28/01/2019: “Southern Man” by Neil Young

Neil Young is actually Canadian. Which in my opinion, gives him a certain moral legitimacy to denounce the racist legacy of Southern America.

When this song was released in 1970, segregation had only been outlawed for 6 years in the Deep South. Even then, it had to be done federally by a northern liberal.

It’s a very charged song, referring to slavery, and inspired Lynyrd Skynyrd to write “Sweet Home Alabama” in response to what they saw as a heavy handed attack on the South in general.

A striking line is “don’t forget what your Good Book says”, pointing the hypocrisy of the often deeply religious people who hated black people passionately.

However, there is mutual respect between Young and Skynyrd frontman Van Zant, with each wearing the other’s band t-shirt at points.

As for the music itself, it’s a classic folk rock jam, with a tone ranging from a slow indictment of racism to a screaming guitar solo fest.

The piano chords are particularly effective here, hitting the beat hard.

If you’d like a softer interpretation, Merry Clayton’s 1971 soul cover is very good, and the singing’s a bit better there too!

Notwithstanding that, Neil Young is a more than competent singer, and the point of the song is driven home well.

The song was released on the album After The Gold Rush in 1970, and is co-credited to the band Crazy Horse.

A heavy hitter, definitely.


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