|Released September 19, 1970|
Writer(s) Neil Young
|Recorded March 19, 1970|
|Genre Folk rock, blues rock, hard rock|
"Southern Man" is a song by Neil Young from his album After the Gold Rush. The album was released in 1970. An extended live version can be heard on the Crosby Stills Nash & Young album 4 Way Street.
The lyrics of "Southern Man" are vivid, describing the racism towards blacks in the American South. In the song, Young tells the story of a white man (symbolically the entire white South) and how he mistreated his slaves. Young pleadingly asks when the South will make amends for the fortunes built through slavery when he sings, "I saw cotton and I saw black, tall white mansions and little shacks. Southern Man, when will you pay them back?" The song also mentions the practice of cross burning.
Young was very sensitive about the song's message as anti-racism and anti-violence. During his 1973 tour, he cancelled a show in Oakland, California because a fan was beaten and removed from the stage by a guard while the song was played.
Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd wrote their song "Sweet Home Alabama" in response to "Southern Man" and "Alabama" from the 1972 album Harvest by Young, who has said that he is a fan of both "Sweet Home Alabama" and Ronnie Van Zant, the lead vocalist for Lynyrd Skynyrd. "They play like they mean it," Young said in 1976. "I'm proud to have my name in a song like theirs." Young has also been known to play "Sweet Home Alabama" in concert occasionally. To demonstrate this camaraderie, Van Zant frequently wore a Neil Young Tonight's the Night T-shirt while performing "Sweet Home Alabama". Crazy Horse bassist Billy Talbot can often be seen reciprocating by wearing a Jack Daniel's-styled Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirt (including at the Live Rust concert).
In his book Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream, Young stated that Lynyrd Skynyrd wrote "Sweet Home Alabama" not in response to "Southern Man", but rather to Young's song "Alabama". Young noted that Lynyrd Skynyrd's implied criticism was deserved because Young's lyrics to Alabama were condescending and accusatory.
Merry Clayton's version of the song appeared on her self-titled 1971 album. She later performed backing vocals on "Sweet Home Alabama", after some personal conflict.