Behind The Songs – Blog 3

Sweet Home Alabama- Lynyrd Skynryd

“Sweet Home Alabama” was written primarily as a response to two songs by Neil Young, “Southern Man” and “Alabama”, which dealt with themes of racism and slavery in the American South. The song appeared on Skynyrd’s album “Second Helping” released in 1974. Young is name-checked in the song in the opening verse (“Well, I heard Mr Young talk 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’).  The rest of the song goes on too glorify all things south and has a shot at events in the North of the country. In one verse Skynyrd laud the merits of the former Governor of Alabama, George Wallace, a noted supporter of segregation. They also have a reference to the Watergate scandal. According to songwriter Ronnie Van Zandt, the reason behind bringing up Watergate was to show the band were talking for the entire southern population , saying to Notherners ‘we are not judging you as ordinary citizens for the failures of your leaders in Watergate, don’t judge all of us as ordinary individuals for the racial problems of the south”. The song was to be Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first hit single going to number eight of the US billboard charts. It took Neil Young two years to address his role in the song. In an interview he stated “My 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 to easy to misconstrue”. Young and Van Zant patched up there differences and became good friends. Unfortunately a plane crash in 1977 killed Van Zant and two other members of the band. Young dedicated his song “Walk On” to Van Zant.

 

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