Written by Bob Montgomery and Johnny Slate
#1 (1 week)
November 10, 1990
Radio & Records
#1 (2 weeks)
October 19 – October 26, 1990
Another week, another fantastic new artist launching their career with a classic No. 1 single.
The Road to No .1
Joe Diffie’s recording career took off like a rocket, but he’d already been performing with his musical family for many years, with his first live performance occuring at the age of seven. His family moved around a lot while he was growing up, and in high school, he was known more for his athleticism than his musical talents. He briefly attended medical school, before dropping out to do a variety of physically demanding jobs. He kept doing music on the side, first performing in a gospel group, and then as part of a bluegrass band.
He built his own music studio and began getting notice in Nashville as a songwriter, scoring an early cut with legend Hank Thompson. After moving to Nashville, he worked at a guitar company while gaining attention for his demos, eventually quitting that job to write and record demos full time. He was on the radar of Epic Records in 1987, but they didn’t sign him to a deal until 1990, when Holly Dunn scored a top five hit with “There Goes My Heart Again;” Diffie co-wrote the hit and sang backing vocals on the recording of it.
The label deliberately chose not to release a video for his debut single, wanting radio to see it as an exclusive just for them. This unique approach paid off, with “Home” becoming the first debut single in country music history to top all three radio charts: Billboard, Radio & Records, and Gavin.
It’s not like they needed the “no video” sweetener to jump on this record. In what is becoming a familiar situation by this period of time, Diffie launched his career with an instant classic country record.
“Home,” Diffie would later observe, resonated with everyone from small town country folk to big city dwellers, because the sentiment of being nostalgic for early childhood memories that you’ve left behind is as universal as it gets. Who can’t relate to “the rainbows I’ve been chasing keep on fading before I find my pot of gold”?
There were already many great young traditional singers on the radio, but Diffie still managed to stand out, with a voice that is clearly influenced by the honky tonk greats but has a distinctive sound all its own.
It’s still such a moving and powerful record, made all the more poignant today as Diffie’s voice was recently silenced at too young of an age. Hearing how good he was from the beginning only compounds the sense of loss.
1990 doesn’t feel like all that long ago, but Diffie is already the fourth chart-topper of the year who is no longer with us, and we have another three to go before the year is out. Out of the seven, only one – Keith Whitley – topped the chart with a posthumous hit.
“In my mind, I’m always going home,” Diffie sings, but he only has a memory to go home to. Sadly, so do we.
The Road From No. 1
Diffie’s first four singles from his debut album, A Thousand Winding Roads, went No. 1 on at least one of the two charts covered in this feature. We’ll see him again three more times in 1991.
“Home” gets an A.