Southern Man
Written by Neil Young
After The Goldrush, 1970
Neil Young & Crazy Horse with Greg Reeves, Steve Stills, and Nils Lofgren

Neil Young's classic song is a strong rebuke of Southern racism and the harrowing legacy of lynching and slavery. He wrote, ...I saw cotton and I saw black Tall white mansions and little shacks Southern man when will you pay them back? I heard screaming' and bullwhips cracking How long? How long?...Released in 1970, this song elicited a very strong negative reaction from many Southerners who believed Neil Young was wrongfully attacking and condemning all Southerners "after the fact". Neil Young seemed to downplay the songs harsh lyrics in liner notes of his Decade album, "This song could have been written on a civil rights march after stopping off to watch Gone With The Wind at a local theater. But I wasn't there so I don't know for sure."

In 1974, the band Lynyrd Skynryd wrote the song, Sweet Home Alabama in response to Southern Man The lyrics to the song leave little doubt as to the band's reaction, ...Well, I heard Mister Young sing about her Well, I heard ole Neil put her down. Well, I hope Neil Young will remember a southern man don't need him around anyhow..." Interestingly, band member Ronnie Van Zant, who died in a 1977 plane crash, dismissed the purported feud with Young in a 1977 interview stating, "We wrote Alabama as a joke. 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..."

Fact or fiction, the supposed "feud" between Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd was the inspiration for Ronnie and Neil the Drive-By Truckers 2002 song which includes the lyrics...And out in California, a rock star from Canada writes a couple of great songs about the bad shit that went down Southern Man and Alabama certainly told some truth But there were a lot of good folks down here and Neil Young wasn't around...The song goes on to state that the rift between the artists is more myth than reality, ...Now Ronnie and Neil became good friends their feud was just in song Skynyrd was a bunch of Neil Young fans and Neil he loved that song... Drive By Truckers guitarist Patterson Hood explains, "I wrote this song to tell of the misunderstood friendship between Ronnie VanZant and Neil Young, who were widely believed to be bitter adversaries, but were in truth very good friends and mutual admirers..."

In a 1995 Mojo Magazine interview Neil Young sums it up best, "Oh, they didn't really put me down! But then again, maybe they did! (laughs) But not in a way that matters. Shit, I think Sweet Home Alabama is a great song. I've actually performed it live a couple of times myself."

Source(s):

Kent, Nick  "I Build Something Up, I Tear It Right Down" (interview) MOJO Magazine, December '95.

"Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd: Friends or Foes?" Thrasher's Wheat - A Neil Young Archives.
 

Music and Lyric Resources:

Neil's Garage

Thrasher's Wheat - A Neil Young Archives

HyperRust Never Sleeps

Lynyrd Skynyrd Official Web Site

Lynkyrd Skynyrd

Drive By Truckers
 

Referenced and Related Works:
 

Lewis Allan's "Strange Fruit"

Countee Cullen's "The Incident"

Lucille Clifton's "Jasper, Texas, 1998"

Langston Hughes' "I Dream A World"

Abraham Lincoln's First Inaugural Address

Governor George Wallace Quotes

Frederick Douglass's Independence Day Speech

A Dream Deferred / Do the Right Thing / Fight The Power / Children's Rhymes

Constructed Response Activity

Constructed Response Activity

Constructed Response Activity

YouTube - “Southern Man” ( external page )

 

YouTube - “Sweet Home Alabama” ( external page )

 


 

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