Joe Diffie Starter Kit

Joe DiffieToday, the Starter Kit returns to Country Universe, and it brings a new theme with it: Back to the Nineties.
Beginning this month, we’ll be putting a special focus on the artists most closely associated with the nineties boom, which remains the most commercially successful era in the history of country music.

The first artist to be featured is Joe Diffie, a wonderful balladeer who had his greatest success with novelty material. At one point, he was known in Nashville as Joe Ditty, a moniker that masked the fact that he continued to record heartbreaking ballads but had trouble getting them on the radio.

With that in mind, Diffie’s Starter Kit is also the first to introduce a slight tweak to the format. This and future Starter Kits will include Ten Essential Tracks and Two Hidden Treasures, allowing for should’ve been hits to be acknowledged along with the signature songs.

Ten Essential Tracks

from the 1990 album A Thousand Winding Roads

Today, it might be quickly dismissed as the latest nostalgic “list song”, and perhaps this would be little more than that in lesser hands. But Diffie’s wistful pining for home is a lot closer in spirit to Porter Wagoner’s “Green, Green Grass of Home” than it is to anything contemporary. As Diffie’s first single, it’s interesting to hear him still finding himself as a singer, with quite a bit of his phrasing borrowed from Merle Haggard.

“Is it Cold in Here”
from the 1992 album Regular Joe

Diffie led off his second album with this single that posed the following question to his wife: “Is it cold in here, or is it just you?”  It’s anything but bitter, as he mournfully searches for what he’s done wrong that’s led to the sudden chill.

“Ships That Don’t Come In”
from the 1992 album Regular Joe

Two strangers that are down on their luck compare battle scars at a local bar. Before fully giving in to their self-pity, they realize that even though they’ve tried and failed, there are those who’ve never been given the chance to even try.

“Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die)”
from the 1993 album Honky Tonk Attitude

A country comedy star is born.

“John Deere Green”
from the 1993 album Honky Tonk Attitude

A delightfully corny tale of a smitten young man who is ready to let the world know he loves Charlene in a quite unconventional way.

“In My Own Backyard”
from the 1993 album Honky Tonk Attitude

In what would become a growing trend, radio didn’t embrace the classic country hurt of a Diffie ballad. Despite his previous three uptempo songs going top five, this killer track barely grazed the top twenty.

“Third Rock From the Sun”
from the 1994 album Third Rock From the Sun

Diffie reached his commercial peak with the album that shared a title with this mind-bending single, a cleverly written saga of cause-and-effect in a small town that’s anything but boring.

“Texas Size Heartache”
from the 1998 album Greatest Hits

After going to the well too many times in the mid-nineties, radio grew tired of Diffie’s ditties, but they hadn’t rediscovered his ballads either. He got back on track with this pleasing mid-tempo that split the difference between the two, earning his first real hit in three years.

“A Night to Remember”
from the 1999 album A Night to Remember

Quite possibly Diffie’s finest moment, a powerful song about a man who surrenders to memories of his long lost love at the end of a long week of pretending to be doing fine without her.

“It’s Always Somethin'”
from the 1999 album A Night to Remember

I suspect that Dierks Bentley keeps this one on his favorite songs playlists. Every mile’s a memory here, with everything that Diffie sees and does reminding him of the woman he still loves.

Two Hidden Treasures:

“Good Brown Gravy”
from the 1994 album Third Rock From the Sun

Diffie’s dittying reaches its dizzying peak, with this uproarious salute to the amorous power of biscuit lotion.

“That Road Not Taken”
from the 1994 album Third Rock From the Sun

This shockingly stopped at #40, despite Diffie’s three previous singles reaching the top two. It flew way over the head of country radio, but it remains a heart-stopping ballad, possibly the finest showcase there is of Diffie’s raw vocal talent.


  1. Great list. I would have included ‘New Way To Light Up An Old Flame’ and ‘Whole Lotta Gone’.

    ‘A Night To Remember’ is my favorite from Joe Diffie. You hardly hear it on the radio anymore though.

  2. J.R., You’re in luck. He’s on the list.

    I’ve always liked Joe Diffie, even though he is more well known for those novelty songs. I even like a few of those, including “Good Brown Gravy.”:)

    I think my favorite Diffie song is “Ships that Don’t Come In.” There’s a lot of emotion in his voice, not to mention it’s a killer song.

  3. Oh, cool! Can’t wait to see who else is covered here.

    As for Joe Diffie, I love every song here, especially the ballads like “Is It Cold In Here” and “A Night To Remember.” “If You Want Me To” and “In Another World” would make great additions.

    A few of his other hidden treasures:
    “Never Mine To Lose” from Life’s So Funny
    “Better Off Gone” from A Night To Remember
    “The Promised Land” from Twice Upon A Time

    I agree with “That Road Not Taken.” Definitely a powerful song and performance. His earlier version of John Berry’s “If I Had Any Pride Left At All” is also very good. It’s on the Honky Tonk Attitude album.

  4. Nice list. I believe you covered all of my favorites. I also like “The Quittin’ Kind” and I would have chosen “Bigger Than the Beatles” instead of “Prop Me Up…” for the novelty representation. I’m super excited to see who else pops up in this 90s month!

  5. I’m going to be killed for this by Steve from Boston, but I really like Joe Diffie’s version of “The Grandpa that I know”, even better than Patty Loveless’ version. Of course, I like Patty’s version too.;:)

    Other songs that I like:
    Down in A Ditch
    Back to the Cave
    Whole Lotta Gone
    I’d Like to Have A Problem Like That
    Junior’s in Love
    If the Devil Danced in Empty Pockets
    New Way to Light Up an Old Flame
    Tougher than Nails
    Nothin’ But the Radio
    Behind Closed Doors (from the Tribute to Tradition album)
    This is Your Brain
    Show Me A Woman
    I Got A Feelin’
    So Help Me Girl

    I guess I like a lot of his novelty songs, but I also like the songs that Kevin mentioned, specifically “In My Own Backyard”, as a song that was underrated.

  6. James S.,

    I think you’re relatively new around here as a commenter, At least? Just wanted to say “welcome” and that I’ve really enjoyed your participation.

  7. Thanks, Leeann. Yeah, I’m fairly new around these parts :) I try to visit some of the other blogs, as well. I’m really looking forward to 90’s month here.

  8. I think that “Ships That Don’t Come In” was Diffie’s best song, but another of my favorites is “Bigger Than The Beatles” which also made for a terrific video

  9. Ohhh I’m a sucker for Joe Diffie. I went to his concert three or four months ago, and it was really great–he did a cool section where he imitated other singers, which ties in with your comment on his early phrasings.

    I’d have to go with “Something I Do For Me” and “So Help Me Girl” as my top picks.

  10. I’ll throw my hat in the ring and add “Liquid Heartache” to the songs already mentioned. I think “Junior’s in Love” is my favorite of the funny songs. Attempted assault by nail gun is a subject that should be covered more often. I always kind of felt sorry for Joe, because I bet he gets tired of singing those goofy songs over and over, but as was mentioned his ballads never really caught on.

  11. Joe Diffie is a favorite of mine as well. Some of my fav Diffie songs are:
    Down in A Ditch
    Junior’s in Love
    Tougher than Nails
    Show Me A Woman
    My Redneck of the Woods
    My Give a Damn’s Busted
    It’s Hard to Be Me
    Call Me John Doe
    Something I Do for Me

  12. “Bigger Than The Beatles” is my favorite of his novelty songs. “It’s Hard To Be Me” is another good one from his Twice Upon A Time album. Always liked “This Is Your Brain” too.

    I also forgot to add “So Help Me Girl” to my previous list.

  13. Loved “Not Too Much to Ask”, his duet with Mary Chapin Carpenter on her “Come On Come On” cd. After reading the above comments, I’ll have to at least pick up one of his greatest hits collections.

  14. a very nice starter kit. but what’s even more interesting is that the folks commenting came up with a lot more songs that could have been included on that list just as easily. that says a lot about an artist labeled “ditty”. mainstream country rarely sounds better than diffie.

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