This song focuses on the south and argues the southern man against racism and slavery. The chorus starts the song with a confrontation to the southern man. Neil young sings in confrontation about the hypocrisy in the fact that southerners preach their religious faith of Christianity but their actions speak nothing of the Christian beliefs (Bichan). Young argues the line don’t forget what your good book said with the line southern change gonna come at last, now your crosses are burning fast saying how southerners preach the actions of the bible – the good book -, such as love and forgiveness, but their actions say otherwise with hate, enslavement and racism. In the latter line, crosses are burning fast touches upon the creation of the Ku Klux Klan as a response to change in the south (“Southern Man” Genius).
Young is saying that these southern men are saying and believing that they are doing the good of the bible but have created a group that kills people of minority groups and goes against Christianity. In the second stanza, Young talks about the contrast between the lives of the blacks and the white. He starts with the line I saw cotton and I saw black. Blacks were the ones who had to pick cotton which is a labor intensive job. Young then goes on to show the differences between the blacks and whites. He states that whites live in mansions which blacks are forced to live in shacks or rundown homes.
The line southern man when will you pay them back is trying to say that southern people now owe the black people for enslaving blacks (Bichan). The last two lines are insinuating that no matter how much the southern man hears screams of pain by his doing, he will never stop – we will always be asking the question how long? , how long till these black men will be free. In the final stanza, Young sings in the perspective of a white father talking to his daughter. He mentions the golden brown hair indicating that she is of white decent. The southern man is telling his daughter that he has seen her black man comin round. Lily Belle’s father is so aggravated that she is intimate with a black man that he wants to kill him (Bichan).
Young is trying to portray that southern men are racist and they have such a hateful attitude towards someone because of their skin color. He ends the song with the statement I heard screamin and bullwhips cracking. How long? How long? nd is saying that even today, people are still racist and still prejudice toward black people and is saying that these southern men will never stop even as the years go on. In 1974, Lynyrd Skynyrd composed a song called Sweet Home Alabama which was a song written as a response to Neil Young’s Southern Man and Alabama. Sweet Home Alabama argues the side that just because some bad things happen in the south, not everything that comes out of it is bad.
Lynyrd Skynyrd had been created in the south and they were a little offended when Neil Young deemed all of the south racist and prejudiced. Lynyrd Skynyrd mentions that in Birmingham they love the gov’nor and that Watergate does not bother me saying that the leaders George Wallace, the segregationist, and President Nixon and his Watergate scandals were the people the south followed. However, just because those were the leaders, not everyone is like them – abusing power to get away with illegal and wrong actions. They went on to say that there is good that comes out of the South.
Lynyrd Skynyrd talks about Muscle Shoals, which is a music recording studio, and that they make people feel good with the music that they produce. Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded many songs there in the 70s. Many people who have heard the two songs Southern Man and Sweet Home Alabama were lead to think that the lead singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ronnie Van Zant, had a “war of words” (Wilkening) with Neil for calling all those in the south racists (Richter). Lynyrd Skynyrd was trying to protect the innocent of the south and stand up for them. The “feud” between the two artists was more like a spirited debate. They weren’t rivals and they weren’t in a feud.
They were fans of the other. Young would perform Sweet Home Alabama and Zant would often wear Young T-shirts while performing (“Neil vs”). Young and Zant had no problems against each other. The songs were a debate of words against the South. Neil Young posed the position of the view of the old south with racism and slavery.
Lynyrd Skynyrd posed the position of the view of the new south where there is good coming out of the south. The whole feud that may have occurred between the two singers just brought thought to the people that yes, there had been slavery and may still have racism in the south and the white people still haven’t done anything to “apologize” to the black. However, there are also things and products of good that come out. The thought that there is also the fact that just because the Governor and President at the time were pro slavery and racism, that doesn’t mean that every man in the south followed their beliefs. The Governor at the time, George Wallace, stood in front of the University of Alabama to prevent two African American students from going in but the federal marshals made him move aside to let them in (“Revenge is”).
Neil Young’s song Southern Man and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song Sweet Home Alabama both talk about the racism and slavery of the south but just in opposing views. The two songs were a debate of each other. Both songs are still great rock songs.
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