What do you think of when you hear the phrase Southern rock songs?
Maybe you think of Lynyrd Skynyrd and something that sounds a bit country, but also a little like rock music. Or perhaps you’re not even sure.
Keep reading to learn more about Southern rock and, of course, find out what songs are considered some of the greatest in the category.
Let’s get started!
About Southern Rock
You know it when you hear it. It’s not quite country, rock, or blues, but a fusion of all three. The sound is raw with extended jams, fast guitars, and regional pride.
The term “Southern rock” was coined in 1972 by Mo Slotin while he was reviewing an Allman Brothers Band concert.
Southern rock peaked in the 70s. Although its popularity declined in the 80s, it certainly influenced rock in the following decades. The impact was powerful in bands such as The Black Crowes, Widespread Panic, Kid Rock, Shinedown, and 3 Doors Down.
Some of the original Southern rock bands are still performing their songs, including Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Marshall Tucker Band, Molly Hatchet, ZZ Top, and Atlanta Rhythm Section.
#5 The Devil Went Down to Georgia by The Charlie Daniels Band
About the Song: Charlie Daniels, Tom Crain, “Taz” DiGregorio, Fred Edwards, Charles Hayward, and James W Marshall wrote The Devil Went Down to Georgia. The number has an uptempo bluegrass sound, and the words are more spoken than sung.
This track was the band’s biggest hit, spending a week at #1 and two weeks at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Although initially performed by The Charlie Daniels Band, The Devil Went Down to Georgia has been covered and parodied many times. None of the other versions did as well as the original.
And he laid that golden fiddle on the ground at Johnny's feet Johnny said, "Devil, just come on back if you ever wanna try again I done told you once you son of a bitch, I'm the best that's ever been
First Appearance: May 21, 1979, from The Charlie Daniels Band Million Mile Reflections album.
#4 Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd
About the Song: Free Bird, or Freebird, is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s signature number. They play it at the end of every live performance and stretch it out for 14 minutes.
The original release of this Southern rock song was only five minutes, the album version was just over nine minutes, and the radio edit was only 3.5 minutes.
Allen Collins, Ronnie Van Zant, and Billy Powell wrote the hit together, and it peaked at #19. The Lynyrd Skynyrd version is still the most popular.
If I leave here tomorrow Would you still remember me? For I must be traveling on now 'Cause there's too many places I've got to see
First Appearance: 1974 single from the album (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd).
#3 Can’t You See by The Marshall Tucker Band
About the Song: Although initially recorded and released by The Marshall Tucker Band, Can’t You See was a bigger hit for Waylon Jennings.
The Marshall Tucker Band version peaked at #8 on the Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles, and a re-released version made it #75 on Billboard Hot 100. The Waylon Jennings’ number in 1976 peaked at #4 on Billboard Hot Country Singles.
Toy Caldwell, guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter for The Marshall Tucker Band, wrote Can’t You See. The words were rather dark, talking about heartache. In the original recording of the tune, band member Jerry Eubanks starts and finishes it with a flute.
Gonna buy me a ticket now, as far as I can, ain't never comin' back Take me Southbound, all the way to Georgia now, till the train run out of track
First Appearance: 1973 on The Marshall Tucker Band’s debut album.
#2 Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd
About the Song: Written as a response to Neil Young’s songs Alabama and Southern Man, Sweet Home Alabama, counters the idea that the entire south is to blame for slavery and its aftermath. The whole song sparked controversy. Were the words defending everything that happened in Alabama, or was it just a way to show some of the good that happened there too?
Ed King, Gary Rossington, and Ronnie Van Zant wrote Sweet Home Alabama. None of them were from Alabama.
The Lynyrd Skynyrd version reached #8 on the US chart and was the band’s highest-charting single ever. Although Free Bird is a popular song by the band Sweet Home Alabama is their most known song, even people that don’t listen to Southern Rock know the track.
Well I heard Mister Young sing about her Well I heard ol' Neil put her down Well I hope Neil Young will remember A southern man don't need him around anyhow
First Appearance: 1974 single from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Second Helping album.
#1 Ramblin’ Man by The Allman Brothers Band
About the Song: Ramblin’ Man was inspired by the 1951 song of the same name by Hank Williams. Both pieces are about how hard it is to settle down, but they have different lyrics.
Dickey Betts wrote and sang The Allman Brothers Band version. The words are somewhat autobiographical, reflecting on Bett’s childhood. He spent a lot of his time in the back of Greyhound buses shuttling back and forth from his father’s worksites.
This nomad anthem was more country than rock. The Allman Brothers Band had concerns over this, but the tune became the band’s first and only top 10 single. The track peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #12 on the Easy Listening chart.
Well, my father was a gambler down in Georgia And he wound up on the wrong end of gun And I was born in the back seat of a Greyhound bus Rollin' down Highway 41
First Appearance: August 1973, as the lead single from The Allman Brothers Band’s fourth album, Brothers and Sisters.
Southern Rock Songs Honorable Mentions
The following songs didn’t make the top five Southern rock songs, but they deserve honorable mention.
Flirtin’ with Disaster by Molly Hatchet
Danny Joe Brown, Dave Hlubek, and Banner Thomas wrote this 1979 single from the album of the same name. Flirtin’ with Disaster stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 for ten weeks and peaked at #42. The Molly Hatchet hit appears in films like The Dukes of Hazzard and shows like My Name is Earl.
Caught Up In You by .38 Special
Released as a single in 1979 from their fifth album, Caught Up In You was .38 Special’s first number one hit. It reached #1 on the Billboard Top Tracks rock chart and #10 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Don Barnes, Jeff Carlisi, Jim Peterik, and Frankie Sullivan wrote the tune. According to Peterik’s autobiography, they credited Sullivan to avoid a copyright lawsuit.
Dixie Chicken by Little Feat
This 1973 song became Little Feat’s signature song, but it wasn’t an overnight success. Lowell George and Martin Kibbee (billed as Fred Martin) wrote the track. Although the band sang Southern rock, they’re from Los Angeles.
Kibbee named this song after a chicken place he saw on his way out after a long night of writing.
Which Southern Rock Song is Your Favorite?
Choosing just a few songs from a genre with hundreds of bands and thousands of tracks is certainly challenging. Do you have a favorite Southern rock song that we missed? Let us know in the comments.