Osborne Brothers + Rocky Top

by

Riley Johnson

Updated

April 8, 2024

Updated

April 8, 2024

Updated

April 8, 2024

“Rocky Top” is a song written by famed husband and wife songwriting duo Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. It was made the state song of Tennessee in 1982. After fifteen years, Sonny and Booby Osborne, the founding members of the legendary bluegrass band Osborne Brothers, released the song as part of their album, “Yesterday, Today, and the Osborne Brothers,” in 1967. Because of its signature tune, the song adheres to Appalachian culture and smells of moonshine with those banjo riffs at startup. 

It wasn’t that popular song until radio deejay Ralph Emery flipped the vinyl and played Rocky Top. Since he played it on the airwaves, he received phone call after phone call, and the song had a life of its own.

This song quickly became the Osborne Brothers‘ signature, played before and after concerts. “It was phenomenal, that song. We went to Japan, Sweden, Germany—you’d go anywhere, and they’d know ‘Rocky Top.’ It put our name out in front. And it stayed there a long time,” Sonny recalled.

The song, which has only five basic chords, peaked at No. 33 on the US Country charts. The song gained even more popularity after Lynn Anderson released her version. “Rocky Top” was recorded multiple times by artists like Dolly Parton, John Denver, Buck Owns, Conway Twitty, Rascal Flatts, Brad Paisley, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. 

The song’s legacy is also very much linked to Tennessee. The University of Tennessee would play “Rocky Top” in football sporting events anywhere between 40 to 50 times.  The song would be played after a touchdown, a field goal, or after any big play. “Rocky Top” is also incorporated into the “March to the Stadium” parade route, a pre-game show. 

The track has become a Tennessean pride and the anthem of the place, which resulted in changing the name of Lake City, Tennessee, to “Rocky Top” in 2014. In the Great Smoky Mountains, Rocky Top is the third peak of Thunderhead Mountain.

Meaning of the Song

The bluegrass song tells the tale of a country boy who moves to the city and reminisces about Rocky Top, Tennessee – his home. In the lyrics, the city dweller laments over the loss of a simpler and freer life. The spirit of the song centers on the nostalgic longing for happy times. Even if the song’s message is quite sad, the happy tempo resonates with people. 

Watch the video of “Rocky Top” by the Osborne Brothers below. 


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