Sweet Home Alabama
|"Sweet Home Alabama"|
1974 Spain single release
|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
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 collections and live albums.
"Sweet Home Alabama" was written as an answer to two songs by Neil Young, "Southern Man" and "Alabama", 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
It has been pointed out that the choice[failed verification] of Birmingham in connection with the governor (rather than the capital Montgomery) is significant[failed verification] 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 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. Walter 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!"
It can further be added that Ronnie Van Zant wore a Neil Young t-shirt (with the image of Young's Tonight's The Night LP cover) at several occasions, for instance at the concert at Oakland Coliseum Stadium, California, on February 7, 1977 and also on the Street Survivors LP cover.
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
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Platinum||600,000|
|United States (RIAA)||Gold||3,680,000 (digital)|
*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.
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.
- Before every race at the Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, where two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races are annually held, the song plays before the green flag is waved. This tradition dates back to at least the late 1990s.
- 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 1980s and 1990s, the song 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.
- Similarly, the fan base for one of the other major university in Alabama, Auburn University, have included in the team's battle cry "War Damn Eagle" in the middle of the chorus (replacing rival Alabama's "Roll Tide Roll"), although the song itself is seldom played at Auburn sports events.
- 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.
Recognition and awards
- In 1997, the song was used in the film 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.
- In 2004, the song was ranked number 398 on Rolling Stone's list of "the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time".
- 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 2007, the song was used on the Top Gear Greatest Driving Songs album.
- 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,'
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