Alongside Charley Pride, John Prine, and Kenny Rogers, Joe Diffie is another country music star we lost in 2020. As a way to remember the artist, we’re looking back at a few of the singer’s hits that ultimately defined country music throughout the ’90s.
When you think about quintessential country music stars of the ’90s, names like Reba, Garth, and Alan come to mind. However, it would be neglectful not to consider Joe Diffie’s contributions to country music over the decades.
The Oklahoma native paved the way for future country music generations. Songs such as “Home,” “John Deere Green,” and “Third Rock From the Sun” set the standard for the Morgan Wallen and Luke Combs of the country music world we have today.
Joe Diffie’s debut single checked all the boxes of a classic, textbook country song: resonating guitar, pleasant memories of better times, and Diffie’s standalone vocals.
“Home” is a nostalgic trip down memory lane wherein the narrator reminisced about swimming holes and fishing poles. The vivid imagery of his mother cooking dinner and his father sitting in his chair tugs at your heartstrings. It’s a heartbreaking tune that exemplifies Diffie’s signature storytelling.
“Pickup Man” (1994)
Undoubtedly, “Pickup Man” is one of the best truck songs in country music history. Its success can be attributed to the songwriters: Howard Perdew and Kerry Kurt Phillips.
Their high caliber wordplay and Joe Diffie’s smooth delivery make the song a classic hit. It became his signature song, spending four consecutive weeks at No. 1 on country music charts.
“John Deere Green” (1993)
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention this classic country gem. In “John Deere Green,” Joe Diffie gave listeners a snapshot of small-town romance that made us yearn for simpler times.
A Top Five hit off his Honky Tonk Attitude, the imagery in the song plowed the way for Jason Aldean’s “Big Green Tractor” 16 years later. A toe-tapping beat, a rich guitar line, and Joe Diffie’s twang made the song as colorful as its title.
“Honky Tonk Attitude” (1993)
Diffie co-wrote “Honky Tonk Attitude” as an ode to the line dancing movement that took over country music clubs in the ’90s. This song’s video perfectly portrays so many beloved traits of ’90s country: tight pants, line dance, Stetson hats, and Cowboy boots.
“Honky Tonk Attitude” hit the Top Five in 1993 and proved to listeners his voice was one for the ages.
“Ships That Don’t Come In” (1992)
Arguably considered to be Joe Diffie’s most significant piece of work, “Ships That Don’t Come In” gives listeners a beautifully stripped-down version of Diffie’s voice. The emotion that pours out of the poetic lyrics about a man hitting rock bottom and finding solace with an old man at a bar he finds to be a “kindred fool.” Right before the two drown in their sorrows, the old man lifts his glass and gives a toast to all those who never had it as good as some do now.
His powerful lyrics speak of sympathy for the homeless and mentally ill. Joe Diffie also pays homage to the soldiers who died in wars and ended the story with a final toast to “those who wait forever for ships that don’t come in.” The song deserves to be in the same bracket as Garth Brooks’ “The Dance” and Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High on That Mountain” as one of the best of ’90s story songs.