Answer Songs is a new series about pieces of music written in response to other songs (or stories, movies, books, poems, paintings, etc). You can read a little more about answer songs here.
Neil Young’s “Alabama” (from the incomparable album Harvest) is a lyrical, almost dystopic look at the American South. But some people — the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd in particularly — didn’t take so well to Young’s critique.
“We thought Neil was shooting all the ducks in order to kill one or two,” Ronnie Van Zant told Rolling Stone. So to redress what they was as a negative overgeneralization, they recorded “Sweet Home Alabama,” which includes the lyrics:
Well, I heard Mister Young sing about her
Well, I heard ole Neil put her down.
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
Us southern menn don’t need him around anyhow.
The song was a huge hit for Skynyrd, although there’s some controversy about whether the song is a conservative refutation of Neil Young’s message, or a more nuanced response to the tune of, ‘You’re right, there are problems, but don’t dismiss the South out of hand.’ Popular reception of the song certainly seems to lean toward the former, but the band insists it’s more the latter.
Either way, the debate on the subject has continued for thirty-some years, and the band Drive By Truckers even recorded a song about the supposed feud between Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Ronnie and Neil”:
As for Neil Young’s own take on the controversy, some have interpreted his “Walk On” as a response:
I hear some people been talkin’ me down,
Bring up my name, pass it ’round.
They don’t mention happy times
They do their thing, I’ll do mine.
If you want to know more, here’s an exhaustive survey of the Young/Skynyrd debate.