‘Pass It on Down': Revisiting Alabama’s Plea for Environmental Awareness
Although it's overshadowed by consecutive No. 1 hits "Jukebox in My Mind," "Forever's as Far as I'll Go" and "Down Home," the more meaningful title track of Alabama's 1990 album Pass It on Down stands the test of time. The song combines Lynyrd Skynyrd-inspired country-rock with the conviction of John Denver.
Alabama members Randy Owen (lead vocals) and Teddy Gentry (bass) co-wrote "Pass It on Down" with Will Robinson and regular collaborator Ronnie Rogers. Although Skynyrd tackled the loss of green space in the Deep South with their gorgeous 1976 album cut "All I Can Do Is Write About It," Alabama look well beyond the view from their backyards and consider the long-term ramifications for the whole planet.
The lyrics of "Pass It on Down" address ozone depletion, acid rain, tainted water supplies and other issues that might surprise non-fans. The chorus -- "It's only ours to borrow / Let's save some for tomorrow" -- ties it all to Christian beliefs about being good stewards of creation.
"My son actually gave me the idea for the song," Gentry told Songfacts in 2014. "He was fishing, and they had just released a thing telling people not to eat the fish out of the river anymore because there was high lead mercury content in the fish.
"So we were fishing, and my son says, 'Daddy, think there'll be fish around when I have a son one of these days?' And he got me to thinking," he continues. "We got together with the rest of the guys and finished the song."
As a single, "Pass It on Down" peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. It was the lead single from the album of the same name, followed by those three No. 1 hits, as well as the No. 2 single "Here We Are."
Alabama weren't the first or last country act to record such a plea for environmental awareness. Johnny Cash, never one to shy away from sociopolitical lyrics, shares similar sentiments in 1974's "Don't Go Near the Water," and Brad Paisley added a little levity to a serious situation in 2014 with "Gone Green." Yet it's Alabama who wrote country music's unofficial Earth Day anthem.
LOOK: Alabama Through the Years