In Knoxville, Tenn., you can visit Rocky Top, sing “Rocky Top,” wear Rocky Top and shop at about a dozen Rocky Top establishments scattered around town. The actual Rocky Top is the summit of Thunderhead Mountain, a 5,500-foot feature of the Great Smoky Mountains that straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. It is one of the defining topographical features of the Knoxville area, and most likely served as the inspiration for one of Tennessee’s signature songs: “Rocky Top.”
The husband-and-wife country music songwriters Felice and Boudleaux Bryant penned the song at the Gatlinburg Inn in 1967. The two were best known for writing hits for the Everly Brothers, but together they created a catalog of 800 songs for artists like Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan and The Beatles. While staying in Room 388 at the historic hotel, which is about 35 miles from University of Tennessee campus and sits in the shadow of Rocky Top itself, the two wrote the tune.
The lyrics are simple enough -- just a man singing about wishing he were back in Rocky Top, accompanied by the rollicking plucks of a banjo. The Osborne Brothers, a bluegrass outfit with a string of country music charters in the 1960s and 1970s, recorded a version in 1967 that reached as high as No. 33 on the Country Music charts.
The song was one of the first hits for the Osborne Brothers, and reached even higher on the charts when “the Great Lady of Country Music,” Lynn Anderson, covered it in 1970. Around that time, the song became a favorite at Neyland Stadium at UT, just as the phrase “Rocky Top” became synonymous with the UT campus and Tennessee sports in particular.
For Vols fans far and wide, Rocky Top will always be home sweet home.