On Top of Old Smokey

TITLE: On Top of Old Smokey
AUTHOR: unknown
CATEGORY: traditional, public domain
KEYWORDS: courting, love, rejection, warning, floatingverses
EARLIEST DATE: 1911 (Belden)

on_top_smokey

Many people assume On Top of Old Smokey refers specifically to the Smokey Mountains in the Southeastern United States, and it can and has been sung in that context. But On Top of Old Smokey is a folk song with a long history. It is well-known in the United States, but the song’s origins in both lyric and tune goes back as far as the 16th century.

The roots of On Top of Old Smoky stretch across the Atlantic Ocean to England, perhaps as long ago as the 16th century.

John and Alan Lomax classify On Top of Old Smokey and The Wagoner’s Lad as the same song. To me, the two are separate and only share floating verses.

The Weavers had a hit in 1951 with On Top of Old Smokey and as a result school kids in the 1960s (which includes me) learned and sang this song. And, of course, this led to many parodies—the most famous of which is On Top of Spagetti written by Tom Glazer and is not in the public domain. 

OTHER TITLES AND VARIATIONS:

  • On Top of Old Smokie
  • On Top of Old Smoky
  • Old Smokey
  • Smokey
  • Smoky Mountain
  • On Top of Spaghetti

SAME TUNE:

  • Up in Old Loray (by Odell Corley; Greenway-AFP, pp. 135-136)
  • I Shot My Poor Teacher (With a Big Rubber Band) (File: PHCFS093)
  • The Little Mohee (File: LH08)
  • Lee’s Hoochie (File: EM407)
  • On Top of Old Smoky (Davy Crockett) (Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 111)
  • On Top of Old Smokey (All Covered with Blood) (Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 126)
  • On Top of My Headache (Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 111)
  • On Top of Old Baldy (Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 144)
  • On Top of Spaghetti (by Tom Glazer)

RECORDINGS:

YOUTUBE VIDEO:

YOUTUBE AUDIO: download
BONUS AUDIO: Stephen Griffith and Friends (Studio Session) download
LYRIC & CHORD PRO CHART: download
PPT LYRICS FOR THE CLASSROOM: download
BONUS YOUTUBE VIDEO: Roscoe Holcomb—Dylan has said that Holcomb has “an untamed sense of control”

On Top of Old Smokey

On top of old  Smokey all covered with  snow
I lost my true  lover for courting too  slow
Courting ‘s a plea sure and parting is a  grief
But a false hearted  lover is worst than a  thief

For a thief he will  rob you and take what you  have
But a false hearted  lover will lead you to your  grave
The grave will decay you and turn you to  dust
One girl in a thousand that a poor boy can  trust

For they’ll hug and they’ll  kiss you and tell you more  lies
Than the cross-ties on a railroad or the stars in the  sky
So come all you young  fellows take a warning from  me
Never place your affection on a green growing  tree

For the leaves they will  wither and the roots will  decay
And a false hearted  lover will soon fade  away
On top of old  Smokey all covered with  snow
I lost my true  lover for courting too  slow

SOURCES:

  • Folk Song Index: A Comprehensive Guide to the Florence E. Brunnings Collection, Florence E. Brunnings, Garland Publishing, Inc., New York and London 1981—Amazon Books
  • Country Music Sources: A Biblio-Discography of Commercially Recorded Traditional Music, Guthrie T. Meade, Jr. with Dick Spottswood and Douglas S. Meade, Southern Folklife Collection, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries, NC 2002—Amazon Books
  • Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore (1952), Volume 3: Folk Ballads from North Carolina. Edited by Henry M Beldin and Arthur Palmer Hudson. Duke University Press. [This volume will be indexed on this site in the weeks to come.]
  • Folk Songs of North America (in the English Language), Alan Lomax, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York 1960—Amazon Books

NOTICE: I’m not the best guitar player or vocalist, but no one loves these songs more than I do. The tune and lyrics are in the public domain unless otherwise noted. The recording © copyright 2013 by Stephen Griffith and may be used by permission of the copyright holder. The variation of the song I’m posting is the version I perform and is not exactly replicating the sources cited, but is always in the same song family. If anyone has more details about this song, or believes I’ve stated something in error, please let me know. I’m also open to suggestions to improve the site. Thanks. sgg

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