The song “Sweet Home Alabama” is many many things: one of the greatest political songs ever written; the song that put Lynyrd Skynyrd on the musical map; the catalyst for Neil Young and Ronnie Van Zant’s friendship.
What it wouldn’t seem to be, however, is a song that would make people go, “gee, I need to spend my tourist dollars on Alabama. Let’s go!!”
However, the good people who run Alabama’s tourism agency disagree with me: in 2008 the theme by which they will try to encourage people to go visit Alabama will indeed be “Sweet Home Alabama.”
Look, there is no point is getting crazy over the misappropriation of a song title for advertising purposes. From “Born in the U.S.A” to “The One I Love” to “Bargain,” song titles that are at cross-purposes with the actual lyrics are always being used to sell things. It’s just a fact of life that I have come to accept.
But in this case, it’s not the lyrics, but the godsdammed title that contradicts the purpose of the message. Hello! Forget the fact that it’s essentially Ronnie Van Zant’s answer song to a pair of Neil Young songs, or the only lyric that could be repurposed as a tourist selling point is “where the skies are so blue.” The title of the song is “Sweet Home Alabama,” not “Sweet Hey This is A Great Place to Visit, Y’all Alabama.”
So just on that level, it’s nonsensical. Perhaps someone else at the Alabama Tourism Board had the same qualms, because they focus-tested it.
But just to be sure, the tourism agency had Luckie and Co. of Birmingham research the phrase along with others. Some 71 percent of out-of-state residents and 65 percent of Alabamians favored the phrase over the other choices.
The key phrase in that paragraph above is “other choices.” It’s possible that those other choices were closer to the phrases you see on the New Zealand tourism posters in Flight of the Conchords than really powerful selling propositions.
For example, if the other choices were things like:
- “Better Than You’d Expect”
- “It’s The Heat And The Humidity!”
- “Not Nearly as Destroyed by Katrina”
- “Red State / Blue Skies”
- “Can’t Ya Smell That Smell?”
Then it makes total sense that they chose “Sweet Home Alabama.” Otherwise, it’s just a bad choice, and I can’t imagine someone going “hey, Alabama is a sweet place to live, maybe I should visit there!!.” But I could be wrong.
Finally, I would say that Ronnie Van Zant is spinning in his grave, but that no doubt started when they reformed the band with his brother on lead vocals. So in terms of fucking with Skynyrd’s (quite considerable) legacy, this is just a blip.