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Top 11 Best Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Songs of All Time

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is considered as one of the most important bands in Country and Roots music history. The group of players, as they’ve existed in the dozen or so lineup changes throughout the years, were no doubt just playing what comes naturally to them. 

It just so happened to be one of a few sparks that would bring about massive changes in American music and music worldwide.

The band came about because two founding members, Jeff Hannah and Bruce Kunkel, were trying to “figure out how not to have to work for a living.” They decided that joining informal jam sessions with other musicians in Long Beach, California, was the way to go. 

Best Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Songs of All Time

Pioneers in music…

Since then, the band has existed in one form or another and has shaped a sound all their own. But, more importantly, they’ve helped lay the foundation for hundreds if not thousands of country, rock, and roots musicians that would follow in their wake. 

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has won two Grammy Awards and Album of the Year at the Country Music Association Awards. So, here are my picks for the best Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Songs of All Time.

Top 11 Best Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Songs of All Time

Buy For Me The Rain

Album: The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band 

Of course, no list of the greatest Nitty Gritty Dirt Bands songs would be complete without their first single ever. This was how the band introduced themselves to the world. And it’s how they chose to open their first album. 

Making an entrance…

From the get-go, we have a band with a sound all its own. The musical ability of all the members who played on that first recording is beyond doubt. And, when a group of talented players is given a well-written song to play, good things happen. 

This song was a beautiful juxtaposition with the paranoid and somewhat violent zeitgeist amongst citizens at the time due to conflicting feelings about the US’s involvement in Vietnam. 

The band’s first album managed to make it onto the Billboard Top Pop Album chart, where it peaked at #161. But, for me, the rain appeared on the US Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at #45 a month later. 

Dance Little Jean 

Album: Let’s Go 

Nothing like a good story to go with a song, and this one happens to go with the songwriter. “Dance Little Jean” was written by Jimmy Ibbotson as a sort of serenade song. He hoped that he would be able to convince his ex-wife to get back together using this heartfelt composition.

The name “Dance Little Jean” refers to Ibbotson’s little daughter, Jean, who would dance whenever her dad played guitar. When he eventually got his chance to play the song to his ex-wife and daughter, little Jean did indeed dance to her father’s new tune. 

Unfortunately… 

His ex-wife’s response was not what he’d intended. Although, in retrospect, it wasn’t entirely negative either. She was not convinced that they should get back together. But, she was glad he’d be able to afford little Jean’s child support very soon because the song was going to be a hit. 

All humor aside, his ex-wife wasn’t wrong. “Dance Little Jean” made it to #9 on the US Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.

Brand New Heartache 

Album: Speed of Life 

This song could be placed on this list for many reasons, whether it be the excellent musicianship of the players, well-written lyrics, or fantastic arrangement. For me, though, the real reason that “Brand New Heartache” is on this list is that it’s from an album released in 2009.

This song attests to the longevity of the band, as well as founding member and writer Jeff Hanna. But also to the power of the sound that they helped forge. 

Could they ever have dreamed that the music genre they were helping define would end up so big that people would still line up to hear them play songs they’ve written almost fifty years later? I’d say it’s unlikely, but here we are.

All I Have To Do Is Dream

Album: Symphonium Dream 

The original version of this song left such big shoes to fill. So much so that any artist attempting to cover it was lining themselves up for punishment. Yet, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band decided to go ahead and do it. Why? 

I believe it’s because they had the confidence to know that they could pull it off with flair and dignity. Not only that, they did the most important thing you have to do when paying homage to another artist by covering a song of theirs. 

They made it their own…

The band managed to take a simple arrangement and get it to work amongst so many players. The result was a song that is every bit as dreamy as the original, just using a different palette of colors and textures. 

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s cover of the Everly Brothers hit made it to #30 on Billboard’s Easy Listening chart. Among their many covers, this ranks among the most popular Nitty Gritty Dirt Band cover songs.

And So It Goes

Album: Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Volume Two 

It’s a good thing we can listen to songs more than once. Otherwise, we’d miss so much. This track is a rich and complex composition. In terms of what it has to offer, you could never get it all in one listen. And, even if you could, you wouldn’t be able to handle that much star power. 

Furthermore, placing the late great John Denver with The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to record such a beautiful song was probably even more inspired than the writing of the song itself. If you want one of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s best country songs, don’t miss this track.

“And So It Goes” showcases so many great things that you’d have to listen to it many times to start digging in. Of course, one of the highlights is the beautiful voice of John Denver. The song was quite a success peaking at #14 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart.

Stand A Little Rain

Album: Twenty Years of Dirt: The Best of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band 

The pretty little song was written by Donny Lowery and Grammy Award-winning Don Schlitz. It was released as the first single for their 1986 compilation album. It’s a nice slow one that sounds big and nostalgic, and like it’s being sung into the echoing halls of the past. 

Gracefully produced… 

The acoustic guitars are mixed like voices. They pass the intimate interplay of melodies back and forth while a softly compressed drumkit steadily turns the wheels and rolls them forward. 

The lyrics and vocal performances to die, and what you’ve got is a monster of a country tune. Although, it crossed over to contemporary audiences as well. As a result, it’s one of the most well known Nitty Gritty Dirt Band songs.

“Stand A Little Rain” was a smash hit that climbed to #5 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart and #3 on the Canadian RPM Country Tracks chart.

House At Poor Corner 

Album: Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy 

People might berate me for putting this Kenny Loggins monster hit on a list of the best Nitty Gritty Dirt Band songs of all time. Even though Keny Loggins penned this gorgeous song, he let the Nitty Gritty Band record it before it was released on the Loggins and Messina debut, Sittin’ In.

I don’t know who is covering who at that point. But I know that NGDB made it come alive. The song takes its inspiration from the children’s book of the same name and tells its tale from the perspective of Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin. 

The allegory serves to symbolize the loss of innocence after childhood passes. Loggins wrote this wonderful song when he was but a seventeen-year-old in high school. And for me, it’s one of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s greatest songs ever recorded.

Ooh Po Pe Do Girl

Album: Ricochet 

This one should be quite a throwback to some hardcore fans. It’s often overlooked as many great songs by great artists are. But, this hard thumping little feel-good number still has a lot of Blues sound to it. 

Even though the band was still experimenting with finding a sound for themselves, you can already hear that they are accomplished musicians. And that a great writer lurks in Jeff Hanna. If you want one of the most underrated Nitty Gritty Dirt Band songs, this is it.

Long Hard Road (The Sharecropper’s Dream)

Album: Plain Dirt Fashion 

Telling a good story is essential to making good country music. And this little gem written by Rodney Crowell is one of the best examples of storytelling in the band’s entire catalog. 

The song’s story is told from the perspective of a sharecropper’s son. He reminisces on long hard days of labor in the cotton fields with his family when he was a young boy. However, when he becomes older, he notices that what he recalls most vividly are pleasant memories, not negative ones. 

He remembers never going hungry, singing along to his grandmother’s radio, and hearing his mother’s voice reading from the bible as they labored on. 

Later in the song… 

Our protagonist has made it big and still reminisces a lot about those days he thought he’d never look back on with fondness. He comes to the final realization that those days were pretty good and that they had an impact on the person he eventually became. 

His parents made music with makeshift instruments, which he then listened to, and now he makes his living as a musician. All things come full circle, but we never realize it until we are far enough away to gain perspective. 

The song was the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s first song to make it to #1 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. And three more from the album did the same. Therefore, it just has to be one of the best Nitty Gritty Dirt Band songs of all time.

Hey Good Lookin

Album: Symphonium Dream 

If you’re a hardcore fan or have a record collection that features seminal American Records from the 70s, then the Symphonium Dream LP is bound to be in there somewhere. That’s because it was just packed with smashers. 

The album featured stellar production for the time. As well as some guest appearances from amazing artists like Leon Russell and even the Actor Gary Busey. Most notably would have to be this great swinging number performed with legendary singer Linda Ronstadt. 

What else is there to say about this one? Other than it’s a simple, straightforward banger of a tune. And, if you want a good pick for a song that encapsulated the band as a whole, then here is one of the very best from their catalog.

Bojangles

Album: Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy 

Mr. Bojangles was inspired by a white homeless man who performed a tap dance in a prison cell for the tune’s writer, Jerry Jeff Walker. 

Walker had been locked up for public intoxication, and the mysterious Mr. Bojangles happened to be a cellmate for the evening. He had taken the name from a black entertainer named Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. 

The Nitty Gritty Dirt band’s cover was one of the most successful of all cover versions. It rose to #9 on the Billboard Hot 100. The band also had the opportunity to perform the song with Jerry Jeff Walker in 2015 for a live album entitled, Circlin’ Back

On The Hunt For Great Tunes?

We got you covered. Take a look at our detailed articles on the Best Cat Stevens Songs of All Time, the Best Garth Brooks Songs of All Time, the Best Michael McDonald Songs Of All Time, the Best Fleetwood Mac Songs, and the Best Seether Songs of All Time for more song selections.

You need to hear all those songs. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Noise Isolating Earbuds, the Most Comfortable Earbuds, the Best Sound Quality Earbuds, the Best Bass Earbuds, the Best True Wireless Earbuds, as well as the Best iPhone Earbuds you can buy in 2023.

Best Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Songs of All Time – Conclusion 

As a country fan or a more contemporary listener, it’s almost impossible to find a branch of American country or roots music after the 70s that doesn’t grow from a tree this group helped to plant. 

The Nitty Gritty Dirt band has existed for more than 50 years. That’s because of the power of the music they helped make popular. They knew back then that it would find its way into people’s hearts and stay there forever. 

The fact that fans, old and new alike, are still swaying along to their songs is testament enough to the truth of this belief.

Until next time, happy listening.

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About Warren Barrett

Warren has spent nearly half a century (now that's a long time!) as an ink-stained wretch writing for music magazines and websites and has no plans on giving up soon.

He is curious about all types of music and instruments apart from any genre with 'Urban' in the title. He's also not so keen on Plastic Potted Plants, Reality TV, and any movies with Kevin Costner in them.

He lives in Delaware with his wife Wendy and lots of great memories...

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