Sweet Home Alabama
Influences on Lynyrd Skynyrd
Influenced by Lynyrd SkynyrdThe most obvious influences for "Sweet Home Alabama" are invoked in the song itself—Neil Young's social criticism tunes "Alabama" and "Southern Man," and the music of the Muscle Shoals session musicians known as the Swampers.
Young's strident criticism of southern racism prompted Skynyrd's response in "Sweet Home Alabama," but Young's influence on the band wasn't limited only to disputatious lyrical content. Lynyrd Skynyrd also loved his music, and the band's grungy, straightforward, hard-rocking sound owes something to the countless hours they spent listening to Young's work with Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, and as a solo artist. (Ronnie Van Zant said he owned every record Neil Young ever released.)
The last verse of "Sweet Home Alabama" gets a lot less attention than the controversial earlier bits that deal with Neil Young, George Wallace, and Watergate, but Ronnie Van Zant's shoutout to "the Swampers" in Muscle Shoals refers to another profound influence on the band's sound. The Muscle Shoals Sound Studio was a tiny recording studio in a small town in northern Alabama that had an outsized impact on modern music. The session men there—a group of musicians known as the Swampers because they sounded like they were playing swamp music—perfected a bluesy, authentic sound that backed a staggering number of rock, soul, blues, and country hits in the 1960s and '70s. (Besides Skynyrd, other major artists who made the trek to Muscle Shoals to record music ranged from the Rolling Stones to Aretha Franklin to Bob Dylan to the Staples Singers. Lynyrd Skynyrd, with its famous triple-lead-guitar attack, built a harder sound than the Swampers… but always kept a hint of that swamp music flavor.
Speaking more generally, Skynyrd emerged from the same earthy blues-rock tradition that had produced bands ranging from the Rolling Stones to Creedence Clearwater Revival to the Allman Brothers.
"Sweet Home Alabama" quickly shot up to #8 on the charts shortly after its release as a single in 1974, making it the most successful southern rock song of all time and ensuring that it would influence generations of subsequent music. In the short term, the song helped to make the entire genre of southern rock a major fad in the mid-1970s; in a 1974 interview, Ronnie Van Zant actually complained that temporary enthusiasm for the "southern scene" meant that "a great band from New York has less of a chance now than an average band from the South."
"Sweet Home Alabama" has also inspired, over the years, a staggering array of covers and samples. A country version from the band Alabama, a folk-lite version from Jewel, a downtempo rock version from Big Head Todd and the Monsters, a Nazi-punk version (yikes!) from the British skinhead band Skrewdriver. An Argentine singer reworked the song into "Sweet Home Buenos Aires"; an Israeli songwriter into "Sweet Home Jerusalem"; a band from Spanish Galicia into "Miña Terra Galega." And the song's signature guitar riff has been sampled by multiple hip-hop acts, ranging from the painfully obvious (Kid Rock on "All Summer Long") to the more surprising (the Geto Boys on "Gangster of Love").