On Top of Old Smoky

"On Top of Old Smoky" is a traditional folk song and a well-known ballad of the United States which, as recorded by The Weavers, reached the pop music charts in 1951.

On top of Old Smoky, all covered with snow
I lost my true lover, for courtin' too slow...

Old Smoky may be a high mountain somewhere in the Ozarks or the central Appalachians, as the tune bears the stylistic hallmarks of the Scottish and Irish people who settled the region. Possibilities include Clingmans Dome, named "Smoky Dome" by local Scots-Irish inhabitants, but exactly which mountain it is may be lost to antiquity.

The recording by The Weavers used an arrangement by Pete Seeger, and was made on February 21, 1951. It was released by Decca Records as catalog number 27515.[1] It reached #2 on the Billboard chart and #1 on the Cash Box chart, and sold over a million copies. The song also became one of Burl Ives' signature songs, with his recording reaching #10 on the Billboard chart in 1951.

Most versions use the same melody and rhythm as "Down in the Valley", another traditional American folk song. One notable exception is a version By Dave Van Ronk on his album, The Mayor of McDougal Street: Rarities 1957-1969. This version sounds much more Celtic in nature, with more vocal ornamentation and a looser rhythmic structure.

Use in popular culture

The song is parodied often, one well-known parody version which was a hit in 1963, "On Top of Spaghetti" by Tom Glazer, deals with the loss of a meatball "when somebody sneezed." That parody was itself a parody of Chicago disc jockey Dick Biondi's "Pizza Song."[2] Some of On Top of Spaghetti was also sung by DJ & Stephanie in an episode of the TV show Full House.

Alvin and the Chipmunks covered the song for their 1962 album The Chipmunk Songbook.

In his "Schticks of One and a Half Dozen of the Other" medley, Allan Sherman invented this lyric: "On top of Old Smokey / All covered with hair / Of course, I'm referring / To Smokey the Bear."

The country music singer Kenny Rogers sometimes uses the first part of "On Top Of Old Smoky" as a joke in concert. The opening bars to Lucille (one of his biggest hits) play with Rogers saying to the crowd something along the lines of "None of you know what song this is", when the audience reply with "Yes we do", Rogers then begins to sing "On Top Of Old Smoky."

The Swedish comedian Povel Ramel wrote and recorded a Swedish version[citation needed]: Högt uppe på berget, jag har till en vän, förlorat en femma, jag lär nog aldrig se den utigen (High up the mountain, I gave to a friend, lost 5 kronor, I doubt I'll see them again). Also, Swedish comedy group(s) Galenskaparna och After Shave performed a variant in their "Grisen i Säcken" revue.

Little Eva, singer of The Locomotion, recorded a version called "Old Smokey Locomotion", with lyrics describing how the residents of Old Smokey caught on to The Locomotion.

The 1959 single "We're Coming To Your House" by the Three Stooges is sung to the tune of "On Top Of Old Smoky."[citation needed]

Alternative country band The Gourds gangstered the lyrics to "On Top Of Old Smoky" in the song "I'm troubled" on their 1998 release Gogitchyershinebox. [3] [4]

On the Sesame Street album Bert & Ernie Sing-Along, Grover does a version where the second line is "all covered with dirt," then proceeds to tell of him losing various clothing and personal items, including his way home. He then finds his way home, and finds his mother with all the stuff he thought he had lost.[citation needed]

In Family Guy, Season Four, "Fast Times at Buddy Cianci Jr. High", Chris' principal receives a massage from "Estovan", and sings "On Top of Old Smoky".

In the 2010 film The Runaways, Joan Jett (played by Kristen Stewart) changes the third and fourth lines to "I dumped my poor sweetheart, for screwing too slow"

In the That's so Raven episode titled "On Top of Old Oaky", Towards the end of the episode, Chelsea sings a song about Old Oaky with similar lyrics to On top of Old Smoky. The only lyrics heard were, On top of Old Oaky, All covered with leaves. In another episode of the show. When Raven's memories are projected onto a screen and it shows the time Raven, Chelsea & Eddie when they planted a new tree sapling to grow into another Old Oaky. When they sing the song, On the captions. The lyrics to On Top of Old Smoky appear on the Television screen rather than the Old Oaky lyrics.

The comedian Tom Lehrer commented that true devotees of folk songs find singing fifty verses of On Top of Old Smoky twice as enjoyable as singing twenty-five.

Use in Classical Music

Erno Dohnanyi used the tune (and also two other traditional American folktunes) in his final composition American Rhapsody (1953).


  1. ^ Decca Records in the 27500 to 27999 series
  2. ^ http://www.wlshistory.com/WLS60/
  3. ^ http://www.gourds.org/chords.html
  4. ^ http://blogs.citypages.com/jsparks/2004/06/gogitchyershine.asp
Preceded by
Mockin’ Bird Hill
Cash Box magazine best selling record chart
#1 record

May 19, 1951
Succeeded by
Mockin’ Bird Hill
Preceded by
Mockin’ Bird Hill
Cash Box magazine best selling record chart
#1 record

June 2, 1951
Succeeded by
Too Young

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