'Sweet' appeal is difficult to explain

By Cliff McCollum
Posted 6/10/16

A few days ago, I had a Yankee friend of mine text me and ask for some clarification on an issue that had been bothering him for some time.

My dear friend from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was perplexed by Alabama and her people’s love of …

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'Sweet' appeal is difficult to explain

Posted

A few days ago, I had a Yankee friend of mine text me and ask for some clarification on an issue that had been bothering him for some time.

My dear friend from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was perplexed by Alabama and her people’s love of the song “Sweet Home Alabama” and as the non-appointed Ambassador of the South, it was my job to explain it.

After consulting with many noble sons of the South on the issue, I’m still not certain I fully can answer his query.

The easy answer would be that it’s a song that has our state’s name in both the title and featured heavily throughout the song, something Alabama residents are not generally used to having in popular music.

You can’t go a day without turning on the radio and hearing someone extol the virtues of states like New York or California, and even our neighbor Georgia has some powerful entries with hits like “Georgia on My Mind” and “Midnight Train to Georgia.”

But, for us Alabamians, we’ve had to make due with “Alabamy Bound,” best popularized by Al Jolson (which probably shouldn’t be celebrated) and “Stars Fell on Alabama,” which while a pretty tune is somewhat dated – as in, I might be one of 10 people under the age of 70 in this state that actually know some of the lyrics to that song.

There is, of course, the official state song called “Alabama,” but it’s mainly just a list of the state’s rivers and the tune is only known to a handful of archivists and historians scattered throughout the state.

There had been a recent push in the state legislature to possibly name “Sweet Home Alabama” as the state song, but thankfully, cooler heads prevailed since some of the parts of that song really have nothing to do with us or who we are as a people.

Case in point, the part of the song that goes after Neil Young.

For older generations, I’m sure the song still stands as some sort of Southern rights anthem, a volley being fired back at Young for “Southern Man” and his assumptions about the people of the South in general.

However, most of the younger generations who grew up hearing this song usually have no earthly idea what that particular part of the song is talking about, nor do they usually care to learn more.

Ditto the part with “In Birmingham, they love the governor.”

Most folks my age, myself include, were not aware that the lines immediately after that one were “Boo, Boo, Boo,” as many nights at various bars across the world have shown me most people say “Woo hoo hoo” instead.

When people know you’re an Alabamian, you immediately become an expert at this song and are forced to explain its words to the uninitiated, even if you’re on vacation and a few drinks deep at a pub on the River Liffey in Dublin, Ireland.

(I can assure you that trying to explain our state’s complicated relationship with George Wallace to the Irish is not an enviable task. Even after several pints of Guinness, there’s still much lost in translation.)

Perhaps to fully understand it, one must experience the song live, played by the remnants of Lynyrd Skynyrd themselves — to feel the anticipation build in the crowd as they wait patiently to hear the song they came to hear.

And when the band asks what they want to hear, you get to experience all the different swaths of life.

The sober or sober-ish shout out “Play ‘Freebird!’”

The three-drinks-deep crowd clamor for “Swamp People.”

The good and drunk might shout out for “Born On The Bayou,” despite the fact that it’s actually a Creedence Clearwater Revival song.

And there might be one truly ‘round the bend person, as there was when Skynrd played in Fairhope back in 2014, who yelled repeatedly for the band to play “Sexual Healing.”

But when the familiar chords started and we heard the phrase “Turn it up,” all were satisfied and singing along.

Sweet home, indeed.

Cliff McCollum is managing editor of Gulf Coast Media. He can be reached at cliff@gulfcoastmedia.com.