June 1974: Lynyrd Skynyrd Releases "Sweet Home Alabama"

Allen Collins, Artimus Pyle, Ronnie Van Zant, and Leon Wilkerson of Lynyrd Skynyrd at the Omni Coliseum in Atlanta, Georgia (Photo by Tom Hill/WireImage)
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(Tom Hill/WireImage)

It's one of the most popular--and controversial--classic rock hits of all-time. Released on June 24, 1974, Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" was a breakout hit for the band from Jacksonville, Florida. Still the group's biggest chart hit, it peaked at #8 on the Hot 100 for the week of October 26, 1974. The #1 song in America that week: Dionne Warwick & the Spinners' "Then Came You."

RELATED: May 1975: Lynyrd Skynyrd Release "Saturday Night Special"

Let's look back at "Sweet Home Alabama" with five fun and possibly thought-provoking facts.

1. Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd were good friends
"Sweet Home Alabama" was famously inspired in part by Neil Young songs "Southern Man" and "Alabama." "We thought Neil was shooting all the ducks in order to kill one or two," Ronnie Van Zant told Rolling Stone that year. "I showed the verse to (guitarist) Ed (King, a friend of Young) and asked him what Neil might think. Ed said he'd dig it; he'd be laughing at it." In the same interview, Van Zant said "Neil is amazing, wonderful . . . a superstar."  When Van Zant and other members of the Lynyrd Skynyrd crew tragically died in a 1977 helicopter crash, Young performed "Sweet Home Alabama" mixed with his own "Alabama" as tribute at a Florida charity show a few weeks later.

2. The song is more about Alabama, and less about Neil Young
"We had toured there, going all around playing clubs and National Guard armories," Gary Rossington explained to Gun & Garden. "Everyone was real nice. When we were out in the country driving all the time, we would listen to the radio. Neil Young had 'Southern Man,' and it was kind of cutting the South down. And so Ronnie just said, 'We need to show people how the real Alabama is. Ronnie painted a picture everyone liked. Because no matter where you're from, sweet home Alabama or sweet home Florida or sweet home Arkansas, you can relate."

3. The song lyrics about Alabama governor George Wallace caused controversy
Wallace, a notorious segregationist, is name-checked in "Sweet Home Alabama." Many thought the words were in support of the politician. "The lyrics about the governor of Alabama were misunderstood," Van Zant said in the book Lynyrd Skynyrd: An Oral History. "The general public didn't notice the words 'Boo! Boo! Boo!' after that particular line, and the media picked up only on the reference to the people loving the governor." In the same book, Van Zant is quoted as saying "I don't like what he says about colored people" in regards to Wallace. "A lot of people believed in segregation and all that. We didn't. We put the 'boo, boo, boo' there saying, 'We don't like Wallace,' " Gary Rossington said in Showtime documentary, If I Leave Here Tomorrow. I'm sure if you asked the other guys who are not with us anymore and are up in rock and roll heaven, they have their story of how it came about."

4. Neil Young later regretted the lyrics that inspired "Sweet Home Alabama"
"My own song 'Alabama' richly deserved the shot Lynyrd Skynyrd gave me with their great record," Young admitted in his autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace. "I don't like my words when I listen to it. They are accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, and too easy to misconstrue."

5. "Sweet Home Alabama" license plates were introduced in the state back in 2009
The plates were declared the most popular slogans in the entire country, ahead of New Hampshire ("Live Free or Die") and Hawaii ("Aloha State").

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