Ronnie Milsap’s “Smoky Mountain Rain” stands out among his 40 number one singles for both its artistic quality and its staying power as a crossover hit.
The song debuted on Milsap’s 1980 Greatest Hits compilation. The RCA album revisited hits from the 1970s, including the Kris Kristofferson-penned “Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends.” Milsap’s new song, written by Kye Fleming and Dennis Morgan, teased another strong decade of hits for an R&B performer and Memphis session musician turned Nashville star and futureCountry Music Hall of Famer.
Musically, “Smoky Mountain Rain” suited the pop sensibilities of the country charts at the time. Milsap, the pianist heard on Elvis Presley’s “Kentucky Rain,” fit the song’s lovesick crooner needs like a glove. The lyrics also alluded to Millsap’s neck of the woods. He grew up in mountainous North Carolina.
The musically cosmopolitan song’s lyrics address a lot of stereotypical country topics. After all, it’s about a lonely Southerner, missing the charms of Tennessee while living among the bright lights of Los Angeles. He hitchhikes back to Knoxville in a big diesel truck. And of course, there’s a love interest he tried reaching from a phone booth before deciding to ride those big wheels back to the Gatlinburg area.
Dawn of a New Decade
For country music fans, it was the first in a long string of ’80s hits for Milsap. Such career-defining songs as “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me,” “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It For The World,” “In Love” and “Lost in the Fifties Tonight (In The Still of The Night)” followed, transforming him from a country star to a household name. Many of these hits found Milsap working once again with “Smoky Mountain Rain” co-producer and longtime Nashville mover-and-shaker Tom Collins.
The song became an instant crossover hit. In addition to topping the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, it claimed the top spot on the Adult Contemporary chart and even cracked the overall top 25. Such a feat proved that the already cool Milsap was certifiably popular beyond Music Row.
Tennessee’s State Song
In 2010, the Tennessee General Assembly named “Smoky Mountain Rain” the eighth official state song of Tennessee. Lawmakers read a resolution celebrating Milsap’s “story of a special, enduring love of a Tennessee sweetheart.” The decision adds more prestige to an American classic.