Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama

Ronnie Van Zant: “I confess, those songs are there to
cause some controversy. I like looking for trouble. I mean, I always dug
Neil Young and we’ve been friends ever since the song came out. It was just there to provoke a little excitement. Ya gotta catch the audience off guard to keep ’em
listening.”

I was never going to post this song because it is one of the most overplayed songs in rock history. I still like Ed King’s opening riff…it’s so crisp and clear. The Turn It Up phrase was a mistake. Van Zant was telling the engineer to turn up the volume in his headphones…they liked it so they kept it.

While writing this post I listened to the song around 5 times in headphones. I noticed things that I’ve overlooked through the years just because I was so familiar with it. The song has some great hooks, riffs, and piano fills. Forget the lyrics…the music for this song is full of catchy runs. I heard things I never heard before…I now know why it was a hit.

In a rehearsal for the first album Gary Rossington was playing around with the simple D-C-G chord structure and Ed King added the main intro. They knew they had something special and it was written in a few minutes. After writing this Van Zant said, “this is our Rambling Man” in reference to the Allman Brothers’ rare hit single. The song ended up on the second album (Second Helping) and became a breakout hit for the band.

The song peaked at #8 on the Billboard 100, #6 in Canada, and #31 in the UK in 1974. The band was very popular in the UK.

There’s absolutely zero doubt Sweet Home Alabama was a revenge song—a rebuttal to Neil Young’s Alabama and Southern Man…for the sweeping generalization of all southerners as bigots past and at that time present by Neil. Neil even admits this now.

Neil Young: “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.”

There is also an easter egg in the song. After Van Zant sings “Well I heard Mr. Young sing about her” you can hear what sounds like Neil Young singing Southern Man out of the left speaker…it’s Al Kooper the producer imitating Young. You need headphones to hear it.

This song did not start any bad feelings between the two singers in fact it drew them closer. Neil was a fan of Van Zant and Van Zant was a fan of Neil and wore his shirt many times. Neil Young sent Ronnie Van Zant the song Powderfinger for the band to record but the plane crash put an end to that. Young performed Sweet Home Alabama one time only at a benefit less than a month after the plane crash as a tribute to them.

Just as Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA was misinterpreted, this song was also. The line about George Wallace has drawn controversy… In Birmingham they love the governor (Boo, Boo, Boo). Some ignored the boo’s, and at first thought, they endorsed the guy.

Ronnie Van Zant: “Wallace and I have very little in common, I don’t like what he says about black people.”

In the Watergate lyrics, it’s been said that Van Zant was saying the north made mistakes also. The Swamper’s lyrics are about the Muscle Shoals recording band with Jimmy Johnson.

The backup singers were Merry Clayton and Clydie King. Merry Clayton was on Gimme Shelter and amazingly enough…Southern Man by Neil Young.

The band would also dive into gun control with “Saturday Night Special” and saving the environment  with “All I Can Do Is Write About It.

Ronnie Van Zant: “We thought Neil was shooting all the ducks in order to kill one or two. We’re southern rebels, but more than that, we know the difference between right and wrong.”

Sweet Home Alabama

Big wheels keep on turning
Carrying me home to see my kin
Singing songs about the southland
I miss Alabamy once again
And I think it’s a sin, yes

Well I heard Mr. Young sing about her
Well I heard old Neil put her down
Well I hope Neil Young will remember
A southern man don’t need him around anyhow

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet Home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you

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
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet Home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you
Here I come Alabama

Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
And they’ve been known to pick a song or two
Lord they get me off so much
They pick me up when I’m feeling blue
Now how about you?

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet Home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you

Sweet home Alabama (Oh sweet home baby)
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet Home Alabama (Lordy)
Lord, I’m coming home to you
Yea, yea

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

40 thoughts on “Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama”

  1. Thank you for the thoughtful write-up, Max. I didn’t know that there were no hard feelings between the two bands and that does ease my mind. I definitely don’t pass judgment on any of those 3 songs and think they all make valid points; yet it is important that blanket generalizations are not made about any particular region of the US. Did not ever hear the boos about the governor (Wallace) but I wasn’t listening for them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m happy they got along also…Ronnie would wear Neil’s shirt everywhere. It’s a deeper song than I ever thought. I do understand both sides and Neil saw later that he did generalize too much in that…I wish they would have recorded Powderfinger…they would have if they would have lived.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well…none of them got hooked on anything bad like a lot of their peers so that is a good thing…at least that we know of.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. This was their most streamed song which surprised me over Freebird. I can see them do Freebird live but I don’t want to listen to it on the radio.

      Like

  2. Another LP from my collection. I agree about the overplaying and though still brilliant, I do sometimes lift the stylus over the track! (Need to do the headphones thing, though and pick up on the ‘hidden’ stuff. :))

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post. Definitely over-played – I remember joking to my buddies back in the 90s ‘time for the national of Ontario’ when it came on since we heard it so much on radio and in bars – but nonetheless, a really good tune. Every once in awhile I don’t tune it out and actually listen to it and go ‘yeah, that’s pretty good musically and lyrically.’ I’ll have to try to give it a listen through headphones some time to see if I can pick up on the imitation Neil!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did the same thing….and mostly ignored it until I wrote this post back in July…it was right before I took my break. There is a lot going on and I like what Neil and Ronnie said about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice write-up, Max. While, yes, it’s been over-exposed, it’s just a blood good song. I’ve listened to it so many times over the years, and I’m still not tired of it. I think part of it is what you described – there’s a lot going on in that tune, i.e., great guitar and piano fill-ins.

    I knew some of the tune’s back story. What I didn’t know was the easter egg – man, you really need headphones to hear that, so thanks for pointing that out.

    Based on the very first quote you included from Ronnie Van Zant, I do wonder a bit whether the lyrics were a shrewd tactic to get attention and make this a hit?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yea he knew he would get some attention…and he did. What did it the most was the “In Birmingham they love the governor ” which was a terrible man but people ignored the BOO BOO BOO during that part…
      I do see why he wrote it though…when Neil wrote that song…he slammed the whole region and even Neil said that afterward.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. BTW, when I read Dave’s intro to your “Turntable Talk” contribution where he wrote, “…Today we have Tennessee’s Max, from Power Pop Blog,…”, I initially processed it as, “today we have Tennessee Max” – and I was like, dude, this would be an awesome name for a blues artist: Tennessee Max! 🙂

        Sounds way cooler than, say, Jersey Chris!

        Liked by 1 person

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