Sweet Home Alabama
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|"Sweet Home Alabama"|
|Single by Lynyrd Skynyrd|
|from the album Second Helping|
|B-side||"Take Your Time"|
|Released||June 24, 1974|
|Genre||Country rock, southern rock|
|Lynyrd Skynyrd singles chronology|
It reached number 8 on the US chart in 1974 and was the band's second hit single. The song was written in reply to "Southern Man" and "Alabama" by Neil Young; Young is name-checked in the song's lyrics.
Creation and recording
At a band practice shortly after bassist Ed King had switched to guitar, he heard fellow guitarist Gary Rossington playing a guitar riff that inspired him (in fact, this riff is still heard in the final version of the song and is played during the verses as a counterpoint to the main D – C9 – G chord progression). In interviews, King has said that during the night following the practice session, the chords and two main guitar solos came to him in a dream, note for note. King then introduced the song to the band the next day. Also written at this session was the track that followed "Sweet Home Alabama" on the Second Helping album, "I Need You".
A live version of the track on the compilation album Collectybles places the writing of the song during the late summer of 1973, as the live set available on the album is dated October 30, 1973.
The track was recorded at Studio One in Doraville, Georgia, using just King, bassist Wilkeson, and drummer Burns to lay down the basic backing track. King used a Marshall amp belonging to Allen Collins. The guitar used on the track was a 1972 Fender Stratocaster. King has said that the guitar was a pretty poor model and had bad pickups, forcing him to turn the amp up all the way to get decent volume out of it. This guitar is now displayed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland, Ohio.
The famous "Turn it up" line uttered by Ronnie Van Zant at the beginning was actually not intended to be in the song. Van Zant was simply asking producer Al Kooper and engineer Rodney Mills to increase the volume in his headphones so that he could hear the track better.
There is a semi-hidden vocal line in the second verse after the line "Well, I heard Mr. Young sing about her". In the left channel, you can hear the phrase "Southern Man" being sung lightly (approximately at 0:55). This was producer Al Kooper doing a Neil Young impression and was just another instance of the band members amusing themselves in the studio while being recorded. According to Leon Wilkeson, it was Kooper's idea to continue and echo the lines from "Southern Man" after each of Van Zant's lines. "Better...keep your head"..."Don't forget what your / good book says", etc. But Van Zant insisted that Kooper remove it, not wanting to plagiarize or upset Young. Kooper left the one line barely audible in the left channel.
Following the two "woos" (Wilkeson's, the first; King's, the second) at the start of the piano solo (at approximately 4:08), Van Zant can be heard ad-libbing "My, Montgomery's got the answer." The duplicate "my" was produced by Kooper turning off one of the two vocal takes. For Lynyrd Skynyrd's 1976 film Free Bird, this final line was changed to "Mr. (Jimmy) Carter got the answer." in a reference to the 1976 Presidential Election. While this line has many variations, and was commonly sung as "My Montgomery's got the answer," in the original recording, the line was "Ma and Pop Stoneman got the answer," referring to Hattie and Ernest Stoneman, better known as Ma and Pop Stoneman of the bluegrass/country music group and a TV show of the same name, The Stoneman Family.
The count-in heard in the beginning of the track is spoken by King. The count-in to the first song on an album was a signature touch that producer Kooper usually put on albums that he made.
"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 collections and live albums.
"Sweet Home Alabama" was written as an answer to two songs, "Southern Man" and "Alabama" by Neil Young, which dealt with themes of racism and slavery in the American South. "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 shows the Neil Young mention in the song:
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 his 2012 autobiography Waging Heavy Peace, Young commented on his role in the song's creation, writing "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
Music historians point out that the choice of Birmingham in connection with the governor (rather than the capital Montgomery) is significant for the controversy as "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 moments of 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."
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".
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.
The PBS show Independent Lens aired a documentary on Muscle Shoals and its place in music history in mid-April 2014.
- 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
|Austrian Singles Chart||56|
|Canada RPM Top Singles||6|
|German Singles Chart||87|
|Swiss Singles Chart||51|
|US Billboard Hot 100||9|
|UK Singles (Official Charts Company)||44|
|US Cashbox Top 100||58|
|Canadian RPM Top Singles||81|
Sales and certifications
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Gold||400,000|
|United States (RIAA)||Gold||3,680,000 (digital)|
sales+streaming figures based on certification alone
"All Summer Long"
Kid Rock's 2008 song "All Summer Long" samples "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". Since Kid Rock's release, the original song has charted in the UK charts at number 44.
Zevon apparently hated "Sweet Home Alabama" and referred to it as "that dead band's song". He surmised that those who listen to it only do so because their own lives are miserable, and his views on the song are articulated in "Play It All Night Long", which appears on his 1980 album Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School.
- 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. No indication has been given if the song itself will be included in the campaign.
- 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 the 1980-1990s, the song is played during warmups of the University of Alabama in Huntsville Charger Hockey team during home games. This song can also be heard before, during, and after many University of Alabama sporting events. Majority of the Alabama fan base have mixed the words "Roll Tide Roll" in the middle of the chorus to relate Alabama sports to the Great State of Alabama.
- The song was featured in KFC commercials in the mid-2000s.
- It appears in a 2017 TV commercial for Chili's restaurants.
- In 1990, southern gangster rap group The Geto Boys sampled Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" on "Gangsta of Love". Contained on later versions of their self-titled LP, the mix uses a sample from "Sweet Home" instead of the Steve Miller Band’s "The Joker" due to copyright issues. The version included on the original pressing of its 1989 album Grip It! On That Other Level had contained the Miller Band sample.
- Used in the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), even though the story in the film takes place in 1973.
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".
- In 2004, the song was ranked number 398 on Rolling Stone's list of "the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time".
- In 2007, the song was used on the Top Gear Greatest Driving Songs album.
- In 1997, the song was used in movie Con Air. While the song plays in background, Garland Greene (by Steve Buscemi) says to Poe and Baby-O: "Define irony. Bunch of idiots dancing on a plane to a song made famous by a band that died in a plane crash", a reference to the band's 1977 plane crash. The song is also used briefly in the end credits beginning with Buscemi's character gambling until the end of the main cast credits.
- Sweet Home Alabama song information. Songfacts.com
- Dupree, T. (1974), Lynyrd Skynyrd in Sweet Home Atlanta [Electronic version]. Rolling Stone. Retrieved October 17, 2007.
- 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.
- Shmoop Staff (2010). Sweet Home Alabama: Shmoop Music Guide. Shmoop University.
- Ballinger, Lee. (2002 ©1999). Lynyrd Skynyrd: An Oral History. Los Angeles, California: XT377 Publishing. ISBN 0-9720446-3-9
- "The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section". Alabama Music Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on February 17, 2012.
- "Which Band Will Reunite Next? Placing Odds on 14 Groups, from Led Zeppelin to N'Sync Pictures". Rolling Stone. October 29, 2008. Retrieved January 4, 2014.
- "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
- "Italian single certifications – Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved November 13, 2017.
- "British single certifications – Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama". British Phonographic Industry. Enter Sweet Home Alabama in the search field and then press Enter.
- "American single certifications – Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama". Recording Industry Association of America. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH
- "Nielsen Soundscan Chart". Nielsen. July 11, 2016.
- Associated Press (2007). Lynyrd Skynyrd Song Turns Alabama Tourist Theme [Electronic version]. USA Today. Retrieved October 17, 2007.
-  Archived November 19, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
- "The Mane Choice Heavenly Halo Collection TV Commercial, 'Say Halo to Hydration'". iSpot.tv. Retrieved October 16, 2017.
- Miller, John J. (May 26, 2006) Rockin' the Right, National Review
- Lynyrd Skynyrd and Neil Young: Friends or Foes?—An analysis of "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Southern Man"
- "Sweet Home Alabama" lyrics on lynyrdskynyrdhistory.com
- "Sweet Home Alabama" song guide, lyrical analysis, historical context and allusions, teaching guide