Sweet Home Alabama

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

Despite controversy, it reached #8 on the US charts in 1974, and was the band’s second hit single.

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-C+9-G chord progression). In interviews, Ed 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, and a hit was born. Also written at this session was the track that would follow “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 Studio One in Doraville, Georgia, using just King, bassist Leon Wilkeson, and drummer Burns to lay down the basic backing track. Ed King used a Marshall amp belonging to Allen Collins. The guitar used on the track was a 1972 Fender Stratocaster. However, King has said that 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.

Interesting to note is that 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 just asking producer Al Kooper and engineer Rodney Mills to turn up the volume in his headphones so that he could hear the track better.

Following the two “woo’s” (Leon’s the first, Ed’s the second) at the start of the piano solo, 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.

There is also a semi-hidden vocal line in the second verse after the “Well, I heard Mr. Young sing about her” line (at approximately 0:50). In the left channel, you can hear the phrase “Southern Man” being sung lightly. This was producer Al Kooper doing a Neil Young impression and was just another incident of the band members messing around in the studio while being recorded.

The count-in heard in the beginning of the track is spoken by Ed 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.

Ironically, 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.

“Sweet Home Alabama” was written as an answer to two controversial songs, “Southern Man” and “Alabama” by Neil Young, which attacked the South as racist. “We thought Neil was shooting all the ducks in order to kill one or two,” said Ronnie Van Zant at the time. Van Zant‘s musical response, however, was also controversial, with references to Alabama Governor George Wallace (a noted supporter of segregation) and the Watergate scandal:

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

In addition, the final chorus rhymes “where the skies are so blue” with “and the governor’s true.”

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,” Kooper notes “‘We tried to get Wallace out of there’ is how I always thought of it.”Journalist John 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.”

In 1976, Van Zant and the band supported Jimmy Carter for his presidential candidacy, including fundraising and an appearance at the Gator Bowl benefit concert.

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 town of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a legendary location for recording popular music due to the “sound” crafted by local recording studios and back-up musicians. “The Swampers” referred to in the lyrics included (among others) Jimmy Johnson, David Hood, Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, Eddie Hinton, Pete Carr and Spooner Oldham who crafted the “Muscle Shoals Sound”. Sometimes recording under the identity of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, these musicians included Jimmy Johnson (guitar), Roger Hawkins (drums), David Hood (bass), and Barry Beckett (keyboards), and they were inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1995 for a “Lifework Award for Non-Performing Achievement.” The nickname “The Swampers” was given to the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section by singer/songwriter Leon Russell.

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.

* Hank Williams, Jr. performs this song on his 1987 live album, Hank Live.
* In addition to the original appearance on Second Helping, the song has appeared on numerous Lynyrd Skynyrd collections and live albums. The song also appeared on the famous late night talk show The Tonight Show. A few covers have appeared, notably a slowed-down rock version by Big Head Todd and the Monsters, as well as a more faithful version by the Charlie Daniels Band and an altered version by the country group Alabama (who changed the lyrics involving the Watergate scandal with a verse talking about Alabama football). The song even spawned a 2004 hip hop version by Alabama-based rap/hip-hop group Boyz After Money Always, which was performed at the Comedy Central Roast of Jeff Foxworthy. Former Saturday Night Live band leader G.E. Smith led the backing band for this performance.
* Perhaps the most unusual rendition of the song is by the surrealist Finnish rock group Leningrad Cowboys, featuring the Red Army Choir on the choruses, and also includes some of the Volga Boatman Song.
* Argentine rock singer Javier Calamaro released a song in Spanish called “Sweet Home Buenos Aires”, with the music of this song. Later, Argentine rock icon Charly García, released the song in his album “Demasiado ego” with Calamaro as a guest. He usually performs this song after playing “Encuentro con el diablo”, from his former band Serú Girán, which has a strong likeness to the Lynyrd Skynyrd song.
* Argentine band Patricio Rey y sus Redonditos de Ricota (a.k.a. Redonditos de Ricota or Los Redondos) play a song named Caña Seca y un Membrillo, which has a big likeness to Sweet Home Alabama.
* Spanish band Siniestro Total did a semi-parodic cover of this song called “Miña terra galega”, in a reference to their homeland Galicia.
* Jewel made a cover version of the song for the movie Sweet Home Alabama.
* Killdozer covers the song on the Touch and Go Records compilation “God’s Favorite Dog”
* 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.
* Canadian jam band The Clumsy Lovers included a version on their CD Under the Covers.
* The University of Alabama’s Million Dollar Band plays it as an unofficial fight song for the Crimson Tide
* Kid Rock’s 2007 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 an identical chord progression to Sweet Home Alabama.”

Sweet Home Alabama has appeared in many commercials, movies, and subsequent recordings by other bands. It remains a popular request on classic rock radio stations and has been featured in many movies, including To Die For, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), Con Air, Forrest Gump, Joe Dirt, The Girl Next Door, Sweet Home Alabama and Sahara. The song was alluded to in Warren Zevon‘s Play It All Night Long (from his 1980 album Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School): “Sweet home Alabama! Play that dead man’s song! Turn those speakers up full blast!”.

The song has become a favorite among University of Alabama students and alumni. Shaun Alexander, the Seattle Seahawks MVP running back and University of Alabama alumnus, has the song played after each home game touchdown. That inspired “Dustin Blatnik and the 12th Man Band” to record the 2005 parody song “Sweet Shaun Alexander,” a tribute to the Seattle Seahawks run to Super Bowl XL and Alexander’s record setting season.

The song has also become popular with the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) for hockey games. The Chargers, being the only ice hockey team in the south, uses the song for both home game entrances and occasionally as a pseudo-fight song.

The song’s reach also extends to “virtual” sporting events. It was featured on the PS2 and Xbox versions of NASCAR Thunder 2002 because the game creators, EA Sports, had just announced sponsorship of the fall race at Talladega Superspeedway, located in Alabama.

Further, Sweet Home Alabama has been used in multiple advertising campaigns. An adaptation of the song is used in advertisements for KFC. WWE used the song as the theme song for their Pay-Per-View WWE Armageddon 2000 (which took place in Birmingham). In September 2007, Alabama Governor Bob Riley announced the phrase “Sweet Home Alabama” would be used to promote Alabama state tourism in a multi million dollar ad campaign. No indication has been given if the song itself will be included in the campaign.

Sweet Home Alabama has become well-known in the Dark-Hunters book series created by paranormal romance novelist Sherrilyn Kenyon as the song always played on Sanctuary’s jukebox when Acheron enters the bar.

* In May 2006, National Review ranked the song #4 on its list of “50 greatest conservative rock songs.”
* In July 2006, CMT ranked it #1 of the “20 Greatest Southern Rock songs.”
* In 2004, the song was ranked #398 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
* In 2007, Nascar used portions of the song mixed with rap music for an ad.
* In 2007, the song was used in the Top Gear Greatest Driving Songs album.

Band Members

* Ronnie Van Zant – Double-Tracked Lead Vocals
* Ed King – Lead guitar, Solo 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 – Producer, backing vocals (left channel)
* Clydie King – background vocals
* Merry Clayton – background vocals [2]
* Sherlie Matthews – background vocals

- source:Wikipedia

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