“Sweet Home Alabama” is a timeless classic song that has become synonymous with the state of Alabama. Written by southern rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd, the song has a fascinating backstory that has helped to make it one of the most iconic songs of all time.
Neil Young’s “Southern Man” and “Alabama: songs
The song was written in response to two Neil Young songs, “Southern Man” and “Alabama”. These songs were highly critical of the state of Alabama and the south in general, accusing them of racism and promoting segregation. Lynyrd Skynyrd, who were from Alabama, were deeply offended by these songs and felt that they did not accurately represent their beloved state.
The lyrics of Neil Young’s “Southern Man” included lines like “Southern man better keep your head/Don’t forget what your good book said/Southern change gonna come at last/Now your crosses are burning fast.”
Neil Young’s song “Alabama” also contained similar lyrics, “Oh Alabama/ The devil fools with the best laid plan/Swing low Alabama/ You got the spare change/ You got to feel strange/ And now the moment is all that it meant.”
Lynyrd Skynyrd responds to Neil Young’s “Southern Man” and “Alabama: songs
In response, the band wrote “Sweet Home Alabama” as a tribute to their home state and as a way of defending it against the accusations made by Neil Young. The song features memorable lyrics such as “Big wheels keep on turning” and “In Birmingham they love the governor”, which have helped to make it a beloved classic.
The line “In Birmingham they love the governor,” was a reference to Governor George Wallace, who was a controversial figure in Alabama’s history. Wallace had been a segregationist during the Civil Rights Movement, and his stand in the schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama in 1963 had become a symbol of resistance to integration. Despite his controversial history, Wallace was popular in Alabama and had been elected governor four times. The line in the song was not meant to endorse Wallace’s views, but rather to acknowledge his popularity in the state.
The song also includes the line “Watergate does not bother me/Does your conscience bother you?” which was a reference to the Watergate scandal that was unfolding at the time. The line was meant to be a dig at Neil Young, who had been critical of President Nixon and the scandal in his own songs.
Most recognizable, in “Sweet Home Alabama,” Lynyrd Skynyrd sings the lyrics
“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.”
“Her” in the lyrics refers to the state of Alabama and Lynyrd Skynyrd makes it clear they do not need Neil Young around.
How did Neil Young respond to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama son?
Neil Young, a Canadian singer-songwriter, was not particularly pleased with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song “Sweet Home Alabama”. Despite the lyrics, however, Young did not hold any grudges against Lynyrd Skynyrd. In fact, he was good friends with Ronnie Van Zant, the lead singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd. In an interview with Cameron Crowe in 1975, Young said,
“I like Southern Man a lot and I don’t like what Lynyrd Skynyrd said about it. But I don’t hold it against them. I met them backstage, and they were cool.”Neil Young – 1975
Both Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd showed mutual respect for each other’ in the end’s point of view. Young even performed with Lynyrd Skynyrd during one of their concerts in 1976, showing that there was no bad blood between them.
Oh, Sweet Home Alabama. Here I come now…
Despite the controversy surrounding the song, it has become one of the most famous southern rock songs of all time. Its upbeat tempo and catchy lyrics have made it a staple of classic rock radio, and it continues to be loved by generations of music fans. No doubt the story behind “Sweet Home Alabama” is a testament to the power of music to inspire and unite people.
In-Article Image CreditsNeil Young performing with Crazy Horse in Barcelona via Wikimedia Commons by F. Antolín Hernandez with usage type - Creative Commons License. September 19, 2007
American band Lynyrd Skynyrd at Hellfest 2019 via Wikimedia Commons with usage type - Creative Commons License. June 23, 2019
Featured Image CreditNeil Young performing with Crazy Horse in Barcelona via Wikimedia Commons by F. Antolín Hernandez with usage type - Creative Commons License. September 19, 2007