Ten songs in, Jason Aldean‘s new album, “Night Train,” throws out a curve ball that will have crowds of 20-somethings chanting the name of a classic country artist whose biggest hits came when they were still in diapers.
It’s a country hip-hop gem called “1994,” and with its sly references and chant of “Hey, Joe, Joe, Joe Diffie!” the song is an instant standout. Aldean producer Michael Knox says that after he and the singer heard the demo of the song, penned by Thomas Rhett, Luke Laird and Barry Dean, “it was like, ‘Dude, we have to cut this. This is the funniest, coolest thing I’ve ever heard.’ Jason said, ‘I know.'”
Watch Thomas Rhett Perform ‘1994’ in July
“I was a junior in high school in ’94,” Aldean says, “and Joe Diffie was huge. I remember I went to the Cherry Blossom Street Party in Macon [Ga.], with Kenny Chesney on one stage and Joe Diffie on the other stage, and there was 5,000 people watching Joe Diffie and about 500 watching Kenny Chesney.”
Jason Aldean On Billboard
In 1994, Diffie’s highest-charting album, Third Rock From the Sun, reached No. 6 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, and “Pickup Man” spent four weeks atop Hot Country Songs. The irony of name-checking the ultra-country Diffie in a country-funk song represents the marriage of hip-hop and country like nothing else to date.
“The only thing I was concerned about with that song was having my younger fan base not really get it, because of it being ’94 and it making reference to some of his song titles,” Aldean says. “There may be some younger fans that have to do some research and figure out who Joe Diffie is, but obviously people in the business know he’s a great singer and one of the best vocalists we’ve had in this town in years.”
Billboard sent the song to Diffie to gauge his reaction. “First of all, wow!” was his response. “Jason’s found a really cool niche and he dang sure delivered on ‘1994’-big time. I mean, what else can you say but what an honor it is to have the larger part of a song reference songs of mine. To think all of Jason’s fans will be chanting my name… pretty dang cool.”
Diffie calls himself an Aldean fan. “I really like how Jason is pushing the envelope of today’s country music,” he says. “It’s a tough thing to do and takes a lot of cojones.”
In the end, “every time I hear the song, it puts a huge grin on my face,” Diffie says. “It makes me feel that what I worked so hard at actually mattered to someone.”