17 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.

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