In this upbeat bluegrass tune, a country boy moves to the city and reminisces about his home-sweet-home of Rocky Top, Tennessee, where the air is as fresh as the women are wild. The husband-and-wife songwriting team Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, who also penned the #1 hits "All I Have to Do Is Dream
" and "Wake Up Little Susie
" for the Everly Brothers, wrote it while staying at The Gatlinburg Inn in Tennessee (guests can stay in the Rocky Top Suite where the song was written). They were working on slow-tempo songs for a Hee Haw
-related project when they took a 10-minute break to write something livelier.
The real Rocky Top is one of three peaks of the Thunderhead Mountain located in the Great Smoky Mountains, but the song's location is a fictional place. In 2014, Lake City, Tennessee was officially renamed Rocky Top.
This peaked at #33 on the Country chart and became even more popular in 1970 when Lynn Anderson released a version that went to #17. Many other country singers have taken a crack at it, including Dolly Parton, Buck Owens, John Denver, Conway Twitty, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Even the Bryants covered it on their 1980 album, Surfin' On A New Wave.
The Bryants moved to Gatlinburg in 1978 and ran the Rocky Top Village Inn until Boudleaux's death in 1987.
In 1982, this became one of Tennessee's official state songs and is especially popular at University of Tennessee sporting events.
Christina Applegate and Will Arnett sang this on the 2011 pilot episode of Up All Night.
The songwriting duo of Boudleaux and Felice Bryant wrote more 1,500 recorded songs (around 6,000 total). The impressive output earned them places in the Country Music Hall of Fame, the National Academy of Popular Music Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
The Osborne Brothers recorded a tribute album featuring songs by the Bryants in 1977 called From Rocky Top To Muddy Bottoms.
Not everything is pleasant at Rocky Top if you don't mind your own business, as federal agents poking around an illegal moonshine racket learn in the song. (Moonshine was a popular source of income for Appalachians during the early 20th century as a way to get the most value out of their corn crops.) The lyrics tell us:
Once two strangers climbed ol' Rocky Top
Lookin' for a moonshine still;
Strangers ain't come down from Rocky Top,
Reckon they never will.
Moonshine, also called corn liquor, is made from fermented grains or corn mash, hence all the references to corn in the following verse:
Corn won't grow at all on Rocky Top
Dirt's too rocky by far
That's why all the folks on Rocky Top
Get their corn from a jar
In 2013, the moonshine reference got the song banned at Plymouth High School in Indiana, where it had been shouted from football stands in support of the Plymouth Rockies for over 20 years. Dan Tyree, the school's superintendent who banned the song, explained: "We have a hard time seeing how we can continue to let our whole student body celebrate to a song that's about alcohol."
In the closing verse, the homesick narrator tries to come to grips with his circumstances:
I've had years of cramped-up city life
Trapped like a duck in a pen
All I know is it's a pity life
Can't be simple again
Del Bryant, son of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant who took over his parents' publishing company, House of Bryant, says the spirit of the song lies in those lines: "It's the nostalgic plea for simple times that really resonates with everybody. There's a longing there that is not quite sad, still a happy tempo, but that is what resonates with people and what the core of the song is about."