The Infinite Jukebox: The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s ‘House at Pooh Corner’

The Nitty Gritty Dirt band have never made much of a splash in the UK. Unless they featured on the old Sounds of the Seventies strand (which musically I was not able to comprehend until much later in the decade). But there were two singles, one from 1972 and the other from 1973, that got decent if not excessive airplay, enough to impress both upon me as favourites that should have had a better reception.
The first of these was ‘House at Pooh Corner’, a Kenny Loggins song that was a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band original, appearing on their classic 1970 album ‘Uncle Charlie and his dog Teddy’ and a 1971 US single that decorated the bottom half of the Hot 100. These were the days when American singles were always delayed for UK release, most of the time by at least six months.
These were also the days of home taping off the radio, with a four-track mono reel-to-reel recorder that was by no means instant when it came to starting a recording. Given the brevity of the track’s intro, I never managed to get a full recording, only one that started a half-line into the song.
That line sets the tone immediately, demonstrating that the title is literal. Christopher Robin and I walked along, sings John McEuen, under branches lit up by the Moon. They have questions for Owl and Eeyore, but already the days are disappearing too soon. The singer is both boy and man, child and adult, at one and the same time participating in Pooh and Christopher Robin’s world and distanced from it.
That verse is sung with joy and a nostalgic glow, but a plaintive note is introduced as we lead in to the chorus. The singer has wandered too far away, and now he can’t find his way to the Three Acre Wood (it’s Hundred Acre Wood in the books, but you trying fitting the extra syllable into the scansion).
The chorus makes it all explicit, as the singer pleads for help, to get back to the house at Pooh Corner by one. There are so many unimportant things to do, all the unnecessary importances of childhood, but the singer is now too far away, the adult that was once and never again be the child, wanting to go back to the days of Christopher Robin and Pooh.
The second verse is pure fantasy, pure A A Milne. Pooh’s got a honey jar stuck on his nose. The singer can’t help him but sends him to Owl, for help in loosening a jar from the nose of a bear.
And we swing back into the chorus, but this time the plaintiveness is replaced by a wistful acceptance that there is no such hope, that the Three Acre Wood is beyond reach, except in those precious memories of friends we will never play alongside again. Back to the days of Christopher Robin. Back to the ways of Christopher Robin. Back to the ways of Pooh.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were and are a country rock band. There’s a strong pop flavour to ‘House at Pooh Corner’, with an undertone of wah-wah guitar that adds a slight flavour of funk, but it’s a strong band performance, with superb unison harmonies supplementing the lead vocals.
The song was written by Loggins in his last year at high school, in 1967, but the Nitty Gritties recorded it first, before Loggins began his recording career with Jim Messina. Loggins didn’t record it himself until his own career, started, and much later re-named it ‘Return to Pooh Corner’ and added a retrospective third verse about the singer and his own son. I’m used to the simplicities of the Nitty Gritty version so even though that’s the writer’s own interpretation, I found the slower, acoustic arrangement and Loggins’ more affected singing to be twee already before the extra verse seals the impression in concrete.
No, I can only return to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, to the energy and emotion they bring to this song. The fantasia is simple but heartfelt and the performance and the harmonies create a perfect sound stage. We’ve all been there. So many of us would give much to return, even if only for a golden hour in the middle of a life of stress and strain. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band sing as if they know that. They also know it can’t be done, but they capture the exact shade of longing for such an impossibility.

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