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Perfectly Good: The Top 10 John Hiatt Songs

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John Hiatt has been writing and recording memorable music since the 1970s. So why isn’t he a bigger name? If you’ve been listening to rock n’ roll, pop, soul or country over the past few decades, you’ve certainly heard his songs. Starting with Three Dog Night’s version of “Sure as I’m Sittin’ Here” in 1974, his tunes have been covered by the likes of Marshall Crenshaw, Emmylou Harris, Delbert McClinton, and The Jeff Healey Band. What’s more, Hiatt is not only a uniquely talented and versatile songwriter, he’s also a fantastic performer who puts on a killer show. Truthfully, there are so many gems in his catalog that you could choose any number for this list, but here are ten that made the cut.

10. Pink Bedroom

This quirky tune is on 1980’s Two Bit Monsters. The song is from Hiatt’s “New Wave” period, a time when his record label was touting him as the next Elvis Costello. “Pink Bedroom” has been covered by Roseanne Cash, Lou Ann Barton, and (yes!) guitarist extraordinaire Albert Lee.

Related: “The 10 Best Elvis Costello Songs You May Have Never Heard”

9. Gone, Gone Away

This country-flavored song is from Crossing Muddy Waters, an album which was recorded in just three days. It deftly shows off Hiatt’s caustic wit, and also fits nicely within the homemade, back-to-basics nature of the album.

8. Nothin’ I Love

Hiatt’s immersed himself in the blues on this number from 2014’s excellent Terms of My Surrender. The album is one of his best recent releases and showcases some solid work from versatile sideman Doug Lancio (who also produced the record) on banjo, guitar, and mandolin.

7. Riding With the King

The title track of Hiatt’s 1983 album features longtime Hiatt pal Nick Lowe providing some funky bass and backing vocals. Eric Clapton and B.B. King later covered the song on their album of the same name. That latter version features some re-worked lyrics from Hiatt, but it’s a fantastic track in either iteration.

6. Perfectly Good Guitar

This song from 1993 — is featured on one of Hiatt’s more straightforward rock n’ roll discs — it highlights his gift for ironic wordplay. The album includes several other excellent Hiatt numbers, such as “Buffalo River Home” and “Blue Telescope,” but this one stands out from the pack.

5. Have a Little Faith in Me

A beautiful song about love, redemption, and second chances, “Have a Little Faith…” has become something of a modern standard. Artists such as Joe Cocker, Jewel, Mandy Moore, and Chaka Khan have all recorded it. Ironically, Hiatt’s never released it as a single! His original version can be found on 1987’s Bring the Family.

4. Memphis in the Meantime

A very cool rootsy number, also from Bring the Family, this one shines thanks to excellent work from Ry Cooder on guitar, Nick Lowe on bass, and Jim Keltner on drums. The quartet later released an album in 1991 as the one-off side project Little Village. How do you not love a song that name-checks Ronnie Milsap?

3. Tennessee Plates

This terrific tune was featured in the movie Thelma and Louise, via a cover by Charlie Sexton. It’s one of many Hiatt compositions to pop up on a film soundtrack. (“Take Off Your Uniform” was in American Gigolo; “Snake Charmer” in White Nights; “Confidence Man” in Road House; and so on and so on.)

2. Paper Thin

A rocking rave-up that contains one of my favorite Hiatt lyrics: ”You were out of luck, well, luck was doin’ all right.” The track is part of 1988’s Slow Turning, an album which remains one of his strongest and most enjoyable records to date. Hint: This one’s a great starting point for newbies.

1. Thing Called Love

Thanks to Bonnie Raitt’s recording on her Grammy-winning comeback disc Nick of Time, this is one of Hiatt’s most successful songs. With all due respect to Ms. Raitt, I think Hiatt’s version is pretty darn good as well. Judge for yourself!

-John Visconti

Photo Credit: John Hiatt Performing Live At Dingwalls, Camden, London 01/01/1986 (Photo by Terry Lott/Sony Music Archive/Getty Images)

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John Visconti is a lifelong music and movies aficionado with wide-ranging tastes.He’s also the go-to guy when his friends have trivia questions they can't answer regarding pop culture. You’ll likely run into him in his home state of Connecticut at craft beer/bistro venues or various-sized concert halls. Check out his blog, John V's Eclectic Avenue on Blogger.

16 comments on “Perfectly Good: The Top 10 John Hiatt Songs

  1. Scoop McGuire

    Honorable Mention – Lipstick Sunset and one should check out the live version of Thing Called Love off of Hiatt Comes Alive at Budokan – swampy swampy swampy

    • Lipstick Sunset is an excellent song, and that live version of Thing Called Love from “Comes Alive At Budokan?” is amazing!

  2. Can’t go wrong with most of the Hiatt catalogue, but I would offer up “She Loves the Jerk,” “Trudy and Dave” and (as politically incorrect as it may sound) “The Negros Were Dancing” which I think is a fantastic “white guy” tribute to the music of Black Culture.

  3. No argument. More subjective suggestions…”Drive South”, “Permanent Hurt”, “Slow Turning”, “Something Wild”, “Buffalo River Home”, “Angel” & “Real Fine Love”.

    Ever considered makin’ it a “Top 20”, JV? :]

  4. George Guttler

    “She Don’t Love Nobody” covered by Nick Lowe and by the Desert Rose Band……also his entire “Walk On” LP from 1995, esp “Your Love Is My Rest”

    • “She Don’t Love Nobody” is fantastic, and you’re absolutely right about “Walk On.” It’s a very good (and often underrated) album.

  5. Jim Lunsford

    “Feels Like Rain” is one the very best recordings I know. Evocative lyrics, a production/arrangement that underscores the mood of the song, and an incredibly passionate performance by Hiatt make this song more than great — it’s a Desert Island Disk. Check it out.

    • Jim, I agree that “Feels Like Rain” is one of Hiatt’s best. It just missed making the cut. So hard to choose just ten songs from such a rich catalogue.

  6. Yeah…I think you could get a Top 20 out of Hiatt with no problem. In addition to those tunes mentioned previously I’d venture that he also ranks with Randy Newman as one of the funniest writers around. How can you not laugh at tunes like “Ethylene” or “Solar Sex Panel.”

  7. Chris Koenig

    “ Icy Blue Heart” gives me the chills.

  8. Big fan of all his songs cannot pick top ten. My wife is a fan of Perfectly Good Guitar. Bring the Family in it’s entirety is a Desert Island dice for me with Your Dad Did and Alone in The Dark killer plusThe Usual and Living a Litte, Lauhing a Little from Warming Up To The Ice Age and The Eclipse Sessions is a nice release. I think I know what will be on today’s musical choices…..

  9. Lance McCollum

    Can you get a more simple and beautiful tune as ‘Somethings Broken In My Heart’? Honorable Mention: ‘My Old Friend’.

  10. ALL OF THE ABOVE and Big Love

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