Every #1 Single of the Nineties: Diamond Rio, “Love a Little Stronger”

“Love a Little Stronger”

Diamond Rio

Written by Billy Crittenden, Chuck Jones, and Gregory Swint

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

August 12, 1994

Diamond Rio returns to the top for the first time in two years.

The Road to No. 1

Following the No. 1 hit “Norma Jean Riley,” Diamond Rio produced an additional top ten hit with “Nowhere Bound.”  Their sophomore set, Closer to the Edge, produced the top five hits “In a Week or Two” and “Oh Me, Oh My, Sweet Baby.”  The next two singles became their first two releases to miss the top ten, but they bounced back with the title track and lead single of their third album.

The No. 1

“Love a Little Stronger” is very competent.

The harmonies are solid, the musicianship is up to their usual high standard, and the song itself is warm and endearing.

It’s not anything particularly special, though.  It sounds like exactly what it was: a safe and radio-friendly effort designed to get them back in heavy rotation.

I’d call it the least memorable of their No. 1 singles.

The Road From No. 1

Another top ten hit followed from the album, “Night is Fallin’ in My Heart,” and then another two singles missed the top ten:  the noxious “Bubba Hyde” and the glorious “Finish What We Started.”  We’ll see Diamond Rio again with the lead-off single from their creatively titled fourth album, IV.

“Love a Little Stronger” gets a B.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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11 Comments

  1. As much as this single is in Diamond Rio’s wheelhouse, from the harmonies to the musicianship to the subject matter, it is largely unremarkable; as Kevin described it, “a safe and radio-friendly effort.” Nobody started listening to Diamond Rio because of this hit nor did any one stop listening to the band because of this single. It just kept them in the game and moved things along so everyone was willing to wait for what would come next, probably hoping it would be more compelling.

    I will leverage the success of this somewhat bland single to look back to what came before, an earlier Diamond Rio single that deserved to be a much bigger hit, and the songwriter behind it.

    “In A Week or Two,” the lead off single from their second album “Closer to the Edge” deserved a fate better than the dreaded two-spot on the charts it achieved. The song was written by James House and Gary Burr.

    James House was a singer-songwriter who released two Tony Brown-produced albums on MCA, an eponymous release in 1989, which included a version of Jesse’ Winchester’s “Oh What a Thrill” the Mavericks would later soon find succes with in May of 1994 (the Mavericks would also cover the House-Malo song “To Be With you” on their eponymous 1998 album), and “Hard Times for an Honest Man.”

    The title of House’s second album was taken from a song from his debut. Somebody at MCA really believed in that worthy song to allow it a second chance, but it, and House’s career, never took off.

    House would next work with Don Cook as his producer on the 1995 Epic release “Days Gone By.” He would achieve his greatest US chart succes with singles like “Little by Little” and “This is Me Missing You,” but he would never hit the top of the charts, at least not on this side of the pond.

    Unexpectedly, House hit the top of the UK dance chart in 2014 with a remix of “This is Me Missing You.”

    As a songwriter House is most popular for composing Dwight Yoakam’s “Ain’t That Lonely Yet” and Martina McBride’s ” A Broken Wing.”

    “Days Gone By” is a forgotten classic from the mid-nineties. It was a little to pop-influenced and muscular to fully fit in with what was still happening at the top of the country charts at the time. The production is big and punchy and so are House’s dramatic and moody vocals. The album is well worth checking out. “That’s Something (You Don’t See Everyday” is my favourite song from the album.

    In 2012 he and John Brannen formed a duo known as The Troubadour Kings.

    To bring things back underneath Diamond Rio’s roof, you can certainly here House’s inclination to big, swooning vocals and his flair for the theatrical in their recording of “In a Week or Two.” The regret is right their to touch. It’s a great performance.

    This song shined like, well… a diamond, on their second album which was rushed to market following their break-out success.

    • Interestingly, while the band was promoting this album, they revealed that Arista had rejected their second album, Close to the Edge, when first submitted. The band went back into the studio and added two tracks – “In a Week or Two” and “Oh Me, Oh My, Sweet Baby.” The band wondered in the interview that I read if their career would’ve stayed on track without those two additions, which became the album’s only top ten hits.

      I was only following the Billboard chart at the time, but if memory serves, I was rooting for “In a Week or Two” and “Shake the Sugar Tree” to go number one around the same time. They both got close!

  2. I’m in complete agreement with both Kevin and Peter regarding this particular Diamond Rio song. I did always like hearing on the radio as a kid in the 90’s, and it’s still a pleasant enough listen, but not much more. It just doesn’t have that “it” factor to stand out enough from their other superior singles or what else was on the radio in the mid 90’s. It’s still in their wheelhouse though, as Peter mentioned, and the harmonies and overall production are still solid.

    I also agree completely that “In A Week Or Two” deserved better. That’s still one of my favorite Diamond Rio songs, and I like it much better than this one, personally. Heck, I’m still bummed that “Mama Don’t Forget To Pray For Me,” and “Mirror, Mirror” weren’t number ones either. Diamond Rio is another artist in which I’ve found out from this feature that they had less number one hits that I originally thought. Leeann mentioned this in another entry a while back, but “Sawmill Road” from their second album is another one that definitely deserved a better fate at radio. Love that one, too!

    Kevin, “In A Week Or Two” and “Shake The Sugar Tree” were two of my favorite songs on the radio back in late 1992! Both also bring back great memories of when we had just moved into our current house as a seven year old. I actually remember thinking Pam was saying “trick or treat” instead of “sugar tree” the first few times I heard the latter song. Perfect too since it was around Halloween that it was on the radio, lol!

    While we are on the subject of James House, I just want to mention that I absolutely adore “This Is Me Missing You.” It one of the songs from the mid 90’s that brings back some really fond memories for me from that time period, and it’s one I still hold very dear to my heart. By the mid 90’s, we were getting the GAC channel at our house, and it quickly become one of my favorite channels. Because my room didn’t have a TV yet, I had to watch it either downstairs or in my mom’s room. My parents didn’t want me watching it all night on school nights, either. On one of those school nights around 1996, I snuck into my mom’s room to watch GAC while she was busy in the kitchen doing something. About halfway through James House’s video, I suddenly heard her coming and I just pretended to have fallen asleep in her bed (She sometimes let me sleep with her there, anyway). I remember at that moment hoping that she wouldn’t find out just how long I’d been watching, and at the same time still enjoying the song. My other good memory of this song is later in the late 90’s when I was in middle school. It was playing in the car while my step dad was waiting for me to leave the house and drive me to school. When I got in, the first chorus of the song was playing while my step dad was scolding me for not having my jacket on, since it was a cold winter morning, lol.

    As for the song itself, I’ve always particularly loved the crying steel guitar parts heard throughout the verses ever since I was a kid. I also love House’s emotional, heartfelt delivery, the beautiful aching melody, and the poetic lyrics that can apply to just about anyone who is missing a special someone in their lives. I also agree with Peter on the Days Gone By album as a whole, and it’s definitely one of the underrated gems from the mid 90’s. I was lucky enough to find a used copy in a record store in the mid 00’s, and it’s still one of my favorites today. Similar to the Mavericks, I absolutely love the Roy Orbison influence that’s apparent on a good number of the tracks. It’s such a shame that he didn’t have more success as a recording artist, but I’m glad he still kept on going as a songwriter, and I’ve enjoyed many of the cuts he wrote for other artists.

    Peter, I also remember reading about the much later success of “This Is Me…” in the UK. It’s so cool how a mid 90’s country record could still have that kind of success in another country so many years later!

    • Yes, I watched “Sawmill Road” like a hawk when it was going up the charts and I was disappointed that it didn’t do nearly as well as I hoped it would. It was the song that was on the charts when I got into country music.

  3. I remember “Oh me, Of my, Sweet Baby” from George Strait’s 1989 “Beyond the Blue Neon” album. Diamond Rio picked two power-house songs to make “Closer to the Edge” acceptable to the Arista top brass!

    It’s like a sports team that builds what they consider their best team only to be forced to add some big free agents at the last second just to stay competitive.

  4. The thing that I love about Diamond Rio and Blackhawk is that they actually sounded like a group right down to the sound of their instruments. I feel like with groups like Alabama or Shennandoah (groups I do also like), if you changed one of the members out who wasn’t the lead singer, I wouldn’t really notice. But I think I would notice in the case of Diamond Rio and I do notice the difference in sound after Van Stevens of Blackhawk died.

    • That’s a really cool distinction, Leeann. I’d put The Mavericks, who I also love, in that same batch as Alabama and Shenandoah. All about the lead singer.

      But my favorite band – no surprise to anyone here – is The Chicks, and each one of them is irreplaceable. One need only look to the pre-Maines records, the Maines solo album, and the CourtYard Hounds albums to notice the difference. What they do together is so special, despite them being quite talented individually.

    • Of course, when Van Stephenson died (of melanoma), they lost a very distinctive voice. With Blackhawk only being a trio, the change was very noticeable. Blackhawk is still around – sometimes functioning as a duo (as is currently the case).

      Unfortunately, melanoma is still killing people. Blackhawk established a charity in Van’s name in case any of you sun worshipers care to contribute

      https://www.blackhawklive.com/vans-charity

  5. The only way this comment is related to Blackhawk is through comparison with a band that actually has a singer as a lead vocalist….

    This post is all about the Mavericks.

    Although Malo’s voice is undeniably the engine that drives the Mavericks, it is hard to believe how anyone could replace how Paul Deakin anchors the band with his charisma and rock-steady presence from behind his drum kit. The coolest drummer in country. Jimmie Dale McFadden’s showmanship, visual style, and pure joy at the keys are unrivaled. Eddie Perez on the guitar is so profane and libidinous he should be illegal. The Fantastic Four (Michael Guerra, Max Abrams, Julio Diaz, and Ed Frieland) add all the screaming horns, squeezing accordion, and wild percussive elements and bottom end sounds to the live shows.

    If the Mavericks’ popularity or reputation has confounded anyone over the years, see them live and you will see the matrix! The best live band playing out there. Their live shows are an eclectic riot.

    I always remember them opening for Mary Chapin Carpenter in a mid-90’s show (when they were strictly just a quartet) and her commenting what a ridiculous decision it was to tour with them and how hard it was for her to follow the party they started every night. If Dwight Yoakam had competition for the coolest cat on stage it was The Mavericks.

    For the record, Carpenter naturally was more than up to the task and acquitted herself with her own mesmerizing style.

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