The first single from FGL's second album, the song was released to country radio and digital sales outlets on July 8, 2014. The duo played the heartfelt tune for the first time on Jimmy Fallon's The Tonight Show the same day.
The FGL pair knew they wanted to cut the song the first time it was played to them. "We had goose bumps the first time we heard it. With most of our other singles, you don't have to think at all, it's a self-explanatory feel-good song," Brian Kelley told People. "But this one makes you dig a little deeper, makes you think about your life and where you're at and where you want to be."
The song's music video features a couple's story from the time that they fell in love in 1968 to the wife's passing many years later. While the man is burying her, he tells the story of their lives together, which all started in dirt. The older man in the story is played by J.D. Souther
, who co-wrote several songs for the Eagles.
The song debuted at #11 on the Hot 100, the highest ever entrance for a country duo in the chart's history.
Chris Tompkins hails from Muscle Shoals, a small town in Alabama, and the opening lines of the song were directly inspired by the place where he was raised:
You get your hands on it
Plant your roots in it.
He explained to Billboard magazine: "My hometown is pretty much an oak tree, a volunteer fire department and a high school football team... Oh, and a funeral home."
Inspired by the the intro, Rodney Clawson and Chris Tompkins carried on writing the song. "I just kind of threw out the '10 percent down, white-picket-fence house' line. That kind of sealed the deal on the song, kind of nailed it home," Clawson told Billboard. "We kind of got a girl in there a little bit, but then we want to marry this girl, we want to build her a house and raise a family and all that."
The song ends with the fateful day that will happen all to us:
You know you came from it
Someday you'll return to it.
"We kind of fought in our minds not to put that in there," Clawson reflected. "We thought that was the obvious, Biblical thing to kind of throw in there, and then by the time we got to the end of the song, the way it was written it just seemed like it had to be in there …"
"And then if you ever grow up on a farm or in that rural country, it seems like it always keeps pulling you back," he added, "and someday you'll end up back there, so it was the whole double meaning."
FGL were inspired to record the song because of its reminder of their country roots. "We've done the party songs, we've done the upbeat fun stuff, and this is just a song that everybody can relate to," Tyler Hubbard said. "People young or people older, everybody kinda has that place in their life that's home and that they have a special spot in their heart for."
It was Chris Tompkins who originally came up with the "dirt" idea. He recalled to Bart Herbison of Nashville Songwriters Association International
"We had a fairly new house, so we were putting in a pool. And I looked outside, and I was staring out the window and I saw a big pile of dirt out there. And, I think in the morning, I was drinking coffee. You know, I was kind of just doing my morning zombie thing. It just kind of popped in my head, the whole idea."
Tompkins was originally thinking of using "dirt" in a going-out-on-Friday-night song. "You get your hands in it and you spin your tires on it, you write her name in it." he said. Then Tompkins remembered he had a co-write coming up with Rodney Clawson, whose has farmed in Texas for well over a decade and whom he calls "Mr. Dirt."
When Tomkins told Clawson he'd got an idea to write a song called "Dirt," the Texan immediately came on board. "I think I can do that," he said. "I've farmed in Texas for 15 years, so I've been around a lot of dirt."
"In the chorus, it kind of shifted gears," Clawson added. "I remembered my dad farmed for more than 50 years. And my granddad until he was 95."
"Then, you always want to have a way to land it," he continued. "I think I was messing around with the line about a girl having mud on her pants or something and we just stumbled into the end of it. It ended up, you know you throw a girl in there, but then you want to marry her. You put her in a house that is on that dirt. That kind of sealed the deal."