A long-lasting Country Music
band. For most of its career Alabama comprised of cousins Randy Owen (lead vocals, guitar), Jeff Cook (keyboards, fiddle), Teddy Gentry (bass); and drummer Mark Herndon, although three different drummers had played in the band before Herndon joined in 1979.
The band had a humble start in 1977 with "I Wanna Be with You Tonight" on the GRT label, which only managed a #78 peak on the charts. When GRT declared bankruptcy and went out of business before they could release a follow-up single, the cousins learned that a contractural clause forbade them to record for another label. The band worked for more than a year to raise funds to buy out their contract, touring the south in a beat-up van. Finally, in the late spring of 1979, they landed at MDJ Records, where they recorded their first new material in two years. Included were the songs "I Wanna Come Over" and "My Home's In Alabama."
"I Wanna Come Over" marked Alabama's first top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart, but it was the second of those two songs – the southern rock-fused "My Home's in Alabama," the homage to their home and the story of their struggles – that put them on the map. "My Home's in Alabama" peaked at No. 17, but it went a long way toward paving the band to superstardom and led to them signing with RCA Records. Even though "I Wanna Come Over" would all but become forgotten, it did provide the template for the other side of Alabama's musical style: the mellow pop-styled ballad, which would be used on the far-better known singles "Feels So Right," "There's No Way" and "Forever's As Far As I'll Go."
Signed to RCA Records in the spring of 1980, the band quickly superseded the accomplishments of those first two top 40 country with the massive country rocker "Tennessee River." The song became the band's first No. 1 hit, and for the rest of The Eighties
, the band sent single after single into the penthouse, missing only once
that entire rest of the decade with the No. 7 "Tar Top." In the first half of the decade, many of the band's singles also crossed over to pop radio, including "Feels So Right," "Love in the First Degree," "Take Me Down" and "The Closer You Get," all of which reached Top 40 on the pop charts. Alabama also employed a distinctive crossover sound, blending the strong rhythm sections of rock and the breezy soft-rock harmonies of the Eagles
with plenty of fiddle solos and country-friendly lyrics.
The band's momentum slowed a bit come the 1990s, despite its biggest No. 1 hit in 1990 with "Jukebox in My Mind." Although its last No. 1 hit came in 1993 with "Reckless," Alabama continued to chart consistently within the Top 10 until the end of the decade. Album sales, however, began to slip, and the crossovers just weren't coming on as strongly (save for a collaboration with *NSYNC
on "God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You"). Alabama charted its last Top 40 hit in 2001 with "When It All Goes South" and then effectively retired following a 2003 tour. Two albums of inspirational music followed in 2006 and 2007, and Owen released a solo album in 2008. Alabama is currently semi-retired, with Cook, Gentry and Owen occasionally coming out to do new projects, including a song for a Waylon Jennings
tribute and a guest appearance on Brad Paisley
's "Old Alabama", both in 2011.
- Album Title Drop: Just Us is title-dropped on "Tar Top".
- The Band Minus the Face: Averted with Owen's self-titled album, if only because the band is in semi-retirement anyway.
- Christmas Songs: "Christmas in Dixie" is one of the best-known country music Christmas songs ever. Not surprisingly, the band included it on several Christmas albums. "Angels Among Us" was ostensibly a Christmas song (it was released in 1993 with a Christmas song on the B-side, and typical of country Christmas songs at the time, re-charted for the next couple Christmases), but there's nothing particularly Christmas-y about it except for it taking place in winter.
- Epic Rocking: "My Home's in Alabama" clocks in at 6:26, which is really freaking long for a country song.
- Many of their songs pick up the tempo at the end, often with a frenetic solo and/or repeat of the chorus. "Dixieland Delight" for example.
- Game of Nerds: Averted in "The Cheap Seats": The song is sung by a typical "middle-sized town in the middle of the Middle West" baseball fan.
- Green Aesop: Rather obviously in "Pass It On Down:"
So let's leave some blue up above us
Let's leave some green on the ground
It's only ours to borrow
Let's save some for tomorrow
Leave it and pass it on down
- Kids Rock: A kids' chorus appears on both "Pass It On Down" and "Angels Among Us". One kid is noticeably off-key in the latter.
- Last Chorus Slow Down: "My Home's in Alabama" uses a subtle one. The tempo picks back up after the last chorus.
- Long Runner Line Up: Type 2: they had three different drummers before Mark Herndon joined in 1979. The Owen/Gentry/Cook/Herndon lineup lasted from 1979 until 2008. By that point, Alabama was essentially semi-retired anyway, but a lawsuit filed against him by the other three members forced him out of the picture. Since then, Owen, Gentry and Cook have continued to record sporadically without him.
- New Sound Album: Dancin' on the Boulevard was a lot more harmony-driven with some splashes of soul music.
- Nobody Loves the Bassist: Averted with Teddy Gentry, who has written several songs for other artists and gets lead vocal on several album cuts.
- Record Producer: Harold Shedd was the mastermind between their extremely crossover-friendly sound in the 80s, as rooted in country as it was in the harder sides of rock and the slickness of AC. After the weak performance of The Touch and Just Us in the late 80s, combined with Shedd's departure for Mercury, the band's sound was noticeably de-fanged and more mainstream under the production of Josh Leo and Larry Michael Lee. They then switched to Garth Fundis (Don Williams) for new songs on Greatest Hits III in 1994, Emory Gordy, Jr. (Patty Loveless) for In Pictures in 1995, and Don Cook (Brooks & Dunn) for everything from Dancin' on the Boulevard (1997) onward.
- Self-Deprecation: Occurs in "Dancin', Shaggin' on the Boulevard": "Those 'Bama boys at The Bowery / They can't dance, but they play for free."
- Shout-Out: In "Southern Star", after the line "Let my mind just go and drift away", the guitarist plays the riff from Dobie Gray's "Drift Away".
- Signature Style: At least in the 80s, they were known for shifting among many styles: fiddle-heavy up-tempos, rocking up-tempos, and slick pop/AC ballads, all with layered, Eagles-esque harmonies.
- Song Style Shift: "Dixieland Delight" and "Mountain Music" are the best known two. The former doubles with a Truck Driver's Gear Change.
- Step Up to the Microphone: Jeff and Teddy sang on several album cuts.
- Sweet Home Alabama: Countless songs about the South, such as "Dixieland Delight," "If You're Gonna Play in Texas," "Song of the South," "High Cotton," "Southern Star," "Born Country," etc. Subverted with "The Cheap Seats," which is set in a "middle-size town in the middle of the Middle-west."
- Incidentally, the band covered "Sweet Home Alabama" on the Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute album Skynyrd Frynds.