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SONGS ABOUT

ALABAMA AND THE STORIES BEHIND THEM

By Emmett Burnett

Missing home

Nashville recording artist Allison Moorer explains the popularity of Alabama namesake songs: “The word sings well. It flows,” she instructs and offers proof. “Try it. Say ‘Alaaaa Bamaaaa.’ See? It flows. You can’t do that with Rhode Island.” Raised in Washington County, the younger sister of country star Shelby Lynne is well qualified to speak of flowing words. Allison has written over 200 songs, released 7 albums and 11 singles, including “Alabama Song.” From her debut album of the same name, the lyrics speak of home “where the trees grow tall and green… where the skies shine bright and blue…if you’re going, I’m going with you.” “I wrote it 20 years ago, a time when I was away from home,” she recalls. “I felt a little marooned and was thinking how special it is returning to the Deep South.”

It came from outer space

We all love “Stars Fell on Alabama,” but beware. It has a dark side. The tale of starry-eyed sweethearts was inspired by a night of terror. On Nov. 12, 1833, the greatest meteor sighting in recorded history ignited southern skies like a nuclear bomb. There were estimates of 200,000 shooting stars per hour. And on a clear moonless night, Alabama was Ground Zero. “In 1833 there was no news and no warnings,” notes Bill Cooke of the Meteoroid Environment Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. “Terrified, many thought it was the End Times.” 16 APRIL 2018

Frightened masses shivered under wagons and in shelters – impromptu shields from heaven’s wrath. A horrified cotton planter noted, “My God, the world is on fire.” In 1934, Carl Carmer wrote a book of essays titled “Stars Fell on Alabama,” acknowledging 1833’s spectacle. Inspired by the book, music composer Frank Perkins and lyricist Mitchell Parish realized the potential for a song of the same name. But how does one create music based on a stellar holocaust? Easy: Love conquers all, even flying space rocks. Hence the lyrics:

“We lived our little drama We kissed in a field of white And Stars Fell On Alabama Last night...” “Little drama,” perhaps the biggest understatement in music history, alludes to the fear-frozen night, when stars fell on Alabama.

Turn it up

The words “Sweet Home Alabama” have been embossed on automobile tags, served as an unofficial motto, and been licensed by the State Department of Tourism. And the Lynyrd Skynyrd song that made it popular? Wow. “It has been used in various facets, from political campaigns to countless movies,” says Rachel Morris, archivist and coordinator at

Illustration by Nalin Crocker

S

ongs of Alabama have enriched lives since the state was a state of mind. But our songs in the heart, notes in the head, and lyrics in memory are more than meets the ear. How many tunes about the Heart of Dixie can you name? (And by the way, “Heart of Dixie” is the title of the 2013 debut single of country singer Danielle Bradbery – though it isn’t actually about Alabama.)

Profile for Alabama Living

April 2018 baldwin  

April 2018 baldwin