Until I looked up Lynyrd Skynyrd’s discography in order to write these posts, I always assumed that “Saturday Night Special” was the follow-up single to “Sweet Home Alabama” and, as such, I was going to go with the narrative that no musical artist had ever followed up an anthem of redneck pride with a jeremiad against handguns.
Cos that how I always remembered it. But apparently, I was wrong: in November, 1974, they released “Free Bird” as a single — which I don’t even know how that works — and it got to #19 nationally. So never mind.
While “Sweet Home Alabama” was packed to the rafters with hooks, 1975’s “Saturday Night Special” had to have been a tougher sell as a single, as Ronnie Van Zant — who is already on record as running instead of shooting — starts off by telling tales of bad men using their guns for bad purposes, and drawing a single conclusion.
Mr. Saturday night special
Got a barrel that’s blue and cold
Ain’t good for nothin’
But put a man six feet in a hole
This sentiment is set on top of a rock-solid piece of heavy whiteboy funk, which crashes and barrels along, guitars crackling and blazing against each other over a stop and stop rhythm filled with rolling hi-hats and intermittent handclaps. And in the last verse, Van Zant has a suggestion.
Hand guns are made for killin’
They ain’t no good for nothin’ else
And if you like to drink your whiskey
You might even shoot yourself
So why don’t we dump ’em people
To the bottom of the sea
Before some ol’ fool come around here
Wanna shoot either you or me
Ronnie Van Zant wanted to take your guns! And, while of course, you know that Van Zant knows that ain’t ever gonna happen, during that moment he lets his voice break on the word “you,” anything seems possible. And again, when he sings “I’d like to tell you what you can do with it, toooooooo,”
It just goes to show how long ago the 1970s were that this song got played on the AM radio, and somehow made it all the way to #27 on the charts, and — to me, at least — cemented their reputation as a band who could make great songs about tough subjects.
“Saturday Night Special”
“Saturday Night Special” performed live in 1976
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