Neil Young performs a sensational cover of ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ weeks after tragic plane crash
We’re dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to bring you a touching moment saw Neil Young takes on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ after their tragic plane crash in 1977.
When Neil Young released his songs ‘Southern Man’ and ‘Alabama’ he had his crosshairs trained firmly on the South. The singer took shots at the area of America deemed most politically conservative and it was something Lynyrd Skynyrd took exception to.
In fact, Lynyrd Skynyrd turned their own arsenal towards Neil Young and hit him with two barrels worth of rock radio buckshot in the form of their song ‘Sweet Home Alabama’. If you take a look at the lyrics for the band’s 1974 steering wheel thumper it becomes very clear that they weren’t taking too kindly to Young’s words.
Ronnie Van Zant’s lyrics read like a countrified rap battle, “Well, I heard Mister Young sing about her/Well, I heard ol’ Neil put her down/Well, I hope Neil Young will remember/A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow.” But, in truth, it wasn’t quite the barbed attack one thought.
“We wrote ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ as a joke,” Van Zant admitted a few years after its release. “We didn’t even think about it. The words just came out that way. We just laughed like hell and said, ‘Ain’t that funny.’ We love Neil Young. We love his music.” The idea Young may think otherwise worried the singer and he began wearing a Young shirt while on stage.
Clearly, the pair made up as Young sent across a demo of his legendary song ‘Powderfinger’ for Lynyrd Skynyrd to see if they wanted to cover it. Sadly, Ronnie Van Zant and other members of the band died in a plane crash before they could ever record it. There remains a hotly disputed legend that Van Zant is even buried in his Tonight’s The Night shirt.
A few weeks after the accident, while Young was performing at a charity concert for a children’s hospital in Miami, the singer played a medley of ‘Alabama’ and ‘Sweet Home Alabama.’ It’s a beautiful tribute to the band that sadly there’s no footage of. There is, however, as with most Young gigs, a bootleg to enjoy.
Young would never play ‘Alabama’ again after that night, saying in his 2012 memoir Waging Heavy Peace“‘Alabama’ richly deserved the shot Lynyrd Skynyrd gave me with their great record. I don’t like my words when I listen to it today. They are accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, too easy to misconstrue.”
Listen to Young’s emotional tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1977 with his performance of ‘Sweet Home Alabama’.