The best Joe Diffie songs capture what was undeniably fun about mainstream country music in the '90s— though of course, the Tulsa, Okla. native could sing tender ballads with the best of them.
After scrapping for attention as a demo singer and songwriter in the '80s, Diffie gained traction in Nashville right as someone with his mighty voice, light sense of humor and ear for dance floor favorites was pretty much a shoo-in for success. The Grand Ole Opry member —and Grammy award winner— went on to live the full creative cycle of a veteran country singer. This path, of course, includes memorable Christmas songs, a sincere bluegrass album and a Highwaymen/Old Dogs style supergroup with Sammy Kershaw and Aaron Tippin.
Here's 10 of the biggest hits from the late Diffie's career heyday.
10. "Third Rock From the Sun" (Third Rock From the Sun, 1994)
Diffie laments a long series of hard-to-follow calamities, all because the police chief lied to his poor wife. It's one of several white-hot takes on honky-tonk made back then by country singers raised on a steady diet of Hank Williams Jr. and Molly Hatchet.
9. "Honky Tonk Attitude" (Honky Tonk Attitude, 1993)
This title track from 1993 captures Diffie in full rocking country form. It's simply a fun song, made for a night of boot-scooting fun at the local watering hole. It's since been name-dropped in Chris Young's "Raised on Country."
8. "It's Always Somethin'" (A Night to Remember, 1999)
Diffie slowed things down at times for sentimental statements like "Home" and this late-decade update on the hitmaker's formula. Everything about this, from the lyrics to the vocal delivery, resembles '90s Kenny Chesney more so than Diffie's earlier reference points.
7. "Just a Regular Joe" (Regular Joe, 1992)
Diffie pours one out for once-common folks who've escaped small-town doldrums and successfully chased their musical dreams in Nashville. It's from the same album as the bitingly sarcastic "Is It Cold in Here" and the two-steppable "Next Thing Smokin'."
6. "Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die)" (Honky Tonk Attitude, 1993)
When you're out traveling and searching for radio signals, this song's just as likely to come blaring from a classic country station as any era-specific classic by Brooks & Dunn or George Strait— and for good reason. It's as iconic now as Mark Chesnutt and Alan Jackson's own jukebox musings.
5. "Ships That Don't Come In" (Regular Joe, 1992)
While most of these songs lead to smiles and laughs, this early career classic takes a somber tone. It celebrates the American soldiers lost overseas, as well as veterans struggling on the home front. Fellow '90s star John Berry cites it as his main inspiration to chase his Nashville dream.
For more examples of Diffie's introspective side, which gets overshadowed by nostalgia for his lighter-hearted material, there's quite a few listening options, such as "Somethin' Like This," "A Night to Remember," "So Help Me Girl," "In Another World," "If You Want Me To," Mary Chapin Carpenter duet "Not Too Much to Ask" and religious tune "Tougher Than Nails."
Listen to "Ships That Don't Come In" here.
4. "Pickup Man" (Third Rock From the Sun, 1994)
"I've got an eight-foot bed that never has to be made" is one of several clever lines spouted by Diffie's redneck Casanova when explaining how he met all of his truck-crazed ex-wives in traffic jams. The third of Diffie's four No. 1s on the country chart, it's got a clever double-meaning, referencing pickup trucks and pickup artists.
3. "John Deere Green" (Honky Tonk Attitude, 1993)
This cheeky tale chronicles the time Billy Bob chose something other than a seasonal red to spray paint a message of love to Charlene on the town's water tower. In more recent times, it's sparked almost as many memes and '90s jokes as Jackson's "Chattahoochee."
2. "Bigger Than the Beatles" (Life's So Funny, 1995)
The common folks in this rock star name-dropper have it all with each others' love, even if there's a low ceiling on their ambitions. It's the fifth and final No. 1 during Diffie's lifetime and yet another must for any '90s country dance party playlist.
1. "If the Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets)" (A Thousand Winding Roads, 1990)
Diffie's first No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart —and the anchor of his debut studio album— remains his greatest hit. His loose, fun sense of humor pairs almost perfectly with a mix of Southern honky-tonk and swinging Texas county music. For other examples of this winning formula, consult honorable mention tracks "This is Your Brain" and "New Way (To Light Up an Old Flame)."
This post was originally published on May 11, 2018.
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