Neil Young: Southern Man as an Inspiration Behind Sweet Home Alabama

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People always seem to try to interpret the meaning behind things in different ways. Like in lyrics, paintings, quotes, movies, people are always trying to find the meaning behind these objects trying to see what the person who made these things saw. I chose to do my essay on a song, Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Sweet Home Alabama”, 1973, Second Helping. As a southern rock band, “Sweet Home Alabama”, put Lynyrd Skynyrd into the racist category as it brings a lot of controversy over some of their misinterpret lyrics, some people believing the meaning behind them is what the band personally and politically believes. Some of the song’s lyrics seem to take a hit at the political beliefs that a lot of the south believed during that era. As of according to the bands lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, that a lot of their listeners seemed to skim over what the lyrics meant, making them believe the band supported the other side.

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Lynyrd Skynyrd created “Sweet Home Alabama” in 1973 during the Civil Rights Movement, and the Watergate Scandal, it depicted that not of the south was evil. For the band Lynyrd Skynyrd, their attended audience was the people who lived in the North of the U.S. and Canadian Artist Neil Young because to show them that not all people living in the south are bad and evil people. They created this song in response to two of Neil Young’s songs 1970’s “Southern Man” and 1972’s “Alabama.” Neil Young wrote these songs expressing his disappointment with the racism and segregation that was happening in the south. 

“Southern man, better keep your head. Don't forget what your good book said.” Neil Young, “Southern Man”, 1970. In this part of Young’s song calling out the hypocrisy of the south, and how can they preach the bible and call themselves a Christian, when they’re both are about love and forgiveness, yet the southerns are all about hate and enslavement. “What are you doing Alabama? You got the rest of the union. To help you along. What's going wrong?” Neil Young, “Alabama,” 1972. Young is talking about how the rest of the country sees the progress in the racial movement, yet Alabama has yet to move an inch towards being less hostile towards African Americans. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s lead singer Ronnie Van Zant expressed his thoughts towards this song saying that they thought Young was “shooting all the ducks” and that just because they were southern rebels doesn’t mean they don’t know what is right and what is wrong. (Van Zant.) 

Van Zant believed Young meant no harm towards anybody, but also felt like Young had unfairly painted everybody who lived in the south as a racist and blamed them for everything going wrong down there. Most people who have listened to “Sweet Home Alabama” believe it to be a political stance on what the band members political beliefs were. One part of the song sings, “In Birmingham they love the Gov'nor, Boo! Boo! Boo!” some believe it states that the band supports the Governor of Alabama, George Wallace, and supports his political beliefs, believing that the “boo” part was mocking the north, and telling them to get over it. The true point was that there were southerners who were not racist and opposed Governor Wallace and his ideas. Even though Wallace was in Montgomery, 90 Miles South of Birmingham, the city of Birmingham was sold on the idea of segregation, as the city had some of the worst violence during the Civil Rights Movement. Even when the band had opposed Wallace, the “boo” part had been looked over by most listeners believing the band had agreed with Wallace, when in fact it was supposed to indicate they opposed didn’t. 

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