With the reputation for good music that Tennessee has, it’s no surprise there are dozens of songs written about the state.
Country, blues, and pop artists alike gather at the Grand Ole Opry, and session players thrive at the recording and producing mecca of Nashville, which has such a reputation for entertainment that it earned the nickname “Music City.”
But besides the workings of the industry, there are also plenty of musicians who become inspired by the state itself and all of the beauty it holds.
Tennessee’s blend of old-fashioned Southern charms and modern sensibilities makes it irresistible to singer-songwriters when they’re looking to pen their next big hit – or just writing from the heart.
Read on as we take a look at 21 of the best songs about Tennessee, and find out why it’s captured the imagination of so many musical artists.
1. “Tennessee Whiskey” by Chris Stapleton
Country singer-songwriter Stapleton catapulted “Tennessee Whiskey” to notoriety when he included it on his album Traveller in 2015. He often performs with his wife Morgane, singing backup vocals while on tour.
However, Stapleton wasn’t the first to bring this song to the public. In 1971, its original performer David Allan Coe reached #77 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart from his album of the same name.
The song’s lyrics compare a woman to whiskey, strawberry wine, and other beverages to symbolize how sweet and addictive her love is. References to how she saved him from “reachin’ for the bottom” show the extent of her support and love, preventing him from descending into alcoholism.
Though it doesn’t have much to do with the state other than its whiskey reference, this song remains one of the most famous songs to include Tennessee in the lyrics.
Many other artists, such as KeKe Wyatt, George Jones, and LeeAnn Rimes, have given it their own spin.
2. “My Tennessee Mountain Home” by Dolly Parton
An entertainment superstar and Tennessee darling, Dolly Parton often speaks publicly about her modest upbringing in a one-room shack in Sevierville, Tennessee.
Though her family lived in poverty, her parents made sure Parton and her siblings never wanted for love or music.
This song, penned in 1973, alludes to her simple childhood, where things were peaceful and “crickets [sang] in the fields nearby.”
Her portrayal of a cozy home in the Smoky Mountains is so poignant that it’s made its way into the country-folk canon and been covered by many other artists in turn (whether or not they hail from Tennessee).
3. “Tennessee Waltz” by Patti Page
Though Elvis’s version may be the most well-known, this tune has been reworked by dozens of artists in the nearly eight decades since it was written. Patti Page was the earliest performer around 1950, in the slow waltz fashion for which it’s often heard.
Ella Fitzgerald and others of the jazz era borrowed this tune in their shows. Then, Sam Cooke gave it an up-tempo makeover with his swing version in 1964, completely changing the style.
“Tennessee Waltz” is a love song, albeit a sad one. The narrator speaks of a night of dancing where they introduce their object of affection to a friend, only to have the friend steal them away.
So though it sounds sweet and tender, the song is actually a lover’s lament.
4. “Rocky Top” by the Osborne Brothers
The bluegrass-country standard “Rocky Top” features all of the classic sounds of its genre, like thumping upright bass, lively fiddle, and even faster-moving banjo.
The Osborne Brothers released it on Christmas Day in 1967, and it quickly found its way into the country mainstream.
Lynn Anderson, Conway Twitty, and Dolly Parton have given “Rocky Top” their own treatment in their shows.
Its wild energy and loving portrait of Tennessee as home have made Southerners’ hearts race and toes tap for generations.
5. “Nashville Blues” by the Everly Brothers
Another early country classic, “Nashville Blues” tells of a lover separated from his girlfriend and how much he misses being close to her.
“Lonely and low,” he sings the blues to release his sadness as he mourns the distance and “aches” to be “in old Tennessee.”
This song combines blues and early R&B/soul, closer to Roy Orbison and Elvis than the traditional bluegrass sound of country music.
However, the stride piano and blues guitar still indicate a Tennessee sound, even if on another side of the genre spectrum.
6. “Tennessee Rose” by Emmylou Harris
The familiar sound of Harris’ voice layers over a country-rock rhythm reminiscent of the Eagles, then incorporates background vocals, steel guitar, and fiddle for a neat package of country music.
From her album Cimarron in 1981, this tune has endured in the genre ever since for its simplicity and classic appeal.
The story in the lyrics reflects a content couple who don’t ever want to be apart.
The singer professes her devotion and affection, saying she wouldn’t trade diamonds or gold for “a night with [her] Tennessee rose” and that their love is “the lasting kind.”
7. “Dixieland Delight,” by Alabama
Don’t let the band’s name fool you – this song is as much about the state of Tennessee as a song could be!
In a catchy tune about driving through the backwoods with his sweetheart, the narrator notes the rural atmosphere and wild animals they observe on their wanderings together.
He’s on top of the world as he enjoys time spent with his “Dixieland delight.”
This song is replete with three-part harmony and folk-rock guitar. This song comes across as a traveling ballad.
It reflects the lazy evening feel that the lyrics illustrate, creating a picture of Tennessee as a country lover’s paradise.
8. “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn
There are songs about the state of Tennessee as a whole, and then there are those dedicated to one specific region within it.
“Walking in Memphis” is an ode to this particular city, chock full of local references such as Beale Street, Graceland, and the Delta blues.
Somewhat of a one-hit-wonder, Marc Cohn released this song as part of his self-titled album in 1991.
Its recognizable piano riff and gospel choir in the background pushed this song to win a Song of the Year Grammy nomination the year after it hit the airwaves.
9. “Tennessee” by Johnny Cash
Initially recorded in sessions in the 1980s, this song appears on the album Out Among the Stars, released in 2014 after Cash’s death.
It features Cash at the height of his career and rich vocal abilities.
The lyrics paint another idyllic picture, this time of newlyweds settling into their country cabin and enjoying the nature that surrounds them.
The narrator writes a letter home to his mother, telling her he is happily married and sharing news of their homestead and farming lifestyle.
10. “Crazy Town” by Jason Aldean
Aldean is a staple of modern Top-40 country, selling out stadiums and drawing in huge crowds to hear his brand of country-rock.
His band’s musical style matches the size of the arenas he plays in, with an electric guitar aesthetic backed by hard-driving rhythms.
“Crazy Town” is from his 2009 album Wide Open and describes a wannabe musician arriving in Nashville to seek fame and fortune.
Calling it “Hollywood with a touch of twang,” Aldean blends the idea of urban fun and a gritty work ethic as he struggles to find a “cool new sound” and woo a record company into signing his talents.
11. “Smoky Mountain Rain,” Ronnie Milsap
This legend of country music found his fame in the crossover market, writing songs that garnered mass appeal on the pop charts.
One of his biggest hits, “Smoky Mountain Rain,” is a country ballad from 1980 that became a state song of Tennessee, helping launch him to several Grammy wins.
With a backdrop of the region’s mountain weather, the singer describes how he traveled back from Los Angeles only to find that his sweetheart had left. The rain is presumably a metaphor for his tears as he works through the sadness of losing his love.
Kelly Clarkson covered this tune in her iconic soulful style for a TV segment in June 2022.
12. “Tennessee Homesick Blues” by Dolly Parton
It’s only fitting that the Queen of Country and self-proclaimed Backwoods Barbie would appear again on our list.
A proud native of Tennessee, she has an entire collection of songs penned about the state, most of them expressing gratitude towards her mountain roots.
In this upbeat tune that belies the words, she sings of missing her former home and its country delights, including fishing, hunting, and home cooking.
Some mild yodeling on the chorus gives it a unique folksy flavor, along with steel guitar and other fixtures of the genre.
13. “Back Where I Come From” by Kenny Chesney
Homesickness seems to be a common theme of former Tennessee residents and “Back Where I Come From” is a good example of this.
In this wistful look at his hometown, Chesney lays out the Southern utopia he remembers from his youth.
Complete with cattle, beer, Sunday School, and a comfy riverbank to lounge on, it’s the region that makes him “proud as anyone” of his origins as an “old Tennesseean.”
14. “My Homeland, Tennessee” by Nashville Children’s Choir
Numerous artists have performed the state song of Tennessee over the years. The lyrics were written by Nell Greyson Taylor, a WWI nurse and poet.
She partnered with Roy Lamont Smith, a Chattanooga music professor, to enter and win a state song contest in 1925.
Though it’s only the first of ten official state songs (some others of which are on this list), “My Homeland” is the primary and most well-known.
It pays tribute to the “beauteous majesty” of Tennessee’s nature scapes, the singer pledging “love and loyalty” to their native state.
15. “Memphis, Tennessee” by Elvis Presley
Though Memphis is the birthplace of many blues, country, and rock n’ roll artists, Elvis is perhaps the most iconic.
His global fame brought notoriety to the area with a few of his songs, most notably this one recorded in 1965.
Its dance-inspiring beat and energetic vocals are classic for this era, with the singer pleading for someone to put him in touch with a girl in Memphis.
He misses her and “all the fun [they] had” and wants to reconcile, referencing specific areas of Memphis where she lives.
16. “Tennessee” by Arrested Development
When most people think of music in Tennessee, rap and hip-hop is probably not the first genre to come to mind.
But the track “Tennessee” by Arrested Development is about the struggles of being “black and proud” have the rapper showing gratitude for his return home to the Southern state.
Pleading with God to help him understand God’s plan, he refers to local places in the Tennessee country that were part of his childhood and reflects on the importance of his local family history.
17. “Nashville Without You” by Tim McGraw
A fixture of modern country, Tim McGraw gave the music industry this tune on his 2013 album Two Lanes of Freedom.
Honky tonks, Stetsons, tourists, the Smoky Mountains, and even Jolene all make appearances here, with the song lyrics acting as one big montage for both the city of Nashville and the surrounding areas of Tennessee.
McGraw holds that without his lover, it would be “just another river town,” as she’s the one who puts the color into Nashville.
18.”Tennessee” by Sugarland
Modern country trio Sugarland included this track on their 2004 Twice the Speed of Life album.
Classic country-rock sounds place it equally in the big city as the rural life, with electric guitars and a particular twang in the lead singer’s voice as she belts out the story.
With lyrics about the excitement of being in love, a boy takes a chance to tell his object of affection about his feelings, even as he risks vulnerability with his confession.
It’s also possible to interpret this as a love song to the state, as it mentions “a girl named Tennessee.”
19. “This Ain’t Tennessee” by Garth Brooks
Continuing the theme of homesickness, “This Ain’t Tennessee” is a song by Garth Brooks where he sings of his native state in the tradition of Dolly Parton and others who have done the same.
Lamenting that his current lover isn’t who he really wants, and the mansion and palm trees are so unlike his “Smoky Mountain home,” this tune is both a wistful ballad and a lovely tribute to Tennessee.
A fiddle lead-in and a soft steel guitar outlining the vocals set up the perfect country picture of missing one’s hometown.
20. “Wrong Side of Memphis” by Trisha Yearwood
Geographically, Memphis lies to the west of Nashville, nestled right in the corner of Tennessee.
The singer of this tune regrets waiting so long to head for Nashville, her cowboy boots “gettin’ kind of restless” as she travels with her guitar to strike out for musical fame.
The folksy country sound and ambition in the lyrics make even a non-Tennessean want to visit!
21. “Back to Tennessee” by Billy Ray Cyrus
The second single off of Cyrus’ album with the same name, this tune repeats a theme we’ve seen many times on this list: the nostalgia for a Tennessee hometown.
The singer regrets his lifestyle of “fancy cars, diamond rings,” and “all kinds of shiny things,” missing the simplicity of a country upbringing.
Full of references to wild country freedom and a girl he left behind, it’s easy to realize why Cyrus misses his native state when you hear the poignant harmonies and slow guitar strumming in “Back to Tennessee.”
Summing Up Our List Of Tennessee Songs
With gorgeous scenery, a plethora of outdoor adventures, and a love of nature and people, Tennessee has no shortage of songs paying tribute to its country lifestyle.
Elements of folk, country, blues, and rock meld together for a Smoky Mountain sound that has inspired singer-songwriters for the better part of a century.
We have no reason to believe this tradition will disappear anytime soon.