Sweet Home Alabama

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"Sweet Home Alabama"
1974 Spain single sleeve
Single by Lynyrd Skynyrd
from the album Second Helping
B-side"Take Your Time"
ReleasedJune 24, 1974
RecordedJune 1973
Producer(s)Al Kooper
Lynyrd Skynyrd singles chronology
"Don't Ask Me No Questions"
"Sweet Home Alabama"
"Free Bird"
Audio sample
Sweet Home Alabama
Live video
"Sweet Home Alabama" on YouTube

"Sweet Home Alabama" is a song by American 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;[5] Young is name-checked and dissed in the lyrics. It reached number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1974, becoming the band's highest-charting single.[6]

The song remains a staple in southern and classic rock, and is arguably the band's signature song.[7][8][9][10]

Background and recording[edit]

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."[11] The introductive signature riff, prevalent throughout the song, was written and played by Ed King. [12] The basic track was recorded with guide lead vocals, Ed King's lead guitar, Leon Wilkeson's bass, and Bob Burns' drums. The final lead vocals from Van Zant, along with Rossington and Collins' rhythm guitars and Powell's piano were added later.[13]

"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.[14] In addition to the original appearance on Second Helping, the song has appeared on numerous Lynyrd Skynyrd compilations and live albums.

Record World called it the group's "most commercial single entry so far."[15]


"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."[5] "We thought Neil was shooting all the ducks in order to kill one or two," said Ronnie Van Zant at the time.[14] 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."[16]

Another part of "Sweet Home Alabama" was also controversial in its reference to George Wallace, the governor of Alabama and supporter of racial segregation:

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."[17] "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."[17] 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.[17] Van Zant said: "Wallace and I have very little in common. I don't like what he says about colored people."[17]

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."[18]

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."[19]

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!"[20]


Partial credits (those noted with a reference) mostly via Richard Buskin and Rodney Mills.[13]

Lynyrd Skynyrd[edit]

Additional personnel and production staff[edit]

Richard Buskin and Rodney Mills claim that the female backing vocals were performed by The Sweet Inspirations instead of Clydie King and Merry Clayton; Buskin also does not credit the acoustic guitarist but also recalls that the band did not like when their producer Al Kooper overdubbed himself onto their records, which means the acoustic guitar is likely played by Rossington, Collins, or King.[13]


Sales and certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Denmark (IFPI Danmark)[32] Platinum 90,000
Germany (BVMI)[33] Platinum 500,000
Italy (FIMI)[34] Platinum 50,000
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[35] Platinum 60,000
United Kingdom (BPI)[36] 2× Platinum 1,200,000
United States (RIAA)[38] Gold 3,680,000 (digital)[37]
United States (RIAA)[40]
Platinum 1,200,000[39]

Sales+streaming 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 a 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.

Other uses[edit]

  • 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.[41] 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.[42]
  • 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.[43]
  • The song is used in the soundtrack for the motion picture Forrest Gump.
  • The song featured in the soundtrack of the 2010 animated film Despicable Me.
  • The song featured in the soundtrack of the 1997 film Con Air.
  • The song was parodied and mocked by Warren Zevon in "Play It All Night Long," a song from his 1980 album Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School.

Recognition and awards[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brown, Charles T. (1986). Music U.S.A.: America's country & western tradition. Prentice-Hall. p. 150. A good example of the southern pride expressed in country rock was Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Sweet Home, Alabama,'
  2. ^ "Southern Comforts: 25 Best Songs About the South". Rolling Stone. March 2, 2015. Retrieved April 27, 2019.
  3. ^ Breithaupt, Don; Breithaupt, Jeff (October 15, 1996). "Planet of the Apes: Hard Rock". Precious and Few - Pop Music in the Early '70s. St. Martin's Griffin. p. 106. ISBN 031214704X.
  4. ^ Goldsmith, Melissa Ursula Dawn (November 22, 2019). Listen to Classic Rock! Exploring a Musical Genre. ABC-CLIO. p. 251. ISBN 978-1-4408-6579-4.
  5. ^ a b 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.
  6. ^ Sweet Home Alabama song information. Songfacts.com
  7. ^ "Untitled". canuck.seos.uvic.ca. Retrieved October 26, 2022.
  8. ^ "600 Greatest Rock Songs". digitaldreamdoor. Retrieved October 26, 2022.
  9. ^ Gallucci, Michael (January 15, 2016). "Top 10 Lynyrd Skynyrd Songs". Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved October 26, 2022.
  10. ^ Guitar World Staff (August 23, 2018). "The 25 Greatest Lynyrd Skynyrd Songs of All Time". guitarworld. Retrieved October 26, 2022.
  11. ^ Lotz, CJ (August 13, 2015). "The Story Behind "Sweet Home Alabama"". Garden & Gun. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  12. ^ "How Ed King helped write Sweet Home Alabama".
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Buskin, Richard. "Classic Tracks: Lynyrd Skynyrd 'Sweet Home Alabama'". SoundOnSound. Sound On Sound. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  14. ^ a b c d Dupree, Tom (October 24, 1974). "Lynyrd Skynyrd in Sweet Home Atlanta". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on March 27, 2009. Retrieved February 15, 2021.
  15. ^ "Hits of the Week" (PDF). Record World. July 13, 1974. p. 1. Retrieved March 15, 2023.
  16. ^ Young, Neil (2012). "Chapter Fifty-seven". Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream. New York, New York: Penguin Group. p. 417. ISBN 978-0-14-218031-0.
  17. ^ a b c d Ballinger, Lee. (2002 [1999]). Lynyrd Skynyrd: An Oral History. Los Angeles, California: XT377 Publishing. ISBN 0-9720446-3-9
  18. ^ Adams, Sam (August 27, 2013). "Merry Clayton on 20 Feet from Stardom, Ray Charles, Lynryd Skynyrd, and 'Gimme Shelter'". Music. The A.V. Club. Retrieved August 22, 2019.
  19. ^ Sweet Home Alabama: Shmoop Music Guide. Shmoop University. 2010. ISBN 978-1-6106-2059-8.
  20. ^ King, Ed (December 3, 2009). "Secong Helping". The Ed King Forum. Retrieved February 23, 2023.
  21. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 3881a." RPM. Library and Archives Canada.
  22. ^ "Lynyrd Skynyrd Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  23. ^ Cash Box Top 100 Singles, October 19, 1974
  24. ^ "Lynyrd Skynyrd: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company.
  25. ^ "Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  26. ^ "Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama" (in German). GfK Entertainment charts.
  27. ^ "Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama". Swiss Singles Chart.
  28. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
  29. ^ "Lynyrd Skynyrd Chart History (Hot Rock & Alternative Songs)". Billboard.
  30. ^ Cash Box Year-End Charts: Top 100 Pop Singles, December 28, 1974
  31. ^ Canada, Library and Archives (January 16, 2018). "Image : RPM Weekly". Library and Archives Canada.
  32. ^ "Danish single certifications – Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama". IFPI Danmark. Retrieved October 28, 2020.
  33. ^ "Gold-/Platin-Datenbank (Lynyrd Skynyrd; 'Sweet Home Alabama')" (in German). Bundesverband Musikindustrie. Retrieved March 26, 2023.
  34. ^ "Italian single certifications – Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved November 13, 2017.
  35. ^ "Lynyrd Skynyrd - Sweet Home Alabama". El portal de Música. Productores de Música de España. Retrieved February 17, 2024.
  36. ^ "British single certifications – Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved July 9, 2021.
  37. ^ "Nielsen Soundscan Chart". Nielsen. July 11, 2016.
  38. ^ "American single certifications – Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama". Recording Industry Association of America.
  39. ^ Bruno, Antony (October 14, 2006). "Moldy Mobile Oldies". Billboard. p. 18. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved May 10, 2023.
  40. ^ "American single certifications – Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama". Recording Industry Association of America.
  41. ^ "Lynyrd Skynyrd Song Turns Alabama Tourist Theme". USA Today. Associated Press. September 18, 2007. Retrieved October 17, 2007.
  42. ^ State's New License Plates Feature Beach Scene and 'Sweet Home Alabama' Archived November 19, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  43. ^ Polcaro, Rafael (March 5, 2018). "Dave Mustaine wrote a Metallica song ripping off "Sweet Home Alabama"". Rock And Roll Garage. Retrieved October 1, 2021.
  44. ^ Miller, John J. (May 26, 2006) Rockin' the Right, National Review
  45. ^ https://www.grammy.com/awards/hall-of-fame-award#s

External links[edit]