"Old Dirt Road"
Song by John Lennon
from the album Walls and Bridges
PublishedLennon Music/ATV Music Ltd.
Released26 September 1974 (US)
4 October 1974 (UK)
RecordedJuly–August 1974
LabelApple Records
Songwriter(s)John Lennon/Harry Nilsson
Producer(s)John Lennon
Walls and Bridges track listing
12 tracks

"Old Dirt Road" is a song written by John Lennon and Harry Nilsson, first released on Lennon's 1974 album Walls and Bridges.[1] Nilsson later recorded the song on his 1980 album Flash Harry.

Lyrics & music

Lennon and Nilsson wrote "Old Dirt Road" while Lennon was working with Nilsson producing Nilsson's Pussy Cats album.[2][3] Lennon had written the first verse, when he was interrupted by some business people, and asked Nilsson to provide an "Americanism."[3] Nilsson provided a line, which Lennon incorporated into the song.[3] Nilsson then continued writing part of the song.[3]

"Old Dirt Road" uses the road as a metaphor for a point of stability in an unstable world and a life subject to variability.[4] In the line originally provided by Nilsson, life is described as "trying to shovel smoke with a pitchfork in the wind."[3][4] Even though the road is apparently stable, it too is at risk from the possibility of a mudslide.[4] The singer advises the listener to just "keep on keepin' on."[4] The lyrics incorporate a reference to Bob Nolan's song "Cool Water," where someone on the old dirt road suggests that the only thing needed is "cool, clear water."[4] According to authors Ben Urish and Ken Bielen, the lyrics don't "make much literal sense but somehow sound right on an intuitive level."[4] Music critic Johnny Rogan finds the mood of the song to be "stoical rather than despairing" and describes the lyrics as laissez-faire.[5]

The song is in the form of a ballad, with some country music influence.[4][5] Jesse Ed Davis' guitar contributes to the country atmosphere.[5] Musically, it reproduces some of the sound from Lennon's Imagine album in employing dual pianos, one played by Lennon and one played by Nicky Hopkins.[5] Urish and Bielen describe the music as "mournful and relaxed."[4] John Blaney claims that it captures "an atmosphere of listless intoxication."[3] Music journalist Paul du Noyer believes that Charlie Patton's "Ain't Goin' Down That Dirt Road" may have been an influence on the song.[2]

Critical reception

Lennon biographer Geoffery Giuliano describes "Old Dirt Road" as a "throwaway."[6] AllMusic critic Richard Ginell does not rate the song highly either.[7] However, AllMusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine describes it as "an enjoyable pop song."[8] Johnny Rogan praises the "interesting imagery" of the lyrics, particularly the line about shovelling smoke.[5]

Lennon himself dismissed the song as "just a song" and that he and Nilsson wrote it because they were drunk and nothing better to do.[2] However, music journalist Paul du Noyer believes that Lennon under-rated the song, as he did with several other songs of this period.[2] Author John Blaney agrees with du Noyer, believing that Lennon under-rated the song because it was written during a difficult period in Lennon's life, when he was separated from Yoko Ono and doing a lot of drinking and consuming drugs with Nilsson.[3]

Other versions

A very early sketch of the song was included on Lennon's album Menlove Ave. and a more developed version, including acoustic guitar was included on John Lennon Anthology.[3] The country music feel of the song is more pronounced on the Menlove Ave. version, as Jesse Ed Davis' guitar part is heard on its own.[5] The Menlove Ave. version also makes more transparent the influence of chain gang songs on the "cool, clear water" line.[5] The Anthology version differs from the Walls and Bridges version in the bridge and the ending, and also lacks the overdubs that were added to the Walls and Bridges version.[9]


Harry Nilsson, who co-wrote the lyrics with Lennon and performed on Lennon's version,[2] also recorded his own version of the song for his 1980 album Flash Harry, on which Lennon's former bandmate Ringo Starr plays drums.[4][7][9][10] According to AllMusic critic Richard Ginell, Nilsson's version is similar to Lennon's, albeit Nilsson sings it "in a somewhat strangled voice."[7] Chip Madinger and Mark Easter agree that Nilsson's version is similar to Lennon's.[9]


The musicians who performed on the original recording were as follows:[3][11][12]


  1. ^ Erlewine, S.T. "Walls and Bridges". AllMusic. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Noyer, Paul Du (2010). "Walls and Bridges". John Lennon: The Stories Behind Every Song 1970–1980 (Rev. ed.). London: Carlton Books Ltd. p. 105. ISBN 978-1-84732-665-2.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Blaney, J. (2007). Lennon and McCartney: together alone : a critical discography of their solo work. Jawbone Press. pp. 93–94. ISBN 978-1-906002-02-2.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Urish, B. & Bielen, K. (2007). The Words and Music of John Lennon. Praeger. p. 58. ISBN 978-0-275-99180-7.((cite book)): CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Rogan, J. (1997). The Complete Guide to the Music of John Lennon. Omnius Press. pp. 89, 144. ISBN 0-7119-5599-9.
  6. ^ Giuliano, G. (2001). Lennon in America: 1971–1980, Based in Part on the Lost Lennon Diaries. University of Michigan. p. 63. ISBN 978-1-4616-3561-1.
  7. ^ a b c Ginell, R.S. "Flash Harry". AllMusic. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
  8. ^ Erlewine, S.T. "Walls and Bridges". AllMusic. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
  9. ^ a b c Madinger, C. & Easter, M. (2000). Eight Arms to Hold You. 44.1 Productions. pp. 89–90. ISBN 0-615-11724-4.
  10. ^ Sheff, D., Lennon, J. & Ono, Y. (2000). All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Macmillan. pp. 216–217. ISBN 978-0-312-25464-3.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ Noyer, Paul Du (2010). "Walls and Bridges". John Lennon: The Stories Behind Every Song 1970–1980 (Rev. ed.). London: Carlton Books Ltd. p. 98. ISBN 978-1-84732-665-2.
  12. ^ "Old Dirt Road". The Beatles Bible. 16 August 2010. Retrieved 23 July 2020.