17 Best Nanci Griffith Songs

Best Nanci Griffith Songs

When Nanci Griffith died in 2013, her career had spanned years. Starting in 1978, Griffith composed and sang a variety of original and covered material. Here are some of the best Nanci Griffith songs that highlight her brilliance.

1. “Love at the Five and Dime”

Song Year; 1986

Nanci Griffith wrote and released “Love At The Five And Dime” in 1986. It’s a folk-style song that tells the love story of Rita and Eddie. She’s a dime store clerk, and he’s an aspiring guitar player. It sounds like the beginning of a rom-com.

Griffith transforms the lyrics into an intimate portrait of young love. It was a staple of her live performances and the bedrock of country artist Kathy Mathea’s career.

2. “The Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”

Song Year: 2002

Country singer John Prine wrote and performed the early versions of “The Speed of the Sound of Loneliness.”

But the combination of its success and its moving lyrics about love, loneliness, and isolation compelled other artists to do covers.

Nanci Griffith was one of these. The lyrical, slow introduction suited Griffith’s voice perfectly. She infused the song with warmth and melancholy.

Several other artists also did covers of “The Speed of the Sound of Loneliness,” including:

  •   Alabama 3
  •  Jeffery Foucault
  •  Susan McCann

3. “From A Distance”

Song Year: 1993

Although it’s one of the best Nanci Griffith songs, “From A Distance” isn’t one of Griffith’s original compositions.

Julie Gold wrote the song while working as a secretary. A friend connected her with Nanci Griffith, then flirted with the move from folk to country music.

Griffith recorded the song on her 1987 album Lone Star State of Mind. Griffith found the composition so compelling she asked to hear Gold’s artistic interpretation; The result was a long-lasting collaboration. Despite this, Griffith’s recording never achieved the status of a true hit.

The best-known version of “From A Distance” came from Bette Middler.

4. “Once In A Very Blue Moon”

Song Year: 1986

Pat Alger and Gene Levine wrote another of the best Nanci Griffith cover songs, “Once In A Blue Moon.”

It’s a bittersweet song about a love affair, long since ended. It’s immediately apparent that the former romantic partner keeps in touch and that the speaker misses him. Griffith’s version of the song is full of yearning and melancholy.

It’s such an achingly poignant song that everyone, including Dolly Parton, recorded a version. But not even Parton out-performed Griffith’s earlier recording.

5. “Lone Star State of Mind”

Song Year: 1987

“Lone Star State of Mind” appeared as the leading track on Griffith’s fifth album. It was the titular song and was another collaboration by Gene Levin, Pat Alger, and Fred Koller.

The song feels and sounds nostalgic, and Griffith makes the most of its poetic lyrics. They evoke far-off Texan nights with their heat and music scene. Griffith makes the most of them, with rich, indulgent phrasing that draws the listener in.

6. “Tecumseh Valley”

Song Year: 1993

Another of the best Nanci Griffith songs is “Tecumseh Valley.” Griffith recorded this song for her album Other Voices Other Rooms. Griffith sang it as a duet with Townes Van Zandt both live and in recordings.

Together, Griffith and Van Zandt bring the song a rawness and passion that is deeply poignant. It’s an uncompromising look at a world that can be difficult for its transients and working classes. It’s not easy to listen to, but the artistry exhibited by Griffith and Van Zandt is such that you can’t turn away.

Moving and memorable, it’s not a song for the faint of heart.

7. “Outbound Plane”

Song Year: 1988

“Outbound Plane” came out on Griffith’s album Little Love Affairs. The album received uniformly positive reviews that praised Griffith’s musicality and her compositions’ poetry and storytelling.

“Outbound Plane” is no exception. This Nanci Griffith song is about the dissolution of a romance. The imagery is full of metaphors for loss, and one of the more memorable lines uses the idea of the lost and found ways to compartmentalize the happier memories of the late love affair.

Griffith wrote the song with folk artist Tom Russell and it helped galvanize Griffith’s commercial success.

8. “Late Night Grande Hotel”

Song Year: 1991

There are many reasons to love “Late Night Grande Hotel.” One reason this song by Nanci Griffith gets a smile from us is that it winks at the film of the same name starring Greta Garbo.

Specifically, it recalls a line Garbo never said, but everyone attributes to her about wishing she could be alone. In “Late Night Grande Hotel,” the speaker doesn’t necessarily share that wish, but she does feel alone.

Despite having someone to talk to after music performances and to hold her at night, this speaker expresses loneliness and isolation. She longs to leave her current situation for somewhere new where she can reinvent herself. She might be alone, but it would be honest loneliness.

9. “Gulf Coast Highway”

“Gulf Coast Highway”

Song Year: 1988

In “Gulf Coast Highway,” Griffith gets back to her Texan beginnings. Consequently, the song is deeply nostalgic. It tells the story of a Texan couple trying to make a life by the side of one of the highways.

It isn’t easy, but that doesn’t stop them from seeing the poetry in their surroundings. The song is a love song to Texan Springs as much as it is the story of romantic love. It’s full of poetic imagery, especially of the natural world.

10. Listen To The Radio

Song Year: 1989

“Listen to the Radio” has a faster beat than any song by Nanci Griffith discussed. It’s a playful song about a road trip with a honky-tonk rhythm.

The pace is perfect because it beautifully captures the impetus of an exhilarating drive. It gives the song an optimistic feel, which is ideal for the speaker. As she severs ties to home and a late boyfriend, she anticipates the bright future waiting at the end of her journey.

The song’s enthusiasm is infectious. If it doesn’t get you dancing, it’s guaranteed to at least get you clapping in time to the music.

11. “I Wish It Would Rain”

Song Year: 1988

“I Wish It Would Rain” is another Nanci Griffith song from the album Little Love Affairs.

Right from the title, the imagery paints a melancholy picture, and the song delivers on that promise. It’s full of metaphors for anguished love. But it’s also infused with nostalgia for the sunny days of first love and longing for the uncomplicated love of the people back home.

It ends on a bittersweet note. As the speaker heads home, the lyrics shift. They’re full of the promise and comfort of home and the beauty of that familiar Texan landscape. Love can be painful, the song says, but it doesn’t have to be.

12. “It’s A Hard Life (Wherever You Go)”

Song Year: 1989

Of the many songs written by Nanci Griffith, “It’s A Hard Life” has some of the most compelling lyrics.

The song tackles difficult issues of poverty, class, civil liberties, and, under it all, the American Dream. But Griffith’s focus is global, not local. The picture she paints is of a world united by its inequality, whether you’re driving through Belfast, Chicago, or an anonymous Texan town.

It powerfully integrates Martin Luther’s famous cry for belief and challenges listeners to do better so that someday, life will be easier for everyone.

13. “Anyone Can Be Somebody’s Fool”

Song Year: 1988

“Anyone Can Be Somebody’s Fool” is another memorable song from Little Love Affairs.

It blends grief over lost love with winter imagery. The result is a mournful meditation on loneliness. The stark white imagery of winter and moonlight creates beautiful analogies for our experiences of loss.

But the use of winter similes and metaphors also reminds us that the loss is temporary. It might linger for a while, and it might feel like it will last forever. But the wonderful thing about winter is that it ends with the thaw and a promise of new beginnings, and Griffith’s lyrics reflect that.

14. “I Don’t Want to Talk About Love”

Song Year: 1988

Despite its title, “I Don’t Want to Talk About Love” spends much of its run time discussing exactly that.

That’s because the title is Griffith’s wry poke at how many songs get written about love. This one is a reflection on the pain love can cause. Even when we love someone, they don’t always understand us, or us them.

There’s also something much more profound at the heart of this song, and that’s that at its best, love feels impossible to articulate. It’s a theme that poets like A. E. Houseman meditated on previously, and this musical exploration of the painful, complicated, and sometimes messy nature of love is equally moving.

15. “Lookin’ For The Time (Workin’ Girl)”

Song Year: 1986

“Lookin’ for the Time (Workin’ Girl)” is one of the earliest songs by Nanci Griffith to succeed.

The song explores the class disparity in America and the way we commodify time. The lyrics juxtapose images of a fantasy L.A. with the cold reality the speaker faces. In this fantasy, L.A. is perpetually sunny, the company is good, and everything goes right.

It’s a stark contrast to the speaker’s current existence, where she gets paid by seconds and can’t spare any to consult her watch. This reality is permeated by cold, loneliness, and lost love.

16. “If Wishes Were Changes”

Song Year: 1989

Many people have heard the expression “If wishes were horses.” The title of this Nanci Griffith song from her album Storms is a variation of that.

It recognizes that people are resistant to change, even when it’s convenient. Consequently, the lyrics are a list of all the things the speaker would change if it were as easy as wishing.

The song blends country and folk music. The result is a song with a melody that has a jaunty accompaniment but mellow vocals. It’s incredibly easy listening – almost like wishing.

17. “Drive-In Movies And Dashboard Lights”

Song Year: 1989

Arguably, “Drive-In Movies” shows its age in its title. But that’s no reason not to listen to it.

It’s a fascinating song to listen to. It’s a nostalgic tribute to the sixties. It’s also a damning condemnation of the valuations we make of women based on appearance.

The lyricism draws you in, and the anger that builds as the song continues keeps you listening. It’s nuanced, powerful, and has some of Griffith’s most compelling lyrics.

Top Songs By Nanci Griffith, Final Thoughts

No two Nanci Griffith songs are the same, though her best compositions share common themes.

What comes across irrespective of genre, style or tempo is Griffith’s artistry. She has the kind of irresistible voice people stop to listen to irrespective of the vocal sound. They keep listening because the messages that underpin her songs resonate years after the fact. That kind of talent is rare, and worth paying attention to.

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