I found many meanings for the song with a wide range of interpretations from people. But most believe the song is about needing to move on because staying where you are is holding you back. The opening line "If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?" was what Kathy (Allan Collins' girlfriend) said during a fight. He wrote it down and it ended up in this classic song. So its origins are literally about leaving someone, but its meaning seems to have grown into so much more. I love the symbol, and couldn't help but pick up a few charms and pendant to design with the iconic free bird.
The song originally started as an instrumental piece written by guitarist Collins. He had been playing around with the melody for about 2 years before Ronnie Van Zant wrote the lyrics to the song. Zant told Skynard that he thought it had too many chords to write lyrics for, but one night he asked Collins to play the melody again and after about 20 minutes the lyrics were flowing "If I leave here tomorrow ..."
The ballad was actually shorter at first (a mere 7 1/2 minutes) without any of the guitar solos at the end. And when they went to record it (1972) the band's record company didn't want to put the song on the album because they thought it was too long and that no radio station would play it. Boy were they wrong. The song is so well known, that even when Skynayrd stopped singing the words to the song in 1977 (after Zant died in a plane crash) the crowd would just sign out the lyrics anyway.
Now the song is a bit of an urban legend for concert goers to shout out "Free Bird" when they just want to hear the song because they don't like the music the band is playing. Every now and then the band will actually play the song. The lyrics are amazing, as is the the classic guitar riff. (From a 1976 concert)
If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me? For I must be traveling on now, 'cause there's too many places I've got to see. But, if I stayed here with you, girl, things just couldn't be the same. 'Cause I'm as free as a bird now, and this bird you can not change. Though this feeling I can't change, but please don't take it so badly. 'Cause the Lord knows I'm to blame. And this bird you cannot change. Lord knows, I can't change.
Won't you fly high free bird?