Ah, yes. Tennessee; the land of good whiskey and great music. This state, or more specifically, its capital, Nashville, is best known for its country music scene. That’s why it’s not surprising to find numerous songs written about it.
If you haven’t heard of them yet, here are 15 songs about Tennessee that should be on your next playlist.
Songs About Tennessee
1. My Homeland, Tennessee
Artist: Roy Lamont and Nell Grayson Taylor
Album: Official State Song
Release Date: 1925
What better way to start off this list than by introducing you to one of the state’s ten official songs? The lyrics of My Homeland, Tennessee were written by a poet and WWI nurse named Nell Grayson Taylor. On the other hand, the music was written by an instructor in a music conservatorship named Roy Lamont Smith.
The song talks about one’s loyalty and patriotism towards Tennessee and its history.
2. Tennessee Homesick Blues
Artist: Dolly Parton
Release Date: June 1984
In this song, Dolly Parton talks about feeling homesick or wanting to go back to her simpler life in Tennessee after experiencing New York City and its culture. The first line in the lyrics sums up the song perfectly, which goes;
“New York City ain’t no kinda place for a country girl with a friendly face”
The song was used as a soundtrack for the movie Rhinestone. Despite the film not gaining enough traction, the soundtrack went on to take spots in music charts.
3. Tennessee River
Album: My Home’s in Alabama
Release Date: April 16, 1980
You may find it ironic that a band named Alabama, with an album called My Home’s in Alabama, wrote a song about Tennessee River. Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry, and Jeff Cook, the band’s founding members, all grew up in Fort Payne. The Tennessee River flows right through this town, which inspired the group to write the song. The lines
“Back to the good life I left behind”
“Where peace and love can still be found”
talks about how they yearn for the southern life after moving away.
4. Tennessee Waltz
Artist: Original by Pee Wee King, Popularized by Patti Page
Release Date: 1952
While most of the previous songs talk about love for the homeland, the Tennessee Waltz gives us a different take as it is about heartbreak. The lyrics were written by Redd Steward and were originally sung by Pee Wee King. It talks about how the persona introduced his/her loved one to a friend, and the two fell in love.
“I remember the night and the Tennessee Waltz
Now I know just how much I have lost
Yes, I lost my little darling
The night they were playing
The beautiful Tennessee Waltz”
The song was so raw and authentic that various other artists like Patti Page and Connie Francis recorded their own versions.
5. That’s How I Got to Memphis
Artist: Tom T. Hall
Album: Ballad of Forty Dollars & His Other Great Songs
Release Date: May 1969
Here’s another popular song that’s been re-recorded by multiple other artists, including Charley Crocket, Buddy Miller, Deryl Dodd, and Bobby Bare. That’s How I Got to Memphis was originally written and performed by Tom T. Hall.
It’s about how the persona reached Memphis, Tennessee, trying to find his lost love. The song leaves a few stones unturned, like why the woman was in Memphis or the trouble she got in. Tom T. Hall preferred to leave these to your imagination, perhaps.
6. Back to Tennessee
Artist: Billy Ray Cyrus
Album: Back to Tennessee
Release Date: April 7, 2009
Billy Ray Cyrus made sure to contribute to the long list of legendary southern songs. Billy Ray wrote it after learning that he’s going back to his home state to shoot scenes for the film Hannah Montana: The Movie, which stars his daughter, Miley Cyrus.
Being the musical family that they are, Back to Tennessee and Miley’s The Climb both entered the Hot Country Songs Chart simultaneously.
7. Tennessee Stud
Artist: Jimmy Driftwood
Release Date: 1959
Tennessee Stud was originally written and composed by Jimmy Driftwood, but you’d often see artists like Doc Watson, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and the icon Johnny Cash, with their versions of the track.
It’s about the old western life, and the song specifically talks about a horse and the persona’s experiences after departing Tennessee.
“Back about ’18 and ‘25
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”
8. Tennessee Whiskey
Artist: David Allan Coe
Album: Tennessee Whiskey
Release Date: June 1981
The Tennessee Whiskey was written by Dean Dillon and Linda Hargrove and was released in 1981 by David Allan Coe. There have been many renditions of the song, with the latest one just this 2015 from Chris Stapleton with a touch of the blues.
Dean Dillon and Linda Hargrove met up in Nashville after the latter’s performance, and it is believed that the two stayed up until four in the morning writing the song. Dean originally asked George Strait to record the song, but Strait passed on it.
9. Southern Comfort Zone
Artist: Brad Paisley
Release Date: September 21, 2012
This song from Brad Paisley is quite paradoxical. First, he talks about all the good things about the Southern regions but then asks the people to leave their comfort zone. Paisley seems to recognize that a lot of people take the comfort of the South for granted.
So, he wants them to travel and go to places to learn more about the world, leading them to further appreciate their Tennessee homeland and the comfort it provides.
10. Rocky Top
Artist: Osborne Brothers
Album: Yesterday, Today, and the Osborne Brothers
Release Date: December 25, 1967
The Southern life really just must have a lot to offer because everyone who moves to the city seems to get homesick after a while. The Osborne Brothers perfectly narrate that in their song Rocky Top.
The song was written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant after staying in The Gatlinburg Inn in Tennessee. While the rocky top in the song is fictional, there is indeed a place called Rocky Top (one of the peaks in the Great Smoky Mountains). Additionally, Lake City in Tennessee was also renamed in 2014 as Rocky Top.
11. Crazy Town
Artist: Jason Aldean
Album: Wide Open
Release Date: March 2010
While all the other songs on this list talk about leaving Tennessee and missing the place after a while, Crazy Town from Jason Aldean is the contrary. It’s about going to Nashville, Tennessee, and trying to make it as an artist.
He says that the song is about finding what it is about yourself that will let you stand out from everybody else.
12. Tennessee Rose
Artist: Emmylou Harris
Release Date: January 1981
The Tennessee Rose was written by Hank DeVito and Karen Brooks, and instead of missing the homeland of Tennessee, it actually pertains to a person. It’s about those moments when you long so much for the presence of the person you love, and at the same time, you are very thankful that you are in love with one another.
“Well, it’s a sweet dream
That keeps me close to you, dear
And it’s a sad thing
When we’re apart I’m blue, dear”
This love song is a declaration of love for that special person and how you wouldn’t want anything else than to be together.
“I wouldn’t trade, no
The whole world dipped in gold
For a night with my Tennessee rose”
13. Smoky Mountain Rain
Artist: Ronnie Milsap
Album: Greatest Hits
Release Date: September 1980
This track from Ronnie Milsap starts slow but picks up the pace in the chorus before slowing down again in the verses. It’s about a man who went back to Knoxville from Los Angeles only to find, through a phone call, that the woman he loves had left him.
Artist: Arrested Development
Album: 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of
Release Date: March 24, 1992
Not all songs about Tennessee should be under the country or blues music genre. One example of that is Tennessee from Arrested Development. The song’s fast-paced lyrics and beat make it a hip-hop track. It has a bit of a sad backstory.
Todd Thomas, otherwise known as Speech and Arrested Development’s frontman, went to Tennessee with his brother for their grandmother’s funeral. His brother went back to college right after, and unfortunately, died the very same week.
The Tennessee’s chorus is like Todd’s prayer to God;
“Take me to another place, take me to another land
Make me forget all that hurts me, let me understand your plan”
Artist: Foo Fighters
Album: Sonic Highways
Release Date: October 31, 2014
The song Congregation from Foo Fighters does not directly talk about Nashville or even Tennessee. However, the entire album Sonic Highways was recorded in eight different cities (one city for each song in the album), and one of them was Nashville, Tennessee.
While there was no mention of the place, Nate Mendel, Foo Fighters’s bassist, says that Congregation is about artists from the Nashville music scene coming together to learn and improve the art of making music.
They even referenced the Bluebird Café in one line of the song,
“And they’re singing like a bluebird in the round”
The Bluebird Café is a popular place in Nashville, often viewed as a rite of passage that you must experience before making a name in the industry.
It’s not surprising that dozens of songs are written about Tennessee. After all, it’s one of the places where country music really gained traction. So, the next time you visit Tennessee or miss the land or just want to learn more about it, be sure to refer to our list for the best songs to listen to.