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With its forests and more than 3,800 documented caves, the state of Tennessee is a treasure trove of natural beauty. But did you know that the famous Reelfoot Lake was formed during an earthquake? Or that Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains are home to as many as 30 species of salamanders?
But the best way to understand and experience the true spirit of Tennessee is through music.
Most well-known for its country tunes, the Volunteer State is also home to soul, bluegrass, and rock’n’roll. Discovering its rich musical landscape will have you itching to go on a road trip across its physical landscape.
In this article, we’ve found 11 songs that are perfect for an exciting journey across the state.
11 Songs About Tennessee
1. “My Tennessee Mountain Home” by Dolly Parton
“In my Tennessee mountain home
Life is as peaceful as a baby’s sigh
In my Tennessee mountain home
Crickets sing in the fields nearby”
Reminiscing on her idyllic childhood, Parton’s lyrics bring to life the simple pleasures of growing up and living in Tennessee. Her deep love for her home state shines through every word.
Images of children catching fireflies and birds chirping as two people sit on the porch holding hands show that Tennessee’s rich in the small joys that make life worthwhile. Whether you’re a local or a tourist passing through, it’s impossible to stay indifferent to the homey warmth Parton captures in her song.
2. “Visit Me in Music City” by Bobby Bare Jr.
“It was easy growing up for me in Nashville
Music City has always been good for me
There’s room for you and your cowboy boots
We’ll even give you a rhinestone suit
You don’t even have to sing on key”
An ode to the state’s impressive musical history, the song describes both the hardships of being a musician and the liveliness of Nashville’s music scene. While he goes on to describe how many performers work day jobs to support their music careers, Bobby Bare Jr. also invites the listener to visit him in Nashville and write songs with him. This is a powerful comment on how strong the drive to create music still is in Tennessee.
No matter what your circumstances are, you’ll always be able to sing your heart out in one of Nashville’s music halls or hear an odd little tune to get you through a bad day.
3. “Smoky Mountain Rain” by Ronnie Milsap
“I thumbed my way
From LA back to Knoxville
I found out those bright lights
Ain’t where I belong
From a phone booth in the rain
I called to tell her
I’ve had a change of dreams”
One of Tennessee’s best-known state songs, this ballad by Milsap describes a man’s disillusionment with the bright light of Los Angeles and his trip back to his home state to recapture the affections of his loved one. On a deeper level, the lyrics are a profound reminder that home is where the heart is and that the place where we start off often has everything we need to be happy. After trying to make it in the big city, the narrator realizes that everything he needs to fulfill his dreams is right there in Tennessee.
4. “Rocky Top” by The Osborne Brothers
“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
Rocky Top, you’ll always be
Home sweet home to me”
Another song with an undertone of nostalgia, “Rocky Top” expresses a strong wish to return to the wonders of nature in Tennessee. Rocky Top is a peak located in the Great Smoky Mountains, and the narrator longs to leave behind the stifling city and return to the top, where the air is invigorating, and women are beautiful.
This one definitely brings home the easygoing simplicity of Tennessee and will make you put the state as the next destination on your bucket list.
5. “My Homeland, Tennessee” by Roy Lamont Smith and Neil Grayson Taylor
“Thy purple hills our cradle was;
Thy fields our mother breast
Beneath thy sunny bended skies,
Our childhood days were blessed.”
One of Tennessee’s 10 state songs, “My Homeland, Tennessee” expresses a strong sense of pride in the state’s natural wonders and the quality it brings out in its people. The state’s “smiling valleys” and “purple hills” welcomed fearless and strong people who to this day serve as a reminder of how important community is. Tennesseans will gladly share their love for each other and their state with anyone who decides to pay their home state a visit and discover what makes the locals special.
6. “Tennessee Homesick Blues” by Dolly Parton
“New York City ain’t no kinda place for a country girl with a friendly face
If you smile, people look at you funny, they take you wrong
The greenest state in the land of the free
And the home of the Grand Ole’ Opry is calling me back to my Smokey Mountain home”
Another Dolly Parton song, we know! But the country diva is just the best at expressing how hard it is to leave and forget Tennessee. Perhaps drawing from personal experience, Patron describes a small-town country girl who moves to the concrete jungle of New York to chase her dreams. Once there, she finds that the beauty of the simple life has been swallowed by the never-ending rat race. She dreams of seeing a friendly face in the crowd and going back to share a homecooked meal with her loved ones.
The lyrics are moving and emphasize that while there are fun things to do in the Volunteer state, what really makes it special is the warmth, friendliness, and hospitality of its people.
7. “Wrong Side of Memphis” by Trisha Yearwood
“I’ve been living on the wrong side of Memphis
I’m really breaking away this time
Full tank of gas and a ’69 Tempest
Taking me to that Nashville sign”
This song talks about taking the plunge and chasing your dreams. It captures the resilience and determination of Tennesseans. A young musician decides to kickstart her music career and starts driving to the Music City of Nashville. Although she’s struggled to get her big break in Memphis, she remains hopeful she can turn things around in Nashville. Even if you’re not a musician, it’s a great tune to remind yourself not to quit when the going gets tough.
8.“Tennessee Rose” by Emmylou Harris
“I wouldn’t take no
The whole world dipped in gold
For a night with my Tennessee Rose
Take this love that I am giving
For it’s truly the lasting kind”
Emmylou Harris sings about the pain of being apart from the one that she loves, whom she calls her “Tennessee Rose.” Nothing compares to the joy true love brings to her, and she realizes that neither gold, nor diamond will last, but their love for each other will.
9. “Tennessee Stud” by Johnny Cash
“I left Tennessee very much alive
I never would have made it through the Arkansas mud
If I hadn’t been riding on the Tennessee Stud
Had some trouble with my sweetheart’s pa
One of her brothers was a bad outlaw
I wrote a letter to my Uncle Fud
And I rode away on the Tennessee Stud”
Johnny Cash’s version of “Tennessee Stud” is a powerful track that describes a young man facing many troubles and who learns to pick his battles. After escaping problems in his hometown, the man hops on his horse and embarks on a great adventure across the country. When he has gained some wisdom and experience, he returns home to marry his sweetheart. Although the song is named after the horse, it’s actually a song about finding who you really are and what truly matters on the journey of life.
10. “Nashville Without You” by Tim McGraw
“It’d be just another river town
Streets would have a different sound
There’d be no honky tonks with whiskey rounds
No dreamers chasin’ dreams down,”
McGraw’s rendition of “Nashville Without You” shows that places are important because of the people we meet there and the memories we create together. The narrator realizes that Nashville is charming only because his lover brings it to life.
This is true for all places, and not just Tennessee. When we love the people, we also grow to love the area and see the two as inseparable. The more memories we share with others, the harder it is to imagine how life would be without them.
11. “Back to Tennessee” by Billy Ray Cyrus
“I’m on the road now
I know just what I need
To find my way back to Tennessee”
Billy Ray Cyrus sings about turning his back to the woman he loves, but then later coming back to her. The lyrics point out that you should stay true to your feelings and use them as a guide to chasing your dreams. The singer’s ambitions took him far away from home, and he decides to return when he realizes that the only way to live life is by staying true to yourself.
Final Thoughts on Songs About Tennessee
Whether you’re thinking of briefly stopping through or staying for an extended vacation, these 11 songs about Tennessee have hopefully given you a glimpse into how rich the spirit of the state is.
Make sure you check out the songs we’ve mentioned. You might find that you have more in common with Tennesseans than you think.