Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, “Fishin’ in the Dark”

“Fishin’ in the Dark”

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Written by Jim Photoglo and Wendy Waldman

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

September 4, 1987


#1 (1 week)

October 17, 1987

In a year with so many timeless hits, here’s one that has only grown in popularity over time.

“Fishin’ in the Dark” was originally recorded by Ed Bruce, but it took the playful harmonies and bewitching musicianship of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to become an all-time classic, enduring even more than their previous signature hit, “Mr. Bojangles.”

And that’s no surprise, given how irresistible this record is. The lyrics paint such a clear picture that you feel you’re out on the water with this young couple getting ready to do some fishin’ in the dark. No word on whether they catch any fish, but they’re definitely catching feelings, and that’s the secret sauce of this little gem. It captures the euphoria of those early days of a new romance, where the activity doesn’t matter so much as the chance to be alone together.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band didn’t have another No. 1 country single after this, but their contributions to the genre continued, most notably through two additional volumes of their important historical collaborative album series, Will the Circle Be Unbroken.  The second set in the trilogy took home three Grammy and the CMA Award for Album of the Year. The band won another Grammy in 2004 for their instrumental “Earl’s Breakdown.”

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band are currently on their Farewell Tour, which will culminate in two shows at the Ryman Auditorium this November.

“Fishin’ in the Dark” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. The first version I ever heard of this song was by Garth Brooks. I remember playing that song to death and not knowing it was a cover. This is an absolute classic in the genre and one of those songs that everybody seems to know even if they don’t like country music. I remember listening to podcast that specialized in country music trivia and I remember the host hating this song because his local radio station only ever played this song by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band stating that they had many other great songs (True). I never heard this growing up so I wish I could have but what a song.

  2. I felt like one of the lucky ones getting in on this song from the beginning in 1987, humming it in the elementary school lunch line and then catching myself before anybody asked why I was listening to country music, uncool as it was at the time. Fast forward several years later and this was one of the few legacy songs from the 80s that had the staying power to be part of the conversation and find its way on classmates’ mix tapes when country was cool (sort of) by the time I got to high school in the mid-90s. Most memorably, I had a student teacher in my sophomore year who furrowed her brow at the rise of country music and wondered aloud how it had become popular on a few occasions, so imagine my surprise when she sang the praises of “Fishin’ in the Dark” and that she was gonna have it played at her wedding. Well okay then! And perhaps most coincidentally, the lucky man she was marrying was a distant cousin of mine and she and I share the same last name to this day.

    The song itself was a smorgasbord of youthful exploration, a perfect coming of age song with the appropriate vocal performance and the right instrumental mix to make it work. The song really holds up in contrast to its 35 years of imitators, none of which have come close. I wasn’t aware that it was originally cut by Ed Bruce or that Garth Brooks performed it, but now I know why a former boss of mine insisted that Garth wrote “Fishin’ in the Dark”.

    Grade: A

  3. Some songs can be accurately and fully described as “fun” and this is one of those songs. I have the Ed Bruce album on which this song first appeared (NIGHT THINGS, RCA 1984) but there is a reason that Ed is better remembered as a songwriter than as a singer. I liked the song then but hoped that someone else would cover the song – was envisioning Del McCoury, Jim & Jesse or the Osborne Brothers but I am sure NGDB’s version cannot be improved upon.

    This song will be running through my mind all day – an easy “A” verging upon an “A+”

  4. I first heard “Fishin’ In The Dark” on Ed Bruce’s 1986 RCA album NIGHT THINGS. Ed’s version was okay but I remember thinking at the time that I would like to hear a bluegrass act such as The Osborne Brothers, Jim & Jesse or Del McCoury tackle the song. I was quite pleased with NGDB’s take on the song – in fact, I don’t think it can be bettered. I’d give it an A+

  5. I remember hiking the trails in Tettegouche State Park in Silver Bay, Minnesota with my uncle and my older brother in the late ’80s. To help get us through the rugged walk, my uncle suggested we sing a song. As we struggled to find one we all knew well enough to sing through from start to finish, I suggested we sing “Fishing in the Dark” because I naively assumed everyone knew the amazing new country song.

    I still remember being shocked by their silence; neither my uncle nor my brother knew word one of the hit.

    Apparently, country music had not quite yet crossed the generation gap nor penetrated the north shore of Lake Superior.

    I still try not to fault them for not knowing this classic country jam!

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