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Sweet Home Alabama

"Sweet Home Alabama"
Single by Lynyrd Skynyrd
from the album Second Helping
B-side "Take Your Time"
Released June 24, 1974
Format 7 inch
Recorded June 1973
Genre Southern rock
Length 4:45
Label MCA
Writer(s) Ed King, Gary Rossington, Ronnie Van Zant
Producer(s) Al Kooper
Certification Platinum (RIAA)
Lynyrd Skynyrd singles chronology
"Don't Ask Me No Questions"
(1974)
"Sweet Home Alabama"
(1974)
"Free Bird"
(1974)
Alternative cover
Music sample

"Sweet Home Alabama" is a song by Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd that first appeared in 1974 on their second album, Second Helping.

It reached #8 on the US charts in 1974 and was the band's second hit single.[1] The song was written in reply to "Southern Man" and "Alabama" by Neil Young; Young is noted by name in the song's lyrics.

Contents

  • Creation and recording 1
  • Controversy 2
  • Muscle Shoals 3
  • Personnel 4
  • Charts 5
    • Weekly charts 5.1
    • Year-end chart 5.2
    • Sales and certifications 5.3
  • Covers 6
  • In popular culture 7
  • Recognition and awards 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Creation and recording

At a band practice shortly after bassist Ed King had switched to guitar, King 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 Marshall amp belonging to Allen Collins. The guitar used on the track was a 1972 Fender Stratocaster. However, 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 in the beginning was not intended to be in the song. Van Zant was simply asking producer Al Kooper and engineer Rodney Mills to turn up 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 "Well, I heard Mr. Young sing about her" line. In the left channel, you can hear the phrase "

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 variation 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.[2] In addition to the original appearance on Second Helping, the song has appeared on numerous Lynyrd Skynyrd collections and live albums.

None of the three writers of the song were originally from Alabama. Ronnie Van Zant and Gary Rossington were both born in Jacksonville, Florida. Ed King was from Glendale, California.

During live performances, there is another guitar solo performed at the end after the piano solo. This live solo also includes the "Ahh ahh ahh, Alabama" used in the first solo.

Controversy

"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.[2] The following excerpt shows the Neil Young mention in the song:

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".[3]

Van Zant's other response was also controversial, with references to the segregation) and the Watergate scandal:

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."[4]

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."[5] "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."[5] However, neither explanation accounts for the barely audible "and the governor's true" toward the end of the song. 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.[5] "Wallace and I have very little in common," Van Zant himself said, "I don't like what he says about colored people."[5]

Music historians examining the juxtaposition of invoking 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".[4]

Though the opening riff is completely original, most of the vocal line coincides note by note with the song "You're Looking Fine" from the 1966 album Face to Face by The Kinks.

Muscle Shoals

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[6] 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).[7][8] 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.

Personnel

Lynyrd Skynyrd
Additional personnel

Charts

Weekly charts

Chart (1974) Peak
position
Austrian Singles Chart 56
Canada RPM Top Singles 6
German Singles Chart 87
Swiss Singles Chart 51
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 8
Chart (2008) Peak
position
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[9] 44

Year-end chart

Chart (1974) Peak
position
U.S. Cashbox Top 100 58
Canadian RPM Top Singles 81

Sales and certifications

Region Certification Sales/shipments
Italy (FIMI)[10] Gold 15,000
United Kingdom (BPI)[11] Gold 400,000
United States (RIAA)[12] Gold 3,300,000 (digital)[13]

sales/streaming figures based on certification alone

Covers

An altered version by the country group Alabama (who changed the lyrics involving the Watergate scandal with a verse talking about Alabama football) was included on the 1994 tribute album Skynyrd Frynds. It peaked at number 75 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.[14]

In the late 1980s SF Bay Area band Lifeunderwater covered the song in their live shows.

In 1999, the Germany rock band Bonfire covered the song for their album, Fuel to the Flames and have performed the song live at concerts as well as for an acoustic performance (which was released as the double disc album One Acoustic Night).

In 2005, Universal Recording artists Boyz After Money Always (B.A.M.A.) recorded a rap remake to the classic rock song. B.A.M.A.'s version reached #16 on the Billboard hip-hop singles chart and went on to sell over 150,000 ringtones.

Kid Rock's 2008 song "All Summer Long" samples "Sweet Home Alabama" on the chorus and uses the guitar solo and piano outro; 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 himself 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.)

Spanish punk rock group Siniestro Total released a parody under the title Miña Terra Galega, that is "My Galician Homeland", in Galician, "where the sky is always gray".[15]

In the video game StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, "Sweet Home Alabama" is covered by the "Big Tuna Band" and appears with other 20th-century music in Jimmy's jukebox aboard the 26th-century battle cruiser Hyperion.

Although not a cover, former Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine has admitted that the bridge to the song "The Four Horsemen" on the band's album Kill 'Em All is a direct copy of the main riff in "Sweet Home Alabama".[16]

In 1994, the Finnish rock band group "The Leningrad Cowboys featuring the Alexandrov Ensemble" did a cover of many songs on their album called Happy Together and performed it both on their 1993 Helsinki concert and the 1994 MTV Music Awards show.

Japanese female singer Chihiro Onitsuka covered the song in her 2012 cover album FAMOUS MICROPHONE.

Argentinian singers Charly Garcia and Javier Calamaro recorded "Sweet Home Buenos Aires", a song in the theme of "Sweet Home Alabama" but its lyrics are about Buenos Aires.

In their live concerts, swing band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, while performing their ending tune, "So Long, Farewell, Goodbye", suddenly launch into the first few bars of "Sweet Home Alabama".

Garth Brooks recorded the song for the 2013 box set Blame It All on My Roots: Five Decades of Influences.

Riff sampled by The Geto Boys on an alternate version of "Gangster of Love".

In 1996, the Serbian rap group Sunshine sampled this song in their single "Žaklina traži sponzora".

In popular culture

  • The song appears on the soundtrack of the 1994 film Forrest Gump. It can be heard in the living room of the title character's Alabama home while he dances with his beloved friend Jenny during a rainstorm.
  • The song is heard in the opening of the 2003 film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
  • The song appears in the 1995 film Crimson Tide. It is heard aboard the ballistic missile submarine, USS Alabama, while it sets sail. The crew in the enlisted men's mess are playing the song on a portable stereo.
  • In the 1997 film Con Air, the song is played as the list of main characters are seen in the ending credits. During the film, it is also played on the plane as some of the convicts dance, prompting Garland Greene (Steve Buscemi) to comment on the irony of "a bunch of idiots dancing on a plane, to a song made famous by a band that died in a plane crash."
  • The song is heard in the 2005 film Sahara.
  • In 2000, The World Wrestling Federation (WWF) used the song as the theme song for their pay-per-view Armageddon (2000).
  • The song is featured in the opening to the film Joe Dirt (2001) and features David Spade lip syncing the opening "turn it up" lyric.
  • The song was used as the theme song to the 2001 EA Sports video game NASCAR Thunder 2002.
  • The song was sampled on the track "BCC / Sweet Home Transylvania", from the 2001 album Sweet Home Transylvania by The Bronx Casket Co.
  • The song is used in the 2002 Reese Witherspoon / Patrick Dempsey movie of the same name.
  • 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.[17]
  • 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.[18] (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".)
  • The song (in edited form) is also heard at the beginning of the film Despicable Me (2010).
  • The song is played at every home football game for the University of Alabama with the phrase "Roll Tide Roll" following the title lyrics, and was also played after the Crimson Tide's BCS National Championship victories in 2010, 2012, and 2013
  • The song is also played at Auburn University football games and the first opening lines are played throughout the game with the phrase "Fuck you Alabama" substituted for "Sweet Home Alabama" and the additional phrase, "War Dam Eagle" added.
  • The song is discussed in the film 20 Feet from Stardom (2013), a documentary film about the background vocalists in R&B, pop, and rock history.
  • The song has been used in numerous advertising campaigns, including a 2013 TV commercial for Hyundai. The ad features the Reese family, University of Alabama supporters.
  • A live version of this song was included in Guitar Hero World Tour and was made available as downloadable content for the Rock Band series.
  • The song was used in a 2014 commercial for the Bank of America Cash Back Rewards Card.

Recognition and awards

References

  1. ^ Sweet Hom xe Alabama song information, Songfacts.com
  2. ^ a b c d Dupree, T. (1974), Lynyrd Skynyrd in Sweet Home Atlanta [Electronic version]. Rolling Stone. Retrieved October 17, 2007.
  3. ^ Young, Neil (2012). "Chapter Fifty-seven". Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream. New York, New York: Penguin Group. p. 417.  
  4. ^ a b Shmoop Staff (2010). Sweet Home Alabama: Shmoop Music Guide. Shmoop University. 
  5. ^ a b c d Ballinger, Lee. (2002 ©1999). Lynyrd Skynyrd: An Oral History. Los Angeles, California: XT377 Publishing. ISBN 0-9720446-3-9
  6. ^ "The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section". Alabama Music Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on February 17, 2012. 
  7. ^ "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. 
  8. ^ TimesDaily
  9. ^ "Archive Chart: 2008-08-02" UK Singles Chart.
  10. ^ "Italian single certifications – Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama" (in Italian).   Select Online in the field Sezione. Enter Lynyrd Skynyrd in the field Filtra. The certification will load automatically
  11. ^ "British single certifications – Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama".   Enter Sweet Home Alabama in the field Keywords. Select Title in the field Search by. Select single in the field By Format. Select Gold in the field By Award. Click Search
  12. ^ "American single certifications – Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama".   If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH
  13. ^ Appel, Rich (October 10, 2014). "Revisionist History 101: The Hot 100's Year-End No. 1 Songs, Then... And Now (Part One)".  
  14. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2013). Hot Country Songs 1944–2012. Record Research, Inc. p. 17.  
  15. ^ "Miña terra galega (Sweet home Alabama)". Siniestro.com. January 11, 2013. Retrieved January 4, 2014. 
  16. ^ "'"Dave Mustaine: The Story Behind Metallica's 'The Four Horsemen. Roadrunnerrecords.com. August 15, 2011. Retrieved January 4, 2014. 
  17. ^ Associated Press (2007). Lynyrd Skynyrd Song Turns Alabama Tourist Theme [Electronic version]. USA Today. Retrieved October 17, 2007.
  18. ^ [2]
  19. ^ Miller, John J. (May 26, 2006) Rockin' the Right, National Review

External links

  • 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 guitar chords on guitarchordsmagic.com
  • CLASSIC TRACKS: Lynyrd Skynyrd 'Sweet Home Alabama'
  • Sweet Home Alabama song guide, lyrical analysis, historical context and allusions, teaching guide
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