Sweet Home Alabama
|"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
The song was written in response to Neil Young's "Southern Man", which was released in 1970, because it took the entire South to task for the bloody history of slavery and its aftermath. Young is name-checked in the lyrics to "Sweet Home Alabama".
It reached number 8 on the US chart in 1974, becoming the band's highest-charting single.
Creation and recording
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," he said. "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 TV rock show offers, which the band turned down. 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 following excerpt is the Neil Young name-check in the song "Sweet Home Alabama":
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 Montgomery) is significant. "In 1963, the city was the site of massive civil rights activism, as thousands of demonstrators led by Martin Luther King, Jr. sought to desegregate downtown businesses... [and] was the scene of some of the most violent reactions to the Civil Rights Movement. Segregationist police chief Bull Connor unleashed attack dogs and high-pressure water cannons against peaceful marchers, including women and children; just weeks later, Ku Klux Klansmen bombed a black church, killing four little girls." 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." Towards 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 rendered ironic by the previous booing of the governor. Journalist Al Swenson argues that the song is more complex than it is sometimes given credit for, suggesting that it only looks like an endorsement of Wallace. "Wallace and I have very little in common," Van Zant himself said, "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 African-American studio singers, served as backing vocalists on the track. 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 co-writer, contradicted his former bandmates in a 2009 post on his website. He claimed the tune was originally intended as the unabashed defense of Alabama, even Gov. Wallace, that almost all of the song seems 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 back-up musicians. "The Swampers" referred to in the lyrics are 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 Musician's Hall Of Fame in 2008 (the performers inducted into the latter were the four founding Swampers—Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, David Hood, Jimmy Johnson—plus Pete Carr, Clayton Ivey, Randy McCormack, Will McFarlane, and Spooner Oldham). The nickname "The Swampers" was given to the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section by producer Denny Cordell during a recording session by singer/songwriter Leon Russell, in reference to their 'swampy' sound.
Part of the reference comes from the 1971–1972 demo reels that Lynyrd Skynyrd had recorded in Muscle Shoals with Johnson as a producer/recording engineer. Johnson helped refine many of the songs first heard publicly on the Pronounced album, and it was Van Zant's "tip of the hat" to Johnson for helping out the band in the early years and essentially giving the band its first break.
Lynyrd Skynyrd remains connected to Muscle Shoals, having since recorded a number of works in the city and making it a regular stop on their concert tours.
- 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)
- Al Kooper – backing vocals (left channel)
- Clydie King – background vocals
- Merry Clayton – background vocals
Sales and certifications
|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"
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.
- As of 2009, the State of Alabama has begun using the phrase "Sweet Home Alabama" as an official slogan on license plates for motor vehicles, with Governor Bob Riley noting that Lynyrd Skynyrd's anthem is the third most-played song referring to a specific destination. (This is also the second Alabama license plate in a row to make reference to a popular song, with the state's previous plate having featured "Stars Fell on Alabama".)
- In September 2007, Alabama Governor Bob Riley announced the phrase "Sweet Home Alabama" would be used to promote Alabama state tourism in a multimillion-dollar ad campaign.
- 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 they played the riff mid way through the song without any legal permissions "Ripping Them Off".
- In Internet culture, the song is often brought up as a reference to the Southern incest stereotype.
- The song was featured in the video game NASCAR 21: Ignition and the 2010 film Despicable Me.
Recognition and awards
- In May 2006, National Review ranked the song number 4 on its list of "50 greatest conservative rock songs".
- In July 2006, CMT ranked it number 1 on the "20 Greatest Southern Rock songs".
- 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,'
- "Southern Comforts: 25 Best Songs About the South". Rolling Stone. March 2, 2015. Retrieved April 27, 2019.
- 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.
- 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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- State’s New License Plates Feature Beach Scene and 'Sweet Home Alabama' Archived November 19, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
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- Polcaro, Rafael (March 5, 2018). "Dave Mustaine wrote a Metallica song ripping off "Sweet Home Alabama"". Rock And Roll Garage. Retrieved October 1, 2021.
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- "Sweet Home Alabama" song guide, lyrical analysis, historical context and allusions, teaching guide