State songs can be tricky

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Hardy Jackson

By Hardy Jackson

Some time back, a state representative proposed to replace our state song, “Alabama,” with the more familiar, more popular, “Stars Fell On Alabama.”

Now, every time something like this comes up to keep the legislature for dealing with mundane things like tax reform, I ask myself, “Don’t they have something better to do?” But when I see the list of bills they finally pass I realize that they don’t, so we might as well let ‘em talk about music.

But a word of caution. You can run into all sorts of stuff when you start adopting state songs willy-nilly. Take Georgia, please. A few years back they decided to replace what they had with “Georgia on my Mind,” a great song recorded by both Ray Charles and Willie Nelson. Only problem was that the song was not written about the state, it was written for a girl named “Georgia.” Not that it bothered the legislature over there – a legislature, I might add, that once debated how long a person could vote (or be voted) after they died.

So today, when you sing the Georgia state song, you sing about a woman. Fitting somehow.

And there is the Virginia state song with its references to how Virginia is “where this old darkey’s heart am long to go.”  What were they thinking when they adopted that one?

And Maryland’s, where loyal citizens are told in song that they should get even with the “Northern scum” and “avenge the patriotic gore, that flecked the streets of Baltimore” during what the author would have called The War of Yankee Aggression.

In comparison, “Alabama” is pretty tame.

I am not sure how the lyrics rate as poetry, but they rhyme, so that’s something. And the author, Miz Julia Tutwiler (of the Tutwilers), worked in just about every river but the Cahaba and every mineral but eatin’ clay. She also throws in some social commentary with a reference to “exhausted mines,” and gives a nod to labor with a mention of “strong armed miners, sturdy-farmers” who in the middle of the Depression, when she wrote it, were in a world of hurt. Also telling is the comment on how “brave and pure men and women” are better than “corn and wine,” though it is not clear if by “corn” she means the grain or the liquor.

As for the tune, it is a nice little ditty that apparently borrows from “Wondrous Things of Thee are Spoken” and “Deutschland uber alles,” but it is a dern sigh more singable than others I know.

And a legislator wanted to replace it with “Stars Fell on Alabama.”

Well, JSU’s Marching Southerners do a dandy rendition and we could make that the official version – which would put the Million Dollar Band from Tuscaloosa in its place. And the line “did it really happen, was I really there,” catches the next-morning-mood of many an Alabamian after a night at the Flora-Bama.

But keep in mind, there is the danger that when the song is sung, Parrotheads in the audience who are familiar with the Jimmy Buffett version may start requesting “Fins” – or worse.

On the other hand, if we adopt “Sweet Home Alabama” as some have suggested, Lynyrd Skynyrd followers might have a flashback, flip out their Bics and holler for “Free Bird.”

Yessir, you gotta be careful when you start messing with state songs. Though “Stars Fell on Alabama” is, as one of its supporters observed, “a song you can dance to, hug your sweetie to, or do whatever you want to do,” I am not sure we want parents hugging, dancing and doing “whatever” when Miss Tucker’s Fourth Grade Class sings it on Alabama Day.

I wonder if that legislator really thought this thing through.

Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hhjackson43@gmail.com.

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