Musical feuds help album sales

May 17, 2012

Musicians generally get along with each other, but when their disagreements happen in public, things get interesting.

It all started when Beyonce portrayed Etta James in the 2008 film Cadillac Records, and sang Etta’s signature song “At Last”. What got Etta angry was when Beyonce sang the song at President Obama’s inaugural dance, prompting Etta to say, “She has no business up there…singing my song that I've been singing forever…she's going to get her a—whipped!” Beyonce harbored no hard feelings and when Etta James died this year Beyonce said she was one of the greatest vocalists of our time. No one could sing “At Last” like Etta:

Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines sparked a controversy when she said in a 2003 concert, “We do not want this war, this violence, and we're ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” Country music fans had a strong negative reaction, album sales dropped dramatically, and in one case people were invited to bring Dixie Chicks cds to be run over by a bulldozer. Despite the intense criticism, the band came back in 2006 with a song called “Not Ready To Make Nice”, their biggest pop seller, and won 3 Grammys. Ultimately, losing their country fans didn’t hurt their commercial success. They performed the song at the Grammys in 2007:

One of the most misunderstood “feuds” in music is between Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Young’s 1970 song “Southern Man” vividly described racism and slavery in the deep south, with images of bullwhips and crosses burning. In 1974 Lynyrd Skynyrd released “Sweet Home Alabama”, with the lyric:

Well I heard mister Young sing about her
Well, I heard ole Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A Southern man don't need him around anyhow

What fans mistook for an outright put-down of Neil Young was actually Skynyrd expressing that they were politically aware and didn’t need a Canadian to tell them about the racist South. In fact “Sweet Home Alabama” has a verse that is critical of Alabama’s segregationist governor George Wallace. Actually there is great mutual respect between Young and Skynyrd, and they have been seen wearing each other’s T-shirts on stage.