The Real Backstory Behind The Lynyrd Skynyrd Song Sweet Home Alabama

"Sweet Home Alabama" is perhaps the most recognizable hit from the classic southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, as Country Living Reports. With an iconic guitar riff, the song at first seems nothing more than an ode to what life is like in the American South — and that's certainly true to some extent. With several lyrical references to contentious social and political controversies in the music, the song served as fodder at the time for a feud between Lynyrd Skynyrd and another famous songwriter, Neil Young. All considered, "Sweet Home Alabama" is a much darker song than it might at first seem.

According to American Songwriter, "Sweet Home Alabama," eventually released on Skynyrd's sophomore release from 1974, "Second Helping" (via AllMusic) was written one year earlier, in 1973. Drawing on the South's rich musical legacy, the song also refers to several racial controversies in the state from the 1960s, including school segregation and Jim Crow. Those topics were also broached on two Neil Young songs from around that same time called "Alabama" and "Southern Man." As American Songwriter reports, Skynyrd vocalist Ronnie Van Zant was a fan of Neil Young but he took exception to what he perceived as Young's broad-stroked characterization of the South as entirely backwards and racist.

Is it a Neil Young clap back?

Supporting the story that "Sweet Home Alabama" was written in response to several instances in which Neil Young criticized the culture and politics of the American South — some not-so-subtle lyrics in the song "Sweet Home Alabama" mention the singer-songwriter by name, such as "I hope Neil Young will remembers a Southern man don't need him around anyhow," (via Neil Young News). There are also direct quotes from Van Zant himself stating, "We thought Neil was shooting all the ducks in order to kill one or two. We're Southern rebels but, more than that, we know the difference between right and wrong," (via Country Living.)

That aside, the so-called feud between the musicians was much less serious than many believe. "We wrote 'Sweet Home Alabama' as a joke ... We love Neil Young. We love his music," Van Zant later said, according to Rolling Stone. Neil Young himself covered "Sweet Home Alabama” in a medley with his song "Alabama" in 1977, in tribute to three founding members of Lynyrd Skynyrd who died in a plane wreck that same year. He never played "Alabama" again, as Country Living reports, and in his 2012 autobiography, "Waging Heavy Peace," he expressed his regret for lyrics in songs like "Alabama," which he said were "accusatory," "condescending," and "too easy to misconstrue," (via Country Living.)