Every #1 Country Single of the Nineties: Diamond Rio, “Meet in the Middle”

“Meet in the Middle”

Diamond Rio

Written by Jim Foster, Chapin Hartford, and Don Pfrimmer

Billboard

#1 (2 weeks)

June 1 – June 8, 1991

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

May 17, 1991

Diamond Rio becomes the first country band in history to top the charts with their debut single.

The Road to No. 1

Like Alan Jackson and Pam Tillis before them, Diamond Rio was another example of Arista Record identifying a long-gestating act perfectly primed for breakthrough success.  Diamond Rio began in 1982 as the Grizzly River Boys, named after the Opryland amusement park area that they were created to play in.  They disliked the name, and eventually changed it to the Tennessee River Boys.

The band rotated through several lead singers, including future country star Ty Herndon, before settling on Marty Roe.  After leaving the park in 1985, the band played local venues, their lineup changing multiple times.  They competed on Star Search, but were eliminated early on.  However,  the band continued to circulate demos until finally capturing the attention of Arista’s upstart Nashville division.  He wanted to sign Marty Roe as a solo artist, but seeing the band open for George Jones convinced him to sign them as a unit.

Diamond Rio’s debut album was recorded before they had changed their band name or performed under the new moniker. Their lead single went to radio in February of 1991.

The No. 1 

 Diamond Rio started hot, topping both industry charts with “Meet in the Middle.”  Debut No. 1 hits were becoming more commonplace, and eventually they wouldn’t be much of an indicator of quality or longevity.

But “Meet in the Middle” indicated right away that Diamond Rio had the talent and good taste in material to last.   It’s a perfect record.   Beautifully written and pristinely produced, with Marty Roe immediately establishing himself as a stellar lead vocalist, and their bluegrass-laden harmonies standing out among the crowded field of vocal groups that were still cripping most of their sound from Alabama.

You’d never know by listening to it that this was a band that had undergone so many lineup changes before the final sextet was in place.   They sound like they’ve been singing together forever.

It really doesn’t get any better than this.

The Road From No. 1

Diamond Rio’s debut album would produce five major hits.  The next two, “Mirror Mirror” and “Mama Don’t Forget to Pray For Me”, were top five hits.  The fourth single returned the band to the penthouse. We’ll cover it when we get to 1992.

“Meet in the Middle” gets an A. 

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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9 Comments

  1. Completely agree with the assessment above. Did you know there was a Shenandoah connection for Diamond Rio ? Shenandoah owned the rights to the name “Diamond Rio” but rather than put them through the legal travail that Shenandoah went through with their name, Shenandoah simply assigned the rights to the name over to Marty Roe & Company

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diamond_Rio

  2. Yes, this is a perfect song and what a way to introduce themselves to radio! Their harmonies and even their instrumentation (particularly the sound of their drums and keyboard) is unique. I also think their debut album was almost flawless.

  3. This song is one of the reasons I still think of 1991 as one of the greatest years eve in country mssic

  4. One of those songs that even non country fans know and love. Still sounds as good today as 30 yrs ago.

  5. I always associate this song with mowing my mom’s suburban backyard in Plymouth, Minnesota while listening to KEEY K-102 on my sister’s Sony Walkman radio. The high harmonies rang above the punchy instrumentation. The song popped and snapped. It sounded so clean and crisp.

    A classic 90’s country song.

    I loved the entire debut album. I was amazed that it included an instrumental. Judging from the other comments, I am wondering if Diamond Rio might be getting a bit more love now than they did in their day, as they never quite regained the popular magic and excitement they achieved with their debut single. Critics often hung some form of backhanded praise on them especially as they drifted towards of an adult contemporary, MOR sound on their later albums.

    Much like Joe Diffie’s work, I enjoyed all their albums and thought they deserved more credit for their output, musicianship, and creativity. The instrumentation was always so smart and sharp. Each album contained at least one stunning, sterling performance. Marty Roe should have been celebrated as an exceptional vocalist every bit the equal of Ronnie Dunn.

    This song singularly takes me back to 1991.

  6. As I mentioned in this song’s appearance on the Sirius list, this is still, by far, one of the coolest debut singles from a new country band ever. Even as a six year old in ’91, I noticed how unique this song sounded compared to what else was mostly being played at the time, and I thought it was one of the coolest songs I’d ever heard the first time I was introduced to it on the radio. And like fellow Arista artist Pam Tillis’ debut single, this song still sounds incredibly fresh 30 years later. That opening guitar by Jimmy Olander is just so unique, and the sound of Brian Prout’s drumming really stands out. And that famous chorus with the signature harmonies is still irresistible.

    I specifically remember the first time I heard it, it was when my parents and I were all out on the back deck of the house, and we had the little old pink radio on while we were there. It instantly become one of my favorites, and I remember always getting excited whenever I happened to hear it again. Then one night when I was doing some more recording from the radio, it was starting to get closer to the end of the tape as I was recording Lacy J. Dalton’s “Crazy Blue Eyes.” Welp, guess what song they decided to play next? I was excited that “Meet In The Middle” was coming back on, but unfortunately, I knew that it wasn’t going to make it all the way though on the tape. Both my dad and step dad were also there, and I remember telling them that this was my new favorite song and expressing my disappointment that it had to be at the end of the tape. Well, needless to say, I had many other chances to get the full song since then, so not all was lost, lol.

    Like Peter and Leeann, I also really like Diamond Rio’s debut album, along with most all of their other albums. Even back in the 90’s, their overall sound always really stood out no matter what song from them it was, and I’ve always loved their harmonies, especially on the ballads. And even though this particular song remained a very popular recurrent on the radio, I can honestly say that I never got tired of it.

    Btw, I really enjoyed reading some of the background info on this one, and I never knew that they were on Star Search or that Marty Roe was almost signed as a solo artist instead. I just can’t imagine Diamond Rio NOT being known as a band.

  7. We always talk about the Class of 89, but a while back Billboard did an article on the Class of 91, and while it didn’t exactly produce the game-changing, long-lasting superstars that 1989 did, the list of artists who released their debut albums 30 years ago is still quite long and quite impressive: Tracy Lawrence, Sammy Kershaw, Brooks & Dunn, Diamond Rio, Pam Tillis, Trisha Yearwood, Aaron Tippin, Hal Ketchum, Collin Raye, Billy Dean, Little Texas and McBride & The Ride.

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