Saturday, January 21, 2017

Music Break - Alabama

A while back, I posted the story on how grocery shoppers in Brooklyn were triggered when the song Sweet Home Alabama came over the store's PA system.  This strange little story made me realize that there were other songs which evoke that particular southern state, so I've decided to present them in a music post.  First up, of course, is the Lynyrd Skynyrd classic itself.  There are quite a few YouTube videos of the song, but I chose one that uses scenes from the movie Forrest Gump, which includes the song in its soundtrack.

The Grateful Dead's 1980 album Go To Heaven starts with Alabama Getaway, written by guitarist Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, the band's longtime lyricist.  In the thumbnail picture, from left to right, are Garcia (lead guitar & vocals), Brent Mydland (keyboards & vocals), Bill Kreutzmann (drums), Bob Weir (guitar & vocals), Phil Lesh (bass) and Mickey Hart (drums & percussion).  Garcia sings the lead vocal and Mydland takes a solo on synthesizer.

In 1966, The Doors recorded Alabama Song (Whisky Bar) for their eponymous debut album.  The song itself, however, is about 40 years older.  Per Wiki:
The "Alabama Song" was written as a poem in idiosyncratic English for Bertolt Brecht by his close collaborator Elisabeth Hauptmann in 1925 and published in Brecht's 1927 Home Devotions (German: Hauspostille), a parody of Martin Luther's collection of sermons. It was set to music by Kurt Weill for the 1927 play Little Mahagonny (Mahagonny-Songspiel) and reused for Brecht and Weill's 1930 opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny), where it is sung by Jenny and her fellow prostitutes in Act I. Although the majority of all three works is in German, the "Alabama Song" retained Hauptmann's English lyrics throughout.
The italics in the quote are as in the original.  The first person to record the song was Brecht's wife Lotte Lenya.  In The Doors' version, besides organ and keyboard bass, Ray Manzarek also played a type of zither called a marxophone.

In 1967, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers released A Hard Road.  An expanded version of the album was released in 2003, which included Alabama Blues, originally by J.B. Lenoir.  The track includes only vocals and guitar, both from Peter Green, who later left the Bluesbreakers to found Fleetwood Mac.  The thumbnail pic shows the album cover, depicting from left to right, Green, John McVie (bass), Aynsley Dunbar (drums) and Mayall (guitars, keyboards, harmonica & vocals).

I guess an appropriate song to finish with would be Alabama by Neil Young, from his 1972 album Harvest.  This song, along with Southern Man, helped to inspire Ronnie van Zant's lyrics to Sweet Home Alabama, the opener above, in which Young is teased by name.

Despite their musical conversation, so to speak, about the state of Alabama, Young has reportedly gotten along well with the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

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