Battle of the Bands: Sweet Home Alabama vs. Southern Man

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SWEET HOME ALABAMA VS. SOUTHERN MAN

This battle features Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama against Neil Young’s Southern Man.

If my hunch is right, this battle will probably be a blowout, but maybe not. I’m interested to see how it plays out. Regardless of how it ends, this battle was really fun to put together, pitting two iconic songs that both stand the test of time against each other.

Enjoy! And thanks Stephen McCarthy for this fabulous idea and especially for thinking of me when you thought of it. I’m really excited to present it.

There has long been controversy about whether Neil Young and Lynryd Skynyrd’s front man Ronnie Van Zant were friends or foes. After all, Sweet Home Alabama lyrics famously mention Neil Young:

“I heard old Neil talk about her, I heard old Neal put her down

Well, I hope Neil Young will remember

a southern man don’t need him around anyhow”

On its face, it would appear that Lynryd Skynrd is putting Neil Young down in response to his song Southern Man, an anti-racism song which many think broad-stroke paints all Southerners as racists. At least that’s how most people interpret those lyrics. But in reality, were Neil Young and Ronnie Van Zant actually friends?

This question has been pondered for decades and much has been written about it. The conclusion has been drawn that the two actually liked and had deep mutual respect for each other. Most notably evidenced by these photos showing Ronnie Van Zant in concert wearing a t-shirt with Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night album cover on it and Neil Young wearing Lynryd Skynrd’s Jack Daniels whiskey t-shirt during performance, an obvious nod to one another.

ronnie-van-zant-wearing-neil-youngs-tonights-the-night-tshirt

neil-young-wearing-lynryd-skynrds-jack-daniels-whiskey-tshirt

But you can come to your own conclusion. Here’s a good article that goes deep on the subject and starts with this:

“Thanks to Neil Young, Lynyrd Skynyrd was inspired to write the song “Sweet Home Alabama”.

Without Young’s songs that were so critical of the South’s segregationist and racist attitudes for inspiration, it is doubtful that the band would have produced a song with such a long lasting duration that continues to sell well 30 years after its release.

But the ultimate irony of “Sweet Home Alabama” is that for so many, the song’s implied put down of Neil Young was NOT meant as criticism but as support of Young’s anti-racism.”

I tend to believe that they genuinely liked each other. What do you think?

I’ve found two superb live performances of both songs that I think you’ll really enjoy. (Note: the Neil Young song video says it’s 19 minutes long but the song is really only 9:44 in length. At that point, oddly the audio cuts out and the video continues taping the performance. I don’t know why the video doesn’t just end when the song ends but whatever). Anyway, both performances are very strong and full of passion. The question is: which one do you like better? Which song do you like better?

LYNYRD SKYNRD – Sweet Home Alabama  (Live at Amsouth Ampitheatre in Tennessee 2003)

 

NEIL YOUNG – Southern Man (FarmAid performance)

 

TIME TO VOTE! Which version do you like better and why? And when you’re done voting, please visit these other BOTB participants and check out their cool battles:

 

 

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30 thoughts on “Battle of the Bands: Sweet Home Alabama vs. Southern Man

  1. I’ve read interviews with Neil Young where he praised the Skynyrd song and seems like I’ve either heard Young doing a cover of “Sweet Home Alabama” or maybe I read that he did. The After the Goldrush album is a fine work that I like a lot and I enjoy Skynyrd’s music.

    After years of hearing both tunes I think I’ve come to prefer “Sweet Home Alabama” so that’s how I’m voting.

    In my someday Battle queue I have “Sweet Home Alabama” pitted in a rather different, but somewhat similar contest. I’ll probably still use it someday, but I have no idea when.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for being the first vote of the day Lee. A vote for Skynyrd. I have a feeling that most, if not all, will vote for them. I’m completely prepared to have a shutout…

      Like

  2. Hi, Michele!

    Seems to me the question of hate or respect between the two famed musicians could have been settled years ago by simply asking Van Zant before he tragically died or by asking Neil Young in the decades since. “Sweet Home Alabama” contains contradictory lyrics, making it hard to decipher the intended message of the song. For example, “In Birmingham they love the governor” (Wallace) is followed by “boo boo boo” which is then followed by “the governor’s true.” In the video you presented, I have to wonder why they used two white women as backing vocalists for that Skynard stage show when it was two black women, legendary session vocalists Clydie King and Merry Clayton, who sang background vocals on the original recording. Meanwhile Neil Young is flanked by a large chorus of black men and women, just saying…

    Regardless of the issue of racism, these are two great live performances, and my vote goes to the song I have always enjoyed more – the southern rock anthem “Sweet Home Alabama.”

    Thank you, dear friend Michele!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Shady. Both Neil Young and Ronnie Van Zant have addressed the rumor issue and you can read about it in the article that I referenced.
      Thanks for your vote: another one for Skynyrd. 🙂

      Like

  3. Michele, I don’t know about propaganda behind songs but lyrics are just poems set to mewsic, so it comes as no surprise. I was never one to analysis the words, either. I either liked it or didn’t. However, since being in Blogosphere I’m getting a mewsic education from those more knowledgeable on the subject. Putting all this aside, I don’t remember Neil Young’s song and had no clue it’s the inspiration behind “Home Sweet Alabama”. Young’s song didn’t move me much, but the classic southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd is hard to beat. So, my vote goes for Sweet Home Alabama! You will find my BoTB post, here. Have a good day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Cathy. Thanks for your vote. I’m pretty positive that Skynryd will run away with this one…
      I’m surprised you don’t remember Southern Man though. It got lots of airplay where I’m from (Buffalo NY). I’m glad to have introduced it to you even though you didn’t care for it much. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve never really been a Neil Young fan and didn’t know about the “controversy” surrounding the song. I’ll have to ask my husband, who likes Mr. Young. I agree with Thomas, hasn’t somebody asked them yet? We’ve seen Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert several times and that song always gets the crowd going. They get my vote.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lynryd Skynyrd in concert is awesome! I saw them but it was after the plane crash so it was without Ronnie and the others. 😥
      The article that I referenced in the post is a great article that goes in depth about the Neil/Ronnie rumor and both of them addressed it so if you want to know more about it, check out the article. It’s good.
      Thanks for your vote Janet!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. These are two songs I don’t really like all that much. “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird” were on the radio all the freakin’ time when I first moved to Atlanta, and I got really sick of both of them. “Southern Man” was a song a band I was in played, and I didn’t like playing it or hearing Neil Young play it. These are both live versions, which changes things a little, but not enough that either song is that appealing. Anyway, I choose Lynyrd Skynyrd over Neil Young.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, you’re the first person that I know of who doesn’t like Sweet Home Alabama! But I get it: I got sick of some Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd songs because they were overplayed all the time.
      Thanks for your vote for Skynyrd…

      Like

  6. Hi Michelle.

    Both these songs commemorate struggles of the deep south. Skynard, by looks and sound, are the portrait of that southern Red Neck. A lot of Nazi’s and Supremists come from the deep south. Not that I believe VanZandt is a Nazi, just making an observation. I also think you can respect someone’s right to express (through music or otherwise) their views while disagreeing with their views. I think that is all the song lyrics are: Skynard feeling secure that he can disagree with Young’s assertions but still respect him as an artist. Red Necks gotta be red necks 🙂

    As for the battle itself, well, Southern Man just doesn’t move me like Sweet Home does. I’ll give my vote to Skynard.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Donna. Thanks for stopping by!
      From what I read, Ronnie Van Zant and the other members of the band had a hard time shaking the label that the band was redneck racist because in fact they weren’t. I think hanging the Confederate flag at their concerts sure had a lot to do with that label! Anyway, I was glad to read that they weren’t racists because I sure do love their music!
      Thanks for your vote. Another one for Skynyrd…

      Like

  7. What a fabulous concept, Michele! Stephen had a good idea, there. I’m familiar with the story behind both songs and am betting Neil and Ronnie were friends. I like them both, but have to go with my homeboy, Neil. Such a brilliant talent! At least you won’t get a shutout. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow Debbie, thanks for stopping by! I’m actually surprised by your vote and so happy to not have a shutout! Thank you!!! 🙂 Ya know, I didn’t realize that Neil was from our neighbor to the north! Very cool.
      Yes, Neil Young is such a talent for sure. I really started getting into him after his After the Gold Rush album.
      Thanks for your vote!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I absolutely love Neil and have been a fan since his Buffalo Springfield days in the ’60s. We saw him in concert about six years ago, with his famous backing band, Crazy Horse. One of the best shows ever! ♥ I bet Lynyrd Skynyrd was a blast, even though the original members weren’t there. Southern Rock really cooks! You might enjoy this: Pictures of Youngtown, the Neil Young museum in Lindsay, Ontario.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. MICHELE ~
    Ha! Well, this is indeed the blowout both of us predicted. But I still dig this concept and I’m glad Debbie agreed with us about it. Cool frijoles! (In retrospect, it might have been double the fun if you and I had done these Artist Vs. Artist battles on the same date. Mine being that one with Murray Head Vs. Glen Campbell.)

    Now, while I try to decide how to vote on this Battle, let me ask you: Do you want the vote with a mid-level Reader’s Digest comment, or the full-blown, detailed, on my politically incorrect soap box comment? Ha! Yer choice.

    You did a nice job of mixing me up by using live versions. I imagined this with the studio recordings, in which case my vote was all dialed up for Skynyrd. But the live recording trick threw a monkey wrench into my thinking.

    I shall return… so don’t lock the door on me. :o)

    ~ D-FensDogG
    Check out my new blog @
    (Link:] Stephen T. McCarthy Reviews…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Stephen. Glad you stopped by…and glad that I made it a little more difficult for you with the live versions! I think both performances are excellent.

      And hey, this is a free world so you just say whatever you want in your comment…After all, I can always delete it if it’s too offensive 😏

      Like

  9. Well, this really is not a question in my mind, as I’ve never really liked Neil Young. On the other hand, I’ve rather liked Sweet Home Alabama since the first time I had heard it all those years ago.

    My vote goes to Sweet Home Alabama.

    ~Mary

    Liked by 1 person

  10. ​MICHELE ~
    I’m back. Had you given up on me? Tell the truth!

    I’ve known about the little “internal squabble” regarding Neil Young’s ‘Southern Man’ and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ since I was in my late teens. I used to read a lot of books and magazines about Rock music and that’s how I came across it, I suppose.

    Following is what my take on the thing is. After I post this, I will read the article you linked to and see how right or wrong my understanding of it has been:

    Young’s ‘Southern Man’ was obviously meant as criticism toward the South for slavery and the mistreatment of Blacks. And Ronnie Van Zant or Ed King (whichever of them wrote the lyrics) was clearly irked by Young’s broad-brush approach. The line “I hope Neil Young will remember a Southern man don’t need him around anyhow” is not playful, it’s not joking; they were truly irritated.

    But I think over the years they probably all put it behind them and achieved detente, as the wearing of each other’s T-shirts indicated. They likely wound up on friendly terms.

    Now for the tunes and my vote:
    As I’ve made clear in the past, I’m no Neil Young fan. I’ve always considered him a “poor man’s Bob Dylan” (with an even worse voice). I only like maybe 4 or 5 of his songs. The best one being ‘A Horse With No Name’. (I know, I know! But doesn’t it sound EXACTLY like Neil Young?)

    I did like ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ in my teens and very early 20s, but I got so sick of hearing it on the radio that I completely burned out on it. (Similar to how the radio ruined The Doobie Bros’ ‘Black Water’ for me. I dug it, but now I never need to hear it again.)

    I have always particularly disliked ‘Southern Man’ because I think it’s cheap criticism. Young playing the self-righteous, politically correct observer of the South’s past sins. Sure, slavery was terrible; sure, racism is horrible (and still exists in pockets everywhere, and some people from ALL races are guilty of it).

    But Neil Young recorded ‘Southern Man’ in 1970, and yet he sang it as if it were still occurring:

    Southern change
    gonna come at last
    Now your crosses
    are burning fast
    Southern man

    I saw cotton
    and I saw black
    Tall white mansions
    and little shacks.
    Southern man
    when will you
    pay them back?
    I heard screamin’
    and bullwhips cracking
    How long? How long?

    What a load of B.S.! Neil Young did NOT see crosses burning and hear screaming and bullwhips cracking in the 1970 Southern states! He’s singing about slavery which ended in the 1860s — over a century earlier — and discrimination which was well on its way to being corrected by 1970.

    The way I personally felt about it was that Neil Young was an unwanted do-gooder looking for a cause and latched onto an easy, broad issue and sang about it as if 1970 was 1861. Furthermore, I hate slavery, but I don’t appreciate people knocking the South as if all Southern men were Black-hating slaveholders and as if the Civil War was all about a bunch of White people wanting to hang on to their slaves. The fact is, nearly all “common knowledge” is wrong — which folks will find if they do deep research rather than rely on what their teachers and the “mainstream media” spoon-feeds them.

    While I despise slavery (and know it would have been undone sooner than later regardless of the Civil War), I have come to the knowledge that the Southern states had every right to secede from the U.S.A. I would support ANY state’s Constitutional right to leave the Union. Two books I’d recommend to anyone are ‘THE REAL LINCOLN’ by Thomas DiLorenzo (for one thing, Abraham Lincoln was an openly self-professed White supremacist, and that’s just for starters), and also ‘THE POLITICALLY INCORRECT GUIDE TO THE CIVIL WAR’ by H.W. Crocker III.

    To me, the supposed “redneck” Confederate Flag does not represent slavery or racism of any sort, but really represents Federal Government tyranny against the sovereign states. By illegal force, the Union prevented the South from seceding. I know this sounds wrong but, like I said, most “common knowledge” is found to be incorrect when one digs deeper and looks at a thing from more than just one angle.

    So, anyway, I don’t much like Neil Young and I dislike the song ‘Southern Man’. But what made this BOTB interesting for me was your choice of live recordings. ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ was played well but I’m sick of it. And ‘Southern Man’ actually sounds better to me here than it ever has before because of the additon of Young’s “Grunge Guitar” sound. He came up with that element later in his career and I actually think it works great on certain songs, like ‘Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)’. And on ‘Southern Man’, that Grunge sound along with the loud, chaotic arrangement with the background singers and all, really painted an aural picture of the terror of the song — the crackling flames, the screaming and bullwhips cracking, etc.

    So, even though I don’t like the song — neither the subject matter or the melody — I did seriously consider voting for it. Definitely the best version of ‘Southern Man’ I’ve ever heard.

    In the end though, I feel that ‘Southern Man’ just went on way too long (kinda like this comment). I listened to it 3 different times but never once made it all the way to the end because it just started sounding like more of the same. So, give my vote to them Redneck Crackers playin’ ‘neath that racis’ Confederate flag.
    ;o)

    ~ D-FensDogG

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow Stephen, what a meaty comment! I love meaty long comments! So thanks. And sorry it’s taken me so long to get back here to respond. Life has morphed into an unmanageable cluster-you-know-what for the past week. I’m finally getting back here to my blog so my apologies.

      I totally understand how radio overplay can ruin a song for many. That has been the cause of ruining some really good songs for me, like several Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd songs. I do remember Black Water being played a lot too but that song makes me smile now because back when it was first out, me and my friends used to walk down the road and through the neighborhood singing it. 🙂

      Regarding Southern Man, there’s no question about its content and message but I do believe that Neil was speaking metaphorically and not literally when he spoke of seeing burning crosses and hearing bullwhips cracking. I think he speaks more of the ghosts of such atrocities.

      I do believe that there is still a lot of racism in the South based on my own experience. My folks have lived in North Carolina since 1990 and I have seen/heard some of the prevailing attitudes that were actually hair-raising. But this is everywhere, all around our country for sure, and not just in the South. It’s deeply troubling.
      A few years back on a road trip, we stayed in the Capitol city of Mississippi. We went into a diner downtown and it was like I had stepped into a time-warp. t can’t really put into words that experience, only that it was an overwhelming feeling of segregation. Which was only heightened when I tried to give the very hard-working (black) busboy a tip but he had to refuse it, saying he wasn’t allowed to take it. I was only allowed to tip the (white) waitress. While it may be the case that this was the restaurant policy, it sure struck me as mighty unfair. I couldn’t wait to get out of there!

      While the Confederate flag has a deep history, I must admit that I associate it with racist rednecks and every time I see one, it makes my skin crawl. It’s unfortunate that the racists and white supremacists have adopted the Confederate flag to associate it with their views.

      Re: the battle songs: I’m really glad that I chose those particular live performances. I think both of them were fantastic and I agree that the performance of Southern Man was indeed superior, when compared to other Neil Young performances. I’m glad that it was so good that you actually considered voting for it!

      In the end, your taste for this battle is definitely in the majority as most voted for Sweet Home Alabama.

      Thanks for coming back to vote! I’m going to tally up the votes now but there’s no question who the winner is. I’m so glad you passed this battle idea onto me as I really enjoyed putting it together. So thanks a ton!

      Like

    • Hey Jemima. Thanks for stopping by and voting. I’m so glad that Southern Man is getting some votes as this battle has seemed to be one-sided. Yours is the last one in and I’m thrilled that you chose Neil Young!

      Liked by 1 person

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