Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, “Long Hard Road (The Sharecropper’s Dream)”

“Long Hard Road (The Sharecropper’s Dream)”

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Written by Rodney Crowell

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

July 28, 1984


#1 (1 week)

July 28, 1984

Of all the nominal rock acts to get a second wind by crossing over to country music, none of them did it with as much authenticity as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

They got together in the mid-sixties in Long Beach, California, initially starting as a duo of its two founding members, Jeff Hanna and Bruce Kunkel.  Future solo star Jackson Browne was an early member, as they gradually expanded to a six man lineup and adopted their famous name.  They experimented with different styles and experienced multiple lineup changes by the early seventies, when they finally had their big breakthrough hit with “Mr. Bojangles.”

Following that 1970 top ten hit, a trip to Nashville evolved into one of the most important country albums of all time: 1972’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken.  The Grammy-nominated, platinum-selling project found the band collaborating with legends from the earliest days of country music, like Roy Acuff and Mother Maybelle Carter.  The rest of the seventies included more lineup changes and style experimentations, and for a few years, they even dropped the “Nitty Gritty” and went by the Dirt Band.

By the eighties, they were ready to pursue proper country music stardom.  Performing again as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, a five man lineup of Hanna, Jimmie Fadden, John McEuen, Jimmy Ibbotson, and Bob Carpenter released Let’s Go in 1983.  The single “Dance Little Jean” became the first of seventeen top ten country hits that the band would enjoy during the eighties.  The lead single of their 1984 album, Plain Dirt Fashion, took them all the way to the top of both charts.

Penned by Rodney Crowell, “Long Hard Road (The Sharecropper’s Dream)” is every bit the peer of “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Coat of Many Colors,” and “Good Ole Boys Like Me.”  It’s a stunning recollection of a southern childhood, told from the perspective of an older man who left that world behind and now revisits it in his dreams.

Mama played the guitar thenAnd daddy made the saw blade bendAnd raindrops played the tin roof like a drumBut I just kept on dreaming that a song that I was singingTakes me down a road to where my name is known

It’s breathtakingly beautiful, with an aching melancholy that the band surrounds with warm and sympathetic instrumentation.  This is as good as country music gets.

No, scratch that.

This is why country music exists.

“Long Hard Road (The Sharecropper’s Dream)” gets an A

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. This is easily my all time favorite Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Song. I struggle with this and “My Hero’s Have Always Been Cowboys” but if pressed this is my all time favorite country song. I’m 31 and have never experienced an upbringing like the one mentioned in the song but when I hear it feels like I did.

    I resonate with the lines “my dad never promised that our blue moon would turn gold
    But he laid awake nights wishin’ that it would.” I know that must have resonated with a lot of people.

    I also love “Now I’m beatin’ down a ol’ blacktop road, sleepin’ in a sack,
    Livin’ in my memories all in vain
    ‘Cause those city lights ain’t all that bright, compared to what its like
    To see lightning bugs go dancin’ in the rain.” I try so hard so sing that on point.

    EASY A

  2. I could not agree more with this review. This is an absolute masterpiece of a song. I too am quite fond of the line about the city lights and the lightning bugs; I grew up in the country, later moved to the city, love the city but don’t prefer to go back to the country, but there’s something about that line that just gets me every single time.

    Fun fact: None other than Ricky Skaggs played the fiddle on that song.

  3. I had no idea Rodney Crowell wrote this! It explains a lot about why the song is so special lyrically and melodically.

    That strong base allows the song to be brilliantly dressed with all the exceptional musicianship and wonderful harmonies and vocals.

    It stands side by side for me with Eddie Rabbitt’s 1976 song “Rocky Mountain Music” as mysterious and dark takes on hard rural lives.

    As a suburban kid from the upper mid-west, this song about country lives and cotton sacks could all just be imaginary role-playing and so much play-acting, but both songs sound disarmingly rooted and real.

    I believe the stories they tell and the characters telling them.

    How weird and wonderful are the the bands recording in Nashville in the eighties? The Oak Ridge Boys, Alabama, The Statler Brothers, Exile, The Gatlin Brothers, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and the Forester Sisters.

    When commenting on Earl Thomas Conley’s ‘Angel in Disguise,” I said how it was the antithesis of a timeless song

    This song, however, is the foundational thesis of timeless country music.

    A classic through and through.

    Would anyway have the chutzpah or stones to share a different take on the songs after this consensual admiration and love?

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