“Norma Jean Riley”
Written by Rob Honey, Monty Powell, and Dan Truman
Radio & Records
#1 (1 week)
June 19, 1992
The genre’s hottest band scores another No. 1 hit from their debut album.
The Road to No. 1
After topping the charts in 1991 with their debut single, “Meet in the Middle,” Diamond Rio went top five with the next two singles from Diamond Rio: “Mirror Mirror” and “Mama Don’t Forget to Pray For Me.”
Another Billboard No. 1 would remain elusive until 1997, but they returned to the top of Radio & Records with their fourth single release.
The No. 1
Arista had a trend in the early nineties of waiting to release the most distinctive single from their breakthrough acts, letting them establish themselves at radio with three hits before putting something more left of center in front of radio DJs. For Pam Tillis, that was “Maybe it Was Memphis.” For Brooks & Dunn, it would be “Boot Scootin’ Boogie.” And for Diamond Rio, it’s “Norma Jean Riley.”
“Meet in the Middle” alluded to Diamond Rio’s bluegrass roots with its instrumentation, but “Norma Jean Riley” is as full-on bluegrass as anything on country radio this side of Ricky Skaggs. Marty Roe’s phrasing is insane, elongating his notes and going as high-pitched and twangy as a modern day Ralph Stanley.
The boys behind him stack the harmonies, creating that high lonesome sound usually reserved for ballads, but always a heap of fun when applied to a rave up. It’s a shame Diamond Rio never fully tapped this vein again, though some of their later downtempo tracks would borrow heavily from the same sound, particularly “Night is Fallin’ in My Heart.”
Anyway, it’s a winner, and 1992 is officially on a hot streak.
The Road From No. 1
Diamond Rio produced another fantastic top five record in “Nowhere Bound.” The band then released their sophomore album, Close to the Edge, which went gold and produced two top five hits: “In a Week or Two” and “Oh Me, Oh My, Sweet Baby.” Those two songs were added to the project after Arista rejected the album in its first incarnation, deeming it too week. The boys bounced back critically and commercially with their third album. We’ll cover its lead single and title track when we get to 1994.
“Norma Jean Riley” gets an A.
Previous: Trisha Yearwood, “The Woman Before Me” |
Next: Wynonna, “I Saw the Light”