The unofficial anthem of Southern Rock, if not of the South in general, hit the top 40 this day in 1974. A band from Florida, recording in Georgia put Alabama on the musical map this day. Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s “Sweet Home Alabama” hit the top 40 and would go on to be their only top 10 hit and only gold single in the U.S.
Ironically, most of the band haled from northern Florida, although they did have members from Rhode Island (Leon Wilkeson), Texas (Billy Powell) and California (Ed King)…but no one from The Yellowhammer State. Likewise, they recorded much of the album out on the West Coast but this actual song at the Atlanta Rhythm Section’s Studio One. No matter what its origins, the single (which preceded their other arena rock classic, “Free Bird”) was from their Second Helping album, appropriately enough their second, which went double platinum at home.
The band’s origins stem from a pretty musical family, the Van Zants. At the time, Ronnie Van Zant was the lead singer – he, guitarist Steve Gaines and four others unfortunately died in a plane crash in ’77 and was then replaced by younger brother Johnny Van Zant. Meanwhile, another brother, Donnie, started the band 38 Special!
The song was inspired by some anger at Neil Young’s songs “Southern Man” and “Alabama” which portrayed the South as a racist, KKK-run backwoods – you hear them diss “Ol’ Neil” by name in the song. For all that, there’s no animosity between them, believe it or not. both say they’re fans of the other, have worn each other’s T-shirts on stage and played the same gigs. Young now says “I don’t like my words when I listen to them…I richly deserved the shot (they) gave me.”
Although the song only got to #8 on Billboard, it remains one of the most-played of the era on Classic Rock stations. Not to mention it loosely-inspired a Reese Witherspoon movie and has been used in advertising by the state itself. Wonder if Mississippi’s hoping Ol’ Neil will write something nasty about them?