This Top 10 Nanci Griffith Songs presents the best Nanci Griffith Songs including “Once in a Very Blue Moon,” “I Knew Love” and more. Born and raised Texan, Nanci Caroline Griffith was born on July 6, 1953 as the youngest of three siblings. Starting at the age of twelve years old, Griffith officially began her singing career as a performer at a local coffeehouse in Austin. When she was fourteen years old, she performed her first professional gig at the Red Lion Cabaret.
In 1978, Nanci Griffith released her first studio album, There’s a Light Beyond These Woods. Much of Nanci Griffith’s music has been country and folk, both of which she referred to as folkabilly. Much of her music has been influenced by the loss of her high school sweetheart, who was killed in a motorcycle accident after taking her to the senior prom.
Nanci Griffith’s Career Achievements
In 1994, she won a Best Contemporary Folk Album Grammy Award for, Other Voices, Other Rooms. The next year, Nanci Griffith was inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame, as well as earning the Kate Wolf Memorial Award by the World Folk Music Association. She was later awarded the Lifetime Americana Trailblazer Award in 2008 by the Americana Music Association, then a 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. As successful as she was as a singer, her greatest success actually shows in her songwriting. The majority of the hits that credit her either as the sole writer or as a co-writer have come from big names like Kathy Mattea, Suzy Bogguss, and Tom Russell, just to name a few. As of February 2022, Nanci Griffith has also been inducted into the Texas Heritage Songwriters Association Hall of Fame.
In 1996, then in 1998, Nanci Griffith engaged in two separate fights against cancer. The first fight was breast cancer, followed by the second fight against thyroid cancer. Despite the cancer battles, this didn’t stop Griffith from doing what she loved. Among the many artists she has performed with, toured with, and written for, there has been a mutual agreement about her level of professionalism, as well as her integrity level as a human being. When she passed away on August 13, 2021, both her peers and the fans were shocked and saddened from the sudden loss. The cause of death was never officially disclosed.
From 1978 until 2004, Nanci Griffith’s singing and songwriting career was solid. If she wasn’t the lead vocalist performing her own singles, she was a backup performer for many top-named artists in the music genres of bluegrass, country, and folk. Then, after 2004, Griffith admitted she encountered a severe case of writer’s block that lasted until 2009’s release of the album, The Loving Kind. This led to an extensive tour schedule that partly served as an inspiration to her 2012 album, Intersection. It was her eighteenth and final studio album recording. Adding to this impressive list are two live albums and eight compilation albums.
Top 10 Nanci Griffith Songs
#10 – Well…All Right (featuring The Crickets)
The tribute album, Not Fade Away (Remembering Buddy Holly), featured one of his beloved singles, “Well…All Right,” performed by Nanci Griffith. On the RPM Canadian Country Tracks, this cover song charted at number eighty-seven. What made this song so special was the backup vocals provided by Buddy Holly’s former backup group, The Crickets. Originally, “Well…All Right” was placed as the second track to the album, The Buddy Holly Story, Vol. II, which was posted posthumously in April 1960. The song was never released as a single by Holly, nor The Crickets, so for it to appear as one that featured remnants of Holly’s old group, makes Griffith’s coverage of “Well…All Right” feel a bit more special as the subject behind
#8 – Gulf Coast Highway
The best music that came from Nanci Griffith was anything that revolved around her humble beginnings as a girl born and raised in the state of Texas. “Gulf Coast Highway” served as no exception as she used this song to refer to the bluebonnet spring as a set of flowers that beautify the highways of Texas each time it’s time for its spring bloom. Sadly, this song never charted, but remains as one of the most beloved country meets folk songs ever since it was first released in 1997, along with her album, Blue Roses from the Moons.
#8 – Trouble in the Fields
In 1987 from Lone Star State of Mind, “Trouble in the Fields” was a number fifty-seven hit for Nanci Griffith on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and a number forty-three hit on the RPM Canadian Country Tracks chart. It was the first of two times one of Griffith’s singles would appear on one of Canada’s music charts. Much of Griffith’s music focused on her life growing up and living in Texas. This soft-style country ballad with a bit of bluegrass and folk made this song a farmer’s favorite as they can relate to the musical story.
#7 – I Knew Love
“I Knew Love” became an international hit for Nanci Griffith in 1988 as it peaked at number thirty-seven on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and at number twenty on the Irish Singles Chart. Among the Irish, there is a steady fondness of ballads and folk-style music, which “I Knew Love” perfectly balanced with solid-sounding country roots. From the album, Little Love Affairs, it was the second of two hit singles that appeared on the music charts.
#6 – Lone Star Frame of Mind
Lone Star State of Mind, as an album, produced “Lone Star Frame of Mind” as its first single, which served as the second time Nanci Griffith realized a hit that reached the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. It peaked at number thirty-six. With Texas as the focal point behind Nanci Griffith’s performance, not only was it a favorite among fans of the Lonestar state, but became an official and unofficial anthem among many of the state’s communities. Even among non-Texans who share the “Lone Star Frame of Mind,” it remains a strong Nanci Griffith favorite.
#5 – If These Old Walls Could Speak (featuring Jimmy Webb)
The AIDS benefit album, Red Hot + Country, was a 1994 collaboration that featured a variety of artists contributing towards this fundraising project, produced by the Red Hot Organization. The single, “If These Old Walls Could Speak,” was a duet performed by Nanci Griffith and Jimmy Webb.
#4 – Love at the Five and Dime
Beautifully performed by Nanci Griffith, Love at the Five and Dime” laid out her story as she shared out key moments of her life while growing up as a Texan born-and-raised girl. Although the song never charted, it remains as a fan favorite among the fans that not only felt blessed by Griffith’s musical and vocal talent, but how open she was as an artist about her real-life experiences. Some of the fondest memories of Nanci Griffith’s stage performances didn’t always come from the songs she sang but the stories she told. In this case, Woolworth’s was the highlight of the musical tale, as well as using department store shopping as an excuse to spend quality time together.
#3 – Outbound Plane (featuring Tom Russell)
Teaming up to perform “Outbound Plane” was Nanci Griffith and Tom Russell. While this very song became one of the biggest hits in Suzy Bogguss’ career as a singer, the original came from Griffith and Russell. Fast-paced with folk-filled fun, the twang of the vocals and the guitar performance by Griffith made “Outbound Plane” a fan favorite that seemed to be especially enjoyable between neighbors and communities that lovingly embrace the neighborly feeling. While Griffith’s music may not have been as heavily played on nationwide airwaves, she was especially favored by the people of Texas as most of her music tales are the type of stories most of them can personally relate to.
#2 – From a Distance
Nanci Griffith’s cover song, “From a Distance,” is the same that Bette Midler turned into a hit in 1990. The original composer was Julie Gold, who had this recorded for her 1987 album, Lone Star State of Mind. For Griffith, her version came from her award-winning album, Other Voices, Other Rooms. This beautiful ballad of God’s eyes watching the world and his people served as a favorite, especially among Christians. In a world that comes across as unstable as it is close-up, what it looks like from God’s point of view suggested a different picture. On the Irish Singles Chart, Griffith’s mix of blues and country style peaked at number nine. It served as the only song that became a top ten hit for a star whose talent clearly shined every bit as bright as the musician herself. While Bette Midler is best recognized for turning “From a Distance” into a global chart hit, the roots of Nanci Griffith is deeply embedded even in Midler’s cover version.
#1 – Once in a Very Blue Moon (featuring Lyle Lovett)
“Once in a Very Blue Moon” had Lyle Lovett perform as a backup vocalist to Nanci Griffith’s beautifully written country song, which is also the title of her third studio album. Both the single and the album served as a further step into the usage of musical instruments that provided a stronger country style than her previous recordings. For Griffith, “Once in a Very Blue Moon” also served as a notice that she was capable of playing between the musical styles of bluegrass, country, and folk in perfect harmony, which suggested one of the primary reasons why she didn’t receive airtime on radio stations.
As beautiful as her vocal talent was, as well as the style of music she played, genre-specified stations often found themselves too shy to give her the radio play she, as well as singles like this, deserved. However, “Once in a Very Blue Moon” did chart at number eighty-five on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in 1986, which became her first official hit on any nationally recognized billboard charts. If there was a song best classified as a signature song that best identifies Nanci Griffith, “Once in a Very Blue Moon” would be it.
Feature Photo: Bryan Ledgard, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Top 10 Nanci Griffith Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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