Rocky Top

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"Rocky Top"
Single by Osborne Brothers
ReleasedDecember 25, 1967
GenreBluegrass, country
Songwriter(s)Felice and Boudleaux Bryant
"Rocky Top"
Single by Lynn Anderson
Songwriter(s)Felice and Boudleaux Bryant

"Rocky Top" is an American country and bluegrass song written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant in 1967 and first recorded by the Osborne Brothers later that same year. The song, which is a city dweller's lamentation over the loss of a simpler and freer existence in the hills of Tennessee, is one of Tennessee's ten official state songs[1] and has been recorded by dozens of artists from multiple musical genres worldwide since its publication. In U.S. college athletics, "Rocky Top" is associated with the Tennessee Volunteers of the University of Tennessee (UT), whose Pride of the Southland Band has played a marching band version of the song at the school's sporting events since the early 1970s.[2][3]

The Osborne Brothers' 1967 bluegrass version of the song reached No. 33 on the U.S. Country charts, and Lynn Anderson's 1970 version peaked at No. 17 on the U.S. Country charts. In 2005, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ranked "Rocky Top" number seven on its list of 100 Songs of the South.[4]


"Rocky Top" was written by married songwriting duo Boudleaux Bryant (1920–1987) and Felice Bryant (1925–2003) in 1967. At the time, the Bryants were working at The Gatlinburg Inn in Gatlinburg, Tennessee on a collection of slow-tempo songs for a project for Archie Campbell and Chet Atkins. Writing the fast-paced "Rocky Top," which took about 10 minutes to write, served as a temporary diversion for them.[2]

While the song became a staple of the Osborne Brothers concerts in the late 1960s, the song did not achieve mass popularity until the early 1970s, when Lynn Anderson's version reached number seventeen on the Billboard Country Top 100. In 1972, UT's Pride of the Southland Band first played the song as part of one of its drills, the idea and arrangement being primarily the work of band arranger Barry MacDonald. The song was deemed popular enough to be played at a halftime country music show by guest saxophone soloist Boots Randolph at a game in Knoxville against Alabama on October 21, 1972, gaining fans' attention. Randolph reprised his jazzy "Rocky Top" solo when Tennessee played LSU on New Year's Eve, 1972 in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl at the Houston Astrodome. UT recognized the song's appeal and the band started playing Rocky Top at every game.[5] Longtime band director W.J. Julian stated that if Rocky Top was ever not played, then there would be a mutiny among Vol fans, reflecting the song's deep-rooted foundation in UT sports.[6]

The song was officially adopted as the fifth Tennessee state song in 1982.[2][7] In the 1970s, the song achieved such popularity among bar crowds that the Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based old-time band the Red Clay Ramblers' national tours included a crowd-pleasing satire informally titled "Play 'Rocky Top' (or I'll Punch Your Lights Out.)"[8][9] The Bryants' children currently own the rights to the song under the corporate name "House of Bryant,"[10] and the song's original sheet music is on display at the Rocky Top Village Inn in downtown Gatlinburg.[11]


Despite its fast and upbeat tempo, the song laments the loss of a way of life. In the song's opening verse, the singer longs for a place called "Rocky Top," where there is no "smoggy smoke" and there are no "telephone bills." The singer reminisces about a love affair he once had on Rocky Top with a woman "wild as a mink" and "sweet as soda pop." The song's second verse recalls a story about two "strangers" (apparently revenue agents) climbing Rocky Top "looking for a moonshine still," but never returning (conflict between moonshiners and "revenuers" is a common theme in Appalachian culture).[12] The song says that the soil on Rocky Top is too rocky to grow corn, so the people of Rocky Top "get their corn from a jar". In the third and final verse (which consists of just four lines), the singer again longs for the "simple" life, likening life in the city to being "trapped like a duck in a pen."

College fight song[edit]

"Rocky Top" is a favorite of UT fans who sing it at Neyland Stadium and Thompson–Boling Arena. House of Bryant has granted the University of Tennessee a perpetual license to play the song as much and as often as success on the field dictates. Longtime director W. J. Julian created a marching band arrangement that was first played at the Vols' October 21, 1972, game against the Alabama Crimson Tide.[13]

Over the years, "Rocky Top" has become so closely associated with UT that many people believe it to be the school's fight song. However, UT's official fight song is "Down the Field".[14] Regardless of its lack of official status, in 2015, "Rocky Top" was designated the #1 fight song in college football, based on a "cumulative data-based ranking of America's most engaged fan bases" by USA Today.[15]

Location of Rocky Top[edit]

Rocky Top and the Appalachian Trail

While the Bryants never indicated that "Rocky Top, Tennessee" refers to a specific place, some have suggested that a 5,440-foot (1,660 m) barren summit known as "Rocky Top"— located in the Great Smoky Mountains along the Tennessee-North Carolina border— is the best fit, due in large part to its proximity to Gatlinburg, where the song was written.[16][17] Rocky Top is a subpeak of Thunderhead Mountain, which overlooks Cades Cove, and is traversed by the Appalachian Trail.[18] Rocky Top appears on maps of the western Smokies as early as 1934,[19] and has been a popular hiking destination since the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was created during the same period.[20]

The name "Rocky Top" is sometimes used as a nickname for East Tennessee, the city of Knoxville, and the University of Tennessee (especially its two major athletic venues, Neyland Stadium and the Thompson–Boling Arena). "Rocky Top" is also a popular name for East Tennessee businesses, among them a real estate agency and a chain of convenience stores.

In 2014, Lake City, Tennessee changed its name to Rocky Top, Tennessee after an effort by the House of Bryant to enjoin the city was denied by a federal court.[21]

Operation Rocky Top[edit]

"Operation Rocky Top" was the FBI's code name for a public corruption investigation into the Tennessee state government in the late 1980s which resulted in the eventual suicide of the Tennessee Secretary of State, Gentry Crowell, and the incarceration of several other individuals, most notably state House Majority Leader Tommy Burnett. The focus of the investigation was the illegal sale of bingo licenses.

Notable covers[edit]

Phish played "Rocky Top" regularly from 1987 to 2003 and, after reforming, again in 2009. There have been additional cover versions of the song by artists such as The Schwag, Dillard and Clark and country artists such as Buck Owens, Lynn Anderson, Dolly Parton, John Denver, Albert Lee, Conway Twitty, Billie Jo Spears, and John Stewart. Columbus, Ohio-based all-female rock trio Scrawl, included a cover of the song on their Nashville-recorded 1988 album "He's Drunk". Many contemporary groups and artists have performed the song while performing in Knoxville, including Rascal Flatts, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, and Dierks Bentley. The country rock group the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band tackled the song on their 1976 compilation album Dirt, Silver and Gold. The 2011 pilot episode of NBC's sitcom Up All Night featured Christina Applegate and Will Arnett singing "Rocky Top." The song is also frequently played in multiple parks at Walt Disney World, including the Magic Kingdom, and by the Liberty Singers at Epcot.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "State Songs". Archived from the original on February 21, 2015. Retrieved July 29, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Bill Williams, Our Stories: Rocky Top[permanent dead link]., November 19, 2008. Retrieved: September 20, 2009.[dead link]
  3. ^ "Rocky Top". Tennessee Volunteers Fever. August 21, 2013. Archived from the original on May 29, 2014. Retrieved May 29, 2014.
  4. ^ Bryan Perry (producer), Shane Harrison, Sonia Murray, Nick Marino, and Soyia Ellison, 100 Songs of the South. Retrieved: September 20, 2009.
  5. ^ "Exactly when and how the "woo" was added to the chorus of "Rocky Top" is a bit of a mystery". February 4, 2011. Archived from the original on February 15, 2015. Retrieved October 30, 2015.
  6. ^ "University of Tennessee Official Athletic Site". Archived from the original on September 5, 2015. Retrieved October 30, 2015.
  7. ^ Heidi Hill (October 10, 2014). "Grand Marshal Del Bryant returns "Home Sweet Home"". The Daily Beacon. Retrieved May 28, 2016.
  8. ^ "Music of the Red Clay Ramblers". Retrieved October 30, 2015.
  9. ^ [1] Archived May 9, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Clay Carey, "'Rocky Top' Clip Puts Network A&E in Court. The Tennessean, 26 August 2009. Retrieved: 20 September 2009.
  11. ^ Beth Haynes, "Rocky Top Penned at Gatlinburg Inn[permanent dead link].", September 4, 2009. Retrieved: September 20, 2009.
  12. ^ For discussion of moonshining in Southern Appalachia, see Horace Kephart's Our Southern Highlanders (1922) and Joseph Dabney's Mountain Spirits (1974).
  13. ^ Tom Mattingly, The University of Tennessee Trivia Book (Hill Street Press, 2007) ISBN 1588181383
  14. ^ University of Tennessee — Songs of Tennessee Archived August 30, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved: September 20, 2009.
  15. ^ "The top 10 fight songs in college football". October 24, 2015. Retrieved April 4, 2018.
  16. ^ Robert Silvers, "Hit Song Born at Gatlinburg Inn." Saturday Evening Post, June 26, 2009. Retrieved: September 20, 2009.
  17. ^, Rocky Top, North Carolina/Tennessee. Retrieved: September 20, 2009.
  18. ^ "TN landforms topo". Retrieved October 30, 2015.
  19. ^ United States Geological Survey, "Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina," 1934. Retrieved: September 20, 2009.
  20. ^ Laura Thornborough, Great Smoky Mountains (Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 1942), p. 143.
  21. ^ Scott, Mary (June 26, 2014). "Home sweet home: Lake City changes name to Rocky Top". WBIR. Archived from the original on June 27, 2014. Retrieved June 26, 2014.