"Sweet Home Alabama" is a song by American southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, released on the band's second album Second Helping (1974). It was written in response to Neil Young's 1970 song "Southern Man", which the band felt blamed the entire South for American slavery; Young is name-checked and dismissed in the lyrics. It reached number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1974, becoming the band's highest-charting single.
|"Sweet Home Alabama"|
|Single by Lynyrd Skynyrd|
|from the album Second Helping|
|B-side||"Take Your Time"|
|Released||June 24, 1974|
|Lynyrd Skynyrd singles chronology|
Sweet Home Alabama
Background and recordingEdit
None of the three writers of the song were from Alabama; Ronnie Van Zant and Gary Rossington were both born in Jacksonville, Florida, while Ed King was from Glendale, California. In an interview with Garden & Gun, Rossington explained the writing process: "I had this little riff. It's the little picking part and I kept playing it over and over when we were waiting on everyone to arrive for rehearsal. Ronnie and I were sitting there, and he kept saying, 'play that again'. Then Ronnie wrote the lyrics and Ed and I wrote the music."
"Sweet Home Alabama" was a major chart hit for a band whose previous singles had "lazily sauntered out into release with no particular intent." The hit led to two television rock show offers that the band declined. In addition to the original appearance on Second Helping, the song has appeared on numerous Lynyrd Skynyrd compilations and live albums.
"Sweet Home Alabama" was written in answer to two songs by Neil Young, "Southern Man" and "Alabama", because the songs "took the entire South to task for the bloody history of slavery and its aftermath." "We thought Neil was shooting all the ducks in order to kill one or two," said Ronnie Van Zant at the time. The lyrics to "Sweet Home Alabama" include the following lines:
Well, I heard Mister Young sing about her
Well, I heard ol' Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A Southern man don't need him around anyhow
In Young's 2012 autobiography Waging Heavy Peace, he commented on his song: "My own song 'Alabama' richly deserved the shot Lynyrd Skynyrd gave me with their great record. I don't like my words when I listen to it. They are accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, and too easy to misconstrue."
In Birmingham, they love the governor (boo boo boo)
Now we all did what we could do
Now Watergate does not bother me
Does your conscience bother you?
Tell the truth
Sweet home Alabama, oh, sweet home baby
Where the skies are so blue and the governor's true
The choice of Birmingham in connection with the governor (rather than the capital of Montgomery) is significant because it was the site of civil rights activism and violence in the 1960s. In 1975, Van Zant said: "The lyrics about the governor of Alabama were misunderstood. The general public didn't notice the words 'Boo! Boo! Boo!' after that particular line, and the media picked up only on the reference to the people loving the governor." "The line 'We all did what we could do' is sort of ambiguous," Al Kooper notes, "'We tried to get Wallace out of there' is how I always thought of it." Toward the end of the song, Van Zant adds "where the governor's true" to the chorus's "where the skies are so blue," a line seemingly contradictory to the previous lyrics. Journalist Al Swenson argues that the song is more complex than many believe and is not an endorsement of Wallace. Van Zant said: "Wallace and I have very little in common. I don't like what he says about colored people."
Further complicating the racial politics of the song is the fact that Merry Clayton and Clydie King, two well-known black studio singers, are heard on the track as backing vocalists. In a 2013 interview, Clayton spoke at length about her decision to take the job. In her recollection, her initial response was negative: "[Clydie King] said the song was 'Sweet Home Alabama.' There was a silence on the phone for quite a while. I said, 'Clydie, are you serious? I'm not singing nothing about nobody's sweet home Alabama. Period.'" Nonetheless, Clayton was persuaded to take the job, to "let the music be [her] protest."
Music historians examining the juxtaposition of invoking Richard Nixon and Watergate after Wallace and Birmingham note that one reading of the lyrics is an "attack against the liberals who were so outraged at Nixon's conduct" while others interpret it regionally: "the band was speaking for the entire South, saying to northerners, we're not judging you as ordinary citizens for the failures of your leaders in Watergate; don't judge all of us as individuals for the racial problems of southern society."
Ed King, the song's cowriter, contradicted his former bandmates in a 2009 post on his website. He claimed that the song was originally intended as the unabashed defense of Alabama, and even Wallace, that the song appears to be:
I can understand where the "boo boo boo" would be misunderstood. It's not US going "boo" ... it's what the Southern man hears the Northern man say every time the Southern man'd say "In Birmingham we love the gov'nor". Get it? "We all did what WE could do!" to get Wallace elected. It's not a popular opinion but Wallace stood for the average white guy in the South. "Watergate doesn't bother me" because that stuff happens in politics...but someone's conscience ought to bother them for what happened to Wallace. Arthur Bremer may or may not have been a yankee but he sure destroyed whatever chance Wallace had to be president. And hardly anyone in America noticed. I still like the plaque that hangs here in my office that says I'm an honorary member of the Alabama State Militia...signed personally by George C. Sure, the man had his flaws. But he spoke for the common man of the South. And, whoa, I'm gonna get in trouble over this whole dang post!"
One verse of the song includes the line, "Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers/And they've been known to pick a song or two." This refers to the town of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a popular location for recording popular music because of the sound crafted by local recording studios and backup musicians there. "The Swampers" is a reference to the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. These musicians, who crafted the "Muscle Shoals Sound", were inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1995 for a Lifework Award for Non-Performing Achievement and into the Musicians' Hall of Fame in 2008. The nickname "The Swampers" was coined by producer Denny Cordell during a recording session by singer/songwriter Leon Russell, in reference to the band's "swampy" sound.
Lynyrd Skynyrd had recorded demos in Muscle Shoals with Johnson as a producer/recording engineer in 1971 and 1972, and Johnson helped refine many of the songs on the Pronounced album.
The band remains connected to Muscle Shoals, where it has recorded on numerous occasions and where it regularly performs during concert tours.
- Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Ronnie Van Zant – lead vocals
- Ed King – lead guitar, backing vocals (first "woo" at the end of the last chorus)
- Leon Wilkeson – bass guitar, backing vocals (second "woo" at the end of the last chorus)
- Bob Burns – drums
- Billy Powell – piano
- Allen Collins – rhythm guitar (left channel)
- Gary Rossington – rhythm guitar (right channel), acoustic guitar (left channel)
- Additional personnel
Sales and certificationsEdit
|Denmark (IFPI Danmark)||Platinum||90,000|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||2× Platinum||1,200,000|
|United States (RIAA)||Gold||3,680,000 (digital)|
|United States (RIAA)
* Sales figures based on certification alone.
"All Summer Long"Edit
Kid Rock's 2008 song "All Summer Long" interpolates "Sweet Home Alabama" on the chorus and uses the guitar solo and piano outro, as well as the "turn it up" shout before the guitar solo; Billy Powell is featured on the track. "All Summer Long" also samples Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London", which has similar chord progression to "Sweet Home Alabama".
The song is credited to Matthew Shafer, Waddy Wachtel, R.J. Ritchie, Leroy Marinell, Warren Zevon, Edward King, Gary Rossington and Ronnie Van Zant. Since "All Summer Long"'s release, the original song has also charted at number 44 on the UK Singles Chart.
- In September 2007, Alabama governor Bob Riley announced that the phrase "Sweet Home Alabama" would be used to promote Alabama state tourism in a multimillion-dollar ad campaign. In 2009, the state of Alabama began using the phrase as an official slogan on motor-vehicle license plates, and Riley noted that the song is the third most-played that refers to a specific destination.
- The term "Sweet Home Alabama" was referenced by Foop from The Fairly Oddparents
- In 2002, the song inspired the title and plot of the film Sweet Home Alabama.
- American heavy metal band Metallica used the intro riff for their 1983 song "The Four Horsemen", which gained controversy as the riff was used without permission from the band.
Recognition and awardsEdit
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A good example of the southern pride expressed in country rock was Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Sweet Home, Alabama,'
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- Contreras, Felix (December 17, 2018). "Unfurling 'Sweet Home Alabama,' A Tapestry Of Southern Discomfort". npr.com. National Public Radio. Retrieved May 21, 2021.
This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action.
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- Lynyrd Skynyrd and Neil Young: Friends or Foes?—An analysis of "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Southern Man"
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