“Sweet Home Alabama. Where the skies are so blue.” It’s a great song. But did you know that it’s an answer song?
What’s an answer song? It’s a song that “answers” another song. Sometimes it explains a prior song, answers critics or completes a prior song, but usually it is a song that is a retort to a song by another artist.
Neil Young, an accomplished artist both as a solo guy and as a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, wrote the songs “Southern Man” and “Alabama” which were critical of, well, Alabama and The South. “Southern Man” was a particularly biting song, critical of the South for slavery and the resulting racism that was prevalent into the 60s. A few choice lyrics were:
“Now your crosses Are burning fast Southern man.”
“I saw cotton And I saw black tall white mansion and little shacks.”
“Now your crosses are burning fast.”
“Lily Belle, your hair is golden brown, I’ve seen your black man comin’ round,
Swear by God, I’m gonna cut him down!”
“I heard screamin and bullwhips cracking. How long? How long?”
So as you can see, Neil was giving the South what for. “Southern Man” was written in 1970, at the end of the social unrest of the 1960s. Just a few other quick mentions of social commentary songs that come to me off the top of my head, Janis Ian with “Society’s Child”, The Stories with “Louie”, CCR with “Fortunate Son”, and The Beatles with “Blackbird”. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, more.
Along came Leonard Skinner. The Jacksonville based band took the name of their anti-long hair gym teacher, with some slight modification, ultimately resulting in the name Lynyrd Skynyrd. Their answer song, “Sweet Home Alabama”, is one of my top five answer songs of all time, Unlike most answer songs, Lynyrd called Neil out by name.
“Well I heard Mister Young sing about her, Well I heard ole Neil put her down. Well, I hope Neil Young will remember. A southern man don’t need him around any how.”
“In Birmingham they love the Gov’nor. Now we all did what we could do. Now Watergate does not bother me. Does your conscience bother you?”
Lynyrd’s song concludes by talking about the good times of Muscle Shoals and the happy times in the South.
One of the cool points about “Sweet Home Alabama”, at the very start, you hear “Turn it up.” That was actually an instruction to the sound crew to turn up the monitor so Van Zandt could hear better, but it sounded so cool, it was left in the song.
So now you know the history of “Sweet Home Alabama”, the state song of Alabama. And while it’s the best Rock’n’Roll state song, Ray Charles’ “Georgia On My Mind” is still the best state song ever.
Kelly Burke, master attorney, former district attorney and magistrate judge, is engaged in private practice. He writes about the law, rock’n’roll and politics. These articles are not designed to give legal advice, but are designed to inform the public about how the law affects their daily lives. Contact Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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