Every #1 Country Single of the Nineties: Joe Diffie, “Home”


Joe Diffie

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: BillboardRadio & Records, and Gavin.

The No.1

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. 

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

Previous: Reba McEntire, “You Lie” | Next: Holly Dunn, “You Really Had Me Going”


  1. the fun story that goes along with this, is that Alan Jackson’s own “Home” (different song, same title…) was due to be released at this time, but Diffie beat them to the punch. Jackson’s team ended up hanging on to the song and releasing it as a single off his Greatest Hits album around 1994, IIRC. Two outstanding songs….very glad they didn’t have to compete directly against each other!

  2. Good song – another that I never heard before. (also never heard of the songwriters or the producers). Although i may have said before that i began listening to country radio in 92, i probably didn’t follow it til 93 or 94. For quite a while now I haven’t listened to it at all.

  3. I always hoped Diffie would come home to this style of sincere music again.

    What a genuine, classic song about where we were raised. It still plays so well today.

    Nashville kept dropping its bucket into a seemingly bottomless well of talent and bringing up artists like Joe Diffie.

    I don’t think Nashville knew what to do with him. He was a versatile vocalist with a wicked sense of humour. His novelty songs were as strong as his ballads.

    My buddy always had this album and Shenandoah’s “Extra mile” cassette on the bench seat of his first truck.

    I enjoyed all Diffie’s later albums even when he had lost some of the momentum that started here.

  4. As I mentioned in another entry from this feature, it’s simply amazing how stacked the talent was on country radio as this time. The Class of ’89 was making serious headway, a good number of 70’s and 80’s veteran artists were still racking up hits, 80’s established stars like Strait, Reba, Randy Travis, and Alabama were still going strong, and then you had guys like Vince Gill, Joe Diffie, Mark Chesnutt, Doug Stone, etc. breaking through with instant classics.

    This is, hands down, still one of Diffie’s finest moments on record. The melancholy, world weary tone in his voice fits the song’s theme perfectly, it has a beautiful memorable melody, and lovely dobro playing. This song actually takes me back to early 1992, as that’s when I remember hearing it the most, and it’s on one of my tapes I recorded from that time. It’s also another one I remember revisiting many years later in my teens, making me very interested in picking up his early albums. Joe’s debut record was not an easy one to track down, as it had already been out of print by then, but boy was it well worth it! Just great, early 90’s neo-traditional country at its best, from start to finish.

    A little over a year later, it remains a huge tragedy that this major talent is no longer with us.

  5. …i still remember when i heard him for the first time: “if the devil danced in empty pockets”, autumn 1991, sunday morning on bob kingsley’s acc-show, coming from a radio station near logan on our way from salt lake city to jackson hole. bought the cd and all that followed and still stack any six of them into the charger of my car player every once in a while barely skipping a song later. there are not many country artists, old and new, male or female, whose catalogue passes that “exam” as effortlessly as joe diffie’s still does. what a singer he was.

  6. “Home” was a great song and I loved the album A Thousand Winding Roads and wound up buying ALL of Joe’s subsequent albums. His early death was truly a tragedy for fans of good country music

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