreaming about tomorrow, today

Always something greener on the other side of that hill
I was born a wrangler and a rounder
And I guess I always will

She’s supposed to think that since he’s being upfront about all this, he’s still a good person. He’s got cultural approval, after all. As the chorus goes, he “heard it in a love song, can’t be wrong.”

In Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird,” the writer is more focused on his own character than the needs and feelings of the woman whom he is leaving. Unless the previous song, he admits it’s all his fault, and feels bad about it, but still, he must leave her because that is who he is:

I must be traveling on now
‘Cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see.

But if I stay here with you, girl
Things just couldn’t be the same.
‘Cause I’m as free as a bird now,
And this bird you cannot change.

The Allman Brothers’ “Ramblin’ Man” makes the reason even clearer. The singer was just born this way:

Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man,
Tryin’ to make a livin’ and doin’ the best I can.
And when it’s time for leavin’, I hope you’ll understand
That I was born a ramblin’ man.

Lest I be remiss, these songs all hearken back to the 1972 classic by Looking Glass. The singer of that song explains to the woman he’s leaving:

Brandy, you’re a fine girl,
What a good wife you would be, 
But my life, my love, and my lady is the sea.

Is It the Way They Are?

Some would say that the women who choose these men don’t really want a long-lasting relationship themselves. They like the bad boys. They choose someone who is going to leave them eventually because they get bored too. That must be true sometimes, but I will leave it to a woman or to a man braver than me to expand upon. I’m concerned with my fellow males.

One could just choose to take the singer at face value: He’s just a roamer. He can’t help “travelin’ on.” It’s the way he is. While he cares for the woman he’s leaving, he’s wrestling within himself that forces him to move on down the line. He might as well try to stop breathing as stop rambling. This bird you cannot change.

Yeah. Right.

While a 20-something might believe that, at 60 it’s difficult to get all that out with a straight face. At 20, a guy may think you have some great destiny to roam the world and that you’re driven by something more powerful than yourself. At 60, he should realize how much of that was lust and hormones.

Starlord Meets Ego

In the movie Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. II, Starlord meets his father, the aptly named Ego. Ego explains to his son, using the lyrics of “Brandy (you’re a fine girl)” that men like them were just different. They couldn’t be tied down. They were too important to be committed to just one woman. Kurt Russell’s interpretation of that character and use of the song caused me to interpret that song in a new light.

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The troubadour, far from being honest with his romantic partner, is being manipulative. (You have no idea how hard it was not to write “a manipulative pig” there. Oops, I slipped.) He’s trying to put his girlfriend on the wrong foot, trying to make himself look good, trying to make her think she’s just not sophisticated enough to understand him. If she was, she’d let him go and wouldn’t blame him for going.

Men, this is really not a good look for us. But let’s continue.

Age does bring knowledge. Or should.

I’ve seen men who’ve used women in such ways over their lives grow old and die alone. But I’ve also seen men who’ve roamed from woman to woman discover that they can change, settle down, raise a family. They discover there is more to be found in the sameness and security of a permanent commitment than in whatever pleasure is found in a continual string of new relationships.

Marriage Brings Joy

Marriage can bring joy. A Christian would say it can bring blessedness as well. I won’t take time to describe it. Just think of an old, long-married couple you know who’ve just grown in love over the years. It’s one of the most beautiful things in our world.

The Free Birds, the Ramblin’ Men, the Sailors, those who heard it in a love song are missing the boat. The roamer will never know any relationship that good.

But even some of these bands got it right in other songs. Lynyrd Skynyrd got it right in “Simple Man”:

You’ll find a woman, yeah, and you’ll find love
And don’t forget son there is someone up above
And be a simple kind of man.

I heard it in a love song; can’t be wrong.


Bobby Neal Winters is associate dean of the college of arts and sciences and a university professor at Pittsburg State University. A native of Harden City, Oklahoma, he blogs at Red Neck Math and Okie in Exile.

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