Joe Diffie, who died Sunday (March 29) from complications from COVID-19, brought an everyman appeal to every song he did. He charted 17 songs on the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, making him a mainstay on radio throughout the ‘90s and early 2000s during the country explosion.
While he co-wrote some of his material, Diffie also had an uncanny ability to pick songs that matched his neo-traditionalist style perfectly. Additionally, as evident below, he made some of the best, most entertaining videos of the ‘90s.
Though he had way more hits than are captured below, here are a few reminders of how integral he was to country musical’s fabric and his lasting legacy.
“Home” (1990, No. 1 on Hot Country Songs)
Diffie’s first single went straight to No. 1 and established him as a neo-traditionalist to be reckoned with. The mid-tempo ballad, written by Fred Lehner and Andy Spooner, lovingly embraces everything that defined home for him from the “swimming hole,” to “the back porch swing” and the when “mama’s sing ‘Amazing Grace.’” Although his work take him away, he is never far away: “My footsteps carry me away but in my mind I’m always going home.”
“If The Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets)” (1991, No. 1)
Being in debt never sounded so good on this, the third single from Diffie’s debut album, A Thousand Winding Roads. Diffie shows his total affinity for western swing with this ditty, written by Ken Spooner and Kim Williams, about there not being enough money to stretch between paychecks. And as the hilarious video exemplifies, there’s a sucker born every minute when it comes to looking for a deal.
“Is It Cold In Here,” (1991, No. 5)
The first single from Diffie’s second album, Regular Joe, this heartbreaking ballad hit top 5 on Hot Country Songs. Drenched in fiddle and pedal steel, the song, co-written by Diffie, asks “Is it cold in here, or is it just you?” as he watches the love die between him and his wife, with no idea on how to rekindle it. There’s no resolution by song’s end, only resignation.
“Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die)” (1993, No. 3)
When we all go, who wouldn’t want one more last night in our favorite watering hole, propped up by the jukebox? The video for this mid-tempo hit, written by Kerry Kurt Phillips, Howard Perdew and Rick Blaylock, throws off serious Weekend at Bernie’s vibes, while the song’s many killer lines include, “You can pay your respects one quarter at a time.”
“John Deere Green” (1993, No. 5)
Written by songwriting legend Dennis Linde, this mid-tempo charmer and third single from Honky Tonk Attitude, tells of a high school boy, Billy Bob, declaring his everlasting love to girlfriend, Charlene, by spray painting, “Billy Bob Loves Charlene” on their town’s water tower. In the song, the word and the love endure for decades.
“Third Rock from the Sun” (1994, No. 1)
From the first line, “She walks through Smokey’s one hip at a time,” it’s clear that life on earth can be complicated and fraught with temptation of all kinds. This upbeat title track from Diffie’s fourth studio album examines our human condition with humor — thanks to songwriters Sterling Whipple, Tony Martin and John Greenebaum, and Diffie’s perfect delivery.
“Pickup Man” (1994, No. 1)
Diffie’s biggest hit spent four weeks atop the charts and with good reason. This ode — written by Kerry Kurt Phllips and Howard Perdew, to a man who’s strongest devotion is to his pick-up truck — was instantly appealing, with its peppy melody matching with Diffie’s affable delivery. Who can argue with the logic of “If it weren’t for trucks, we wouldn’t have tailgates?” No one.
“Bigger Than the Beatles” (1995, No. 1)
Diffie’s last No. 1, released in 1995, was musically country as country could be, but he invokes pop legends The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley and the Eagles to describe how big he and his sweetheart’s love is for each other. Adorable, “She Loves You”-era “yeah, yeah, yeah”s at the end make the song, written by Jeb Stuart Anderson and Steve Dukes, even more memorable.